Is your vagina normal ? It’s a very common question asked on Google everyday, but the truth is many women are still clueless about their female genitalia.
But as many women are too embarrassed to discuss the topic with their doctors – or even their friends – it can lead to some serious problems.
Luckily Dr Jen Gunter, who has been practising obstetrician-gynaecologist for 25 years, has written a book which could answer all your burning questions.
Her latest piece, The Vagina Bible, is full of practical advice which are designed to empower women and help them look after their intimate health.
So here are five important facts every woman should know about their vagina.
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1. The difference between the vagina and the vulva
The vagina is inside the body and what you can see from the outside, the part that touches your clothes, is the vulva.
Dr Jen says it’s crucial to know the correct terminology, adding: “When you can't say the word vagina or vulva, there is an implication that there's something dirty or shameful about that.”
2. The vagina cleans itself
According to Dr Jen, over the last 10 years, many believe they need to use products to modify the smell of their vagina.
But there’s no need to go through any stress of buying fancy products to clean inside the vagina.
She explained: “It’s a self-cleaning oven. It’s a vagina, not a piña colada. Douches are like cigarettes for your vagina.”
Even water can disrupt the delicate ecosystem, increasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. Steaming is also another trend which is unnecessary.
The outside, the vulva area, can be cleaned when necessary, with water or a gentle cleanser.
3. Your vagina is like a garden
The vagina contains an army of “good” bacteria which help to keep it healthy.
Dr Jen said: “The vaginal micro-biome is like a garden of all different kinds of bacteria that function together to keep the vaginal ecosystem healthy.”
The good bacteria produces substances that create a slightly acidic environment which stops any “bad” bacteria taking hold.
This is why using an antibacterial wipe for the inside isn’t good because it could disrupt the balance of bacteria.
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4. Pubic hair is important
As there is a growing trend for women to remove all their pubic hair, Dr Jen advised using clean products if that's the case.
So if you’re shaving, use a clean razor, prep the skin and go in the direction of the hair grown to avoid the increase of ingrown hairs which can cause infections.
She added: “When you wax or shave or sugar, you are causing microscopic trauma to the skin. We see cuts, abrasions, infections from pubic hair removal as well.
“Pubic hair has a function, it is probably a mechanical barrier and protection for the skin.
“It may also have a role in sexual functioning because each pubic hair is attached to a nerve ending – that's why it hurts to remove it."
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5. Age affects the vagina
Sadly there comes a time for women to experience plenty of changes down there, and they’re very normal.
The amount of hormones in the body and low levels of oestrogen affect the vagina and vulva.
These tissues, which were once kept moist with mucus, can change which results in dryness that could cause pain during sex.
Dr Jen advised: “I think it's really important for women to know about that. You don't have to suffer."
She added that most women can get help with this type of stuff from their doctor.
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