10 Ways You're Cleaning Your Vagina All Wrong

We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. This week’s topic: ways you're cleaning your vagina all wrong (maybe).

Q: This is embarrassing, but I realized I don’t know how to clean my vagina correctly. I mean, I’m not doing anything crazy, but I’m getting all this conflicting advice — Use soap! Don’t need soap! Douche! Definitely don’t douche! I’m so confused. Someone please help. How do I know if I'm cleaning my vagina wrong?

A: It’s true, things can be so confusing! I blame patriarchal marketing. Anyway, let’s get this out of the way right now: your vagina is self-cleaning. That’s right! OK, we’re done. Shortest response column ever.

Jokes! There’s far more to be said on the matter. Basically, the thing you need to know is that your vagina cleans itself on the regular. That’s actually what vaginal discharge is — it’s your body getting rid of all the stuff it doesn’t want up in there. So what do you need to do to help it out? Not a whole lot. In fact, most of what we think we should do to clean our vaginas is exactly what we should not be doing. Here are the main things you may think will help your vagina stay clean or healthy — but that are actually no good for it.

1. You're Using Scented Soap

While your vagina is definitely capable of cleaning itself, sometimes you want to give it a bit of extra help — particularly if it’s been a sweaty or sexy day. It's totally fine to soap off your vulva and labia (the external parts of your pussy). However, you need to make sure that you're using unscented soap. Perfumed soaps or cleaners can mess with your normal, healthy pH balance, causing unpleasant things like a yeast infection. The same goes for scented vaginal wipes and vaginal deodorants. So if you want to soap up in the shower, make sure your soap is fragrance-free.

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2. You're Using Cleansers With Synthetic Chemicals

Most soaps and other cleansers have some sort of synthetic chemicals in them. This doesn't mean that they are automatically going to be bad for your body, but some people experience allergic reactions to these chemicals that can be very unpleasant. Lots of chemicals that kill bacteria kill all bacteria, which means they kill the good stuff that keeps you in healthy balance. Additionally, some people think that some of these chemicals are hormone disrupters, and since the skin of your vagina is so delicate and absorbent, more of these chemicals can easily get into your body. If that worries you, look for a natural cleanser with no synthetic chemicals.

3. You're Not Cleaning Your Labia

While your vaginal canal is great at cleaning itself, the folds of your labia need some help and attention. Make sure when you're cleaning yourself down there (with a gentle scent-free soap!) that you get into all your folds. This will ensure that any unwanted bacteria that's ended up in there gets removed before it can cause an infection.

4. You're Douching

If perfumed soap is harsh on a vagina, douching is even worse. What’s a douche, besides that dude you dated in high school? It’s an internal vaginal rinse that’s supposed to “clean out" your vaginal canal. But we now know that this part of you doesn’t need that, it’s self-sufficient! All douches actually do is mess with the natural pH balance of your vagina, flushing out the good bacteria that live in there that are working hard to maintain your vaginal health. Even worse, douching can push unwanted bacteria further up your vaginal canal, which can cause infection.

If you’re thinking of douching because you’re experiencing unpleasant vaginal odors that you’re trying to get rid of, go see a doctor to find out the underlying cause. All a douche will do is mask the scent and probably make matters way worse.

5. You're Scrubbing Too Hard

Sure, it’s totally OK to rub-a-dub-dub yourself in the shower (I’m talking about cleaning yourself off, although shower masturbation is great too!) but be careful about going too intense with the scrubbing, particularly with rough items like loofahs. You don’t want to rub yourself raw, because raw skin is more likely to get infected. Basically, what you’re doing is chafing yourself, which can cause pain and irritation, make your skin red and itchy, or cause your skin to actually crack or peel.

While this situation will most likely resolve itself in three to four days if you leave it alone, you definitely want to make sure your angry skin doesn’t get infected. So if you end up being chafed, make sure to dry the area and then put an antiseptic or petroleum jelly on it to keep it clean and moist. You can also wear loose clothes to give your vagina room to breathe, and probably lay off on the sex for a couple days so that you’re not irritating your pussy with a different kind of grinding.

6. You're Using Dirty Loofahs & Washcloths

Yes, your vagina is great at cleaning itself but why make it hustle, ya know? This goes for cleaning your sex toys and human parts you are planning to put up there during sex, but it also goes for your cleaning routine. For instance, if you like to use a loofah or washcloth to clean your parts, make sure it’s not moldy. Leaving wet things in the shower means it probably will mold at some point, and you might not even know. Replace or wash them often!

7. You're Cleaning It Too Often

Getting clean on the regular is a good idea, but if you're cleaning your vagina more than once a day, you can be washing away the good bacteria that keeps your vagina healthy, without giving it enough time to replenish and rebalance. A good rule of thumb is to stick to no more than once a day — rinsing off doesn't count, I'm talking about a full-on clean.

8. You're Forgetting To Pee After Sex

Cleansing correctly isn’t just about the cleaning products you can buy or how you shower. Urinating actually flushes out bacteria your body doesn’t want inside it — specifically in your urethra, since that’s where pee comes out. Peeing after sex is critical to helping your body flush out anything that may have ended up in your urethra during the bump and grind of sex. If that bacteria stays inside your body, you could get a urinary tract infection. This is not only painful and unpleasant but can be dangerous if left untreated, because the infection can travel up your body into your kidneys.

9. You're Spending Tons Of Time In The Bath

This one’s just for those of us who are prone to yeast infections and UTIs. If this is you, it’s important to know that your vagina is happiest when it’s dry and airy. That’s why you’re not supposed to hang out in your wet bathing suit all day. Sadly, the same goes for hanging out in a warm bath. It may be soothing, but it’s also getting your vagina all moist, aka ripe for a yeast infection! And if you're prone to UTIs, sitting in a warm bath can allow e. coli bacteria hanging out on your bum a chance to make it's way into your urinary tract.

10. You're Removing Hair To Stay 'Clean'

How you landscape yourself is of course your decision, but if you like being bare down there, know this: Your hair is there for a reason, and that reason is because it acts as a cushion between your tender parts and the rough outside world. Specifically, it helps ensure that the delicate folds of your vaginal skin don't stick together, which can result in rash and infection. It also protects your vagina during sexual activity. Finally, this hair works as a net, trapping bacteria that could otherwise cause infections like bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. The hair removal processes can also be a bit harsh on your vagina — potentially causing infection or burns.

So that idea that removing pubic hair is somehow more hygienic? It's just the opposite.

The Bottom Line

If you remember just one thing from this lovely chat we’ve just had, it should be that your vagina can take pretty good care of itself. Some of the things we think we’re doing to help it are actually making it harder for it to do this cleaning job. So pay attention to what you put on this tender part of your body so that you can be as clean as possible — but don't overdo it!

Images: Bustle; Giphy