Loving Yourself Inside And Out
Valentine’s day is a natural time to consider your vaginal health but it’s important, year-round, to consider how you look after and relate to your vagina. Many women still receive a range of negative messages about their bodies, gender, and sexuality. Wherever you are along the path to developing a positive relationship with your body, you may still wonder how to best care for your vagina. Here are five ways women can care for, celebrate, and enjoy one of the most intimate areas of the incredible female body.
Vaginal Health Tip #1: Practice Sensual Touch, Alone Or With A Lover
Vaginas are highly sensitive and deserve sensual touch and massage. The vagina is an erogenous zone that contains many sensitive nerve endings — the clitoris alone contains 8,000. Our bodies are wired to experience pleasure and attentive; erotic touch helps us to both feel good and develop a trusting relationship with ourselves and/or our lovers. Clinical Herbalist, Eliza Moriarty, told HoneyColony that “attention matters so deeply,” as does “arousal, so very, very often neglected, and quite necessary for most women. It’s a matter of how we feel when our need to be fully aroused is forgotten, when raising our desire and our satisfaction is unimportant to our lover.” Whether with another or alone, a woman’s arousal is important and powerful. Moriarty also reminded us that regular sensual touch helps us to maintain our bodies’ ability to self-lubricate and enjoy sex.
Writer, performer and activist Catherine Hernandez offered this advice on wooing our own bodies, especially if we haven’t always been kind to ourselves:
What actions would you take to woo your body back? Take them out to a nice dinner? Give them a massage? Respect their boundaries of what it can or cannot do? Make sweet love to it (yes, I mean masturbation)? Give your body the romance it deserves.
Vaginal Health Tip #2: Use Natural Products In Your Intimate Areas
Moriarty shared some wisdom with us on using natural products in intimate areas as well — she’s formulated and produced botanical therapies for decades. She explained that our vaginal tissues are mucous membranes made of epithelial cells that can directly transport dangerous chemicals into the rest of our bodies. Here’s her description of the “remarkable ecosystem” that is the vagina:
The relationship between physiological function and micro-biome is tightly choreographed. It’s quite fascinating. A balanced vaginal ecosystem maintains a pH between 3.8 and 4.2. The lactic acid that maintains this pH is produced by the intimate microbiome, which uses sloughed epithelial cells as food. So, maintaining the microbiome is critical for sexual wellness.
When we apply products containing petroleum, silicone, and propylene glycol in this delicate area, we can upset the pH balance and end up with yeast infections, dryness, irritation, increased odor, bacterial vaginosis, and discomfort, and pain during sexual activity. Moriarty explained how these feminine products can negatively impact the vagina:
Water and water/glycerin products contain broad-spectrum antimicrobial preservatives, which negatively impact that crucial balance. Silicone, petroleum products, and propylene glycol — as well as many natural oils — diminish the health of the microbiome by coating the intimate tissues and interfering with the sloughing of epithelial cells that serves as food for the biome.
When we maintain a healthy pH, the acidic environment can prevent these issues by discouraging the growth of harmful bacteria, which thrive in less acidic settings. You can maintain a healthy pH by using natural lubricants, avoiding chemical-laden products and not douching. Everyday Health reported that staying hydrated and keeping yogurt and cranberry juice in your diet can also positively influence your vaginal environment.
Vaginal Health Tip #3: Wear Natural Fabric Underwear
Because we know that our vaginas are sensitive, wearing breathable and natural undergarments makes sense. Cotton is a great choice because it absorbs moisture, which is why a strip of cotton is often found in many synthetic undergarments. If you can go one step further and wear organic cotton underwear, that’s even better; organic cotton is free from both the chemicals used to process synthetic textiles and the toxic sprays used on conventional cotton crops. Organic hemp, raw silk, and wool are other possible choices for natural panties.
Going commando and airing out at home, especially overnight, is also a good idea for vaginal health, said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin. Also, be sure not to wear tight underwear, as this prevents airflow and can cause chafing. Dr. Holly L. Phillips explained that going without undergarments is generally a good idea, except when you’re working out. She advised wearing undies to exercise, especially in public gyms, because they absorb moisture and keep your body from getting too hot and damp (breeding excess bacteria and yeast). She said they can also add an extra layer of protection between your “hoo-ha region” and germy, public equipment.
Vaginal Health Tip #4: Practice Safe Sex
Use condoms during intercourse to protect your vagina from sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STDs) such as HIV, syphilis, genital herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Women’s Health shared that condoms also create a barrier that prevents semen from affecting your vaginal pH. Planned Parenthood reminded us to also get tested for STDs regularly — “It’s even better to go with your partner and get tested together, so you know each other’s status.” If you have an STD, educate yourself on how best to provide your body with compassionate care and attention.
Vaginal Health Tip #5: Get Regular Gynecological Check-Ups
Gynecological checkups allow you to stay informed about your vagina’s medical health and provide a platform to ask your healthcare provider any related questions. Your women’s health exam can cover your medications and general well-being, STD testing, breast exam, and an exam of your vulva and internal reproductive organs. You can get screened for signs of infection and receive a Pap smear testing for any cellular changes that may point to cervical cancer.
Many young women will receive their first gynecological exam in their teens and it’s essential to have one by age 21 or when you become sexually active. In 2012, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force stated that starting at age 21, women should get Pap smears every three years. This recommendation varies somewhat depending on age and medical history.
While having a doctor or nurse work with such a private and sensitive area of your body can be challenging, it’s important that you look out for yourself by getting the exam. Planned Parenthood reminds us that, “Whether you are straight, lesbian, bisexual, married, single, sexually active or not, a pelvic exam is a normal part of taking care of your body.” Also keep in mind that there are holistic gynecologists who focus on making the whole process more patient-centered and less intrusive.
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Whatever you may call your vagina and whatever way you choose to please it sexually, remember that it needs your care and attention. As an old proverb says, “when sleeping women wake, mountains move” — may your knowledge of your body and sexuality be empowering and fulfilling this Valentine’s day and throughout your life!