How To Clean Your Vagina After Sex, Because They Just Don't Teach You The Useful Things In School

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Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

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 will remain anonymous. This week’s topic: how to clean your vagina after sex.

Q: I just start having sex a year ago. I really like it — but sex with men is so messy! I’ve been taking a shower immediately after sex and scrubbing my vulva and inside my vagina to get rid of the mess down there, but my friends say I’m a clean freak and I don’t need to do that. Do I need to clean up my vagina after sex, and if so, how?

A: My middle school health teacher used to say that “it’s the slippery juices that make sex feel good” (I was lucky and grew up in Berkeley, California), and when I became sexually active, I had to admit that he was for sure correct about that. But all that vaginal self-lubrication, any synthetic lube you may add, and semen (if you have sex without a condom to catch that stuff) do add up to something of a mess in the vagina afterwards. So what's a vagina-haver to do?

I’ll come right out and say it: In the vast majority of circumstances, you don’t need to clean your vagina after sex. Your body made that vaginal fluid all by itself, so having it up in there isn’t going to hurt you. It’s similarly totally natural to have semen in your vaginal canal — that’s, like, its dream location.

In fact, as I've written about before, you actually don’t need to clean your vagina at all — it’s a self-cleaning oven! "You don't necessarily need to do any cleaning," says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine. Your vagina will "take care of itself," she says. You know that stuff that ends up in your panties all the time called vaginal discharge? That’s your body’s way of cleaning out anything that shouldn’t be up in your vagina — which includes semen and lube, along with any bacteria or other things that got up in there during daily life.

This is true most of the time. However, as most people with vaginas will attest, having all of that ~ stuff ~ in your vagina after the deed is done doesn't always feel great, and can sometimes lead to things feeling out of balance. Semen, in fact, is more alkaline than the natural pH of the vagina, so having it hang out in your vaginal canal can actually increase the risk of certain bacteria growing, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis. Further, because your anus is so close to the vaginal opening, it's possible for bacteria to shift around during sex (penetrative or not), which is why it's important to clean house after. In these cases, adhering to some prevention practices is a good idea. Here are the main ways it’s a good idea to pay attention to the post-sex cleanup of your most tender of parts.

Always Pee After Sex

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This is the big post-sex hygiene tip, if you're going to follow any. This is specifically to clean out your urinary tract to protect you against urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can be very painful and dangerous if not treated. The best way to prevent a UTI is to pee after sex. This is because during sex, bacteria can end up in your urethra (the tube you pee out of), and possibly travel up to your bladder or kidneys. Good self-care after sex includes peeing so that you can flush out any wayward bacteria. "It may have an effect on lessening the chances of getting a bladder infection," says Dr. Minkin, although it can't alleviate that chance completely.

Peeing also flushes out a lot of the sex juices you will have accumulated in your vagina during intercourse (and wiping yourself after will take care of the rest). So if you don’t enjoy that squelchy feeling that comes from having lots of lube and semen up in there, peeing (and letting gravity help you out over the toilet) is a great way to deal with that. You can also use a bidet (like the Tushy) to get up in there a bit more for a deeper, squeakier clean.

Dry Off Your Vulva And Labia

Drying off your vulva and labia can make you feel more comfortable after sex. This is also a big one if you are prone to yeast infections. A yeast infection happens when your lactobacillus bacteria, which is a naturally occurring bacteria in your vagina, can't keep the fungus candida in check, leading to an overgrowth. Yeast (which lives in your vagina all the time, along with a number of other healthy bacteria) likes warm, wet places. The fact of the matter is that your vagina is always going to be warm and wet, but by keeping your vulva, including your labia, dry, you can reduce the risk of ending up itchy as hell with clumpy vaginal discharge.

If you get yeast infections often, you may already know to wear cotton panties (because cotton is breathable and stays dry) and not to stay in your wet swimsuit for a long time after you get out of the ocean or pool. The same principles apply — just as you would normally after peeing, wipe and put on clean underwear for the next phase of your day.

If You Do Shower, Don’t Wash Your Vagina

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While it's not necessary, some people do like to feel clean after they get it on (sex can make you sweaty all over, it’s not just about your vagina!) and may want to shower or bathe afterwards. To each their own!

If this sounds like you, that’s awesome, but make sure you don’t use soaps or body washes on the inside of your vagina — even your vulva will probably be fine with just water. Washing with soap, especially soap with scented chemicals, can knock your vagina's pH balance out of whack, which can lead to yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis, neither of which you want (I’m assuming).

The reason for this, again, has to do with pH. "There are lots of bacteria" in the vagina, says Dr. Minkin, "but it's usually a balance between the good guys and the bad guys." An acidic vagina, with a pH of around four, helps maintain this balance, and one kind of bacteria in particular, lactobacillus, also helps keeps things nice and sour. But if you wash out all that good bacteria, "that's not a good thing because that can lead to your pH going up, going more basic," which can lead to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. In other words, "try not to douche," Dr. Minkin says.

Always Pee And Clean Off After Anal/Vaginal Cross-Contamination

While nothing that comes out of a penis can hurt your vagina (both semen — and yes, even urine, assuming there isn't bladder infection-causing bacteria present — are totally fine to end up there), the same is not true of poop. If you’re engaging in anal sex, the reality is that butt stuff can end up places you didn’t intend it to. Getting your own poop germs into your vagina can cause a UTI (which is why you should always wipe front to back), and this is also the case with someone else’s poop germs. This is also why it's important to always use a condom when engaging in anal, even with a monogamous partner, and switching out that condom between vaginal and anal penetration.

The Bottom Line

The good news is that, while sex is messy, it’s not medically dangerous. I mean if it was, the human race would be struggling a lot more, right? That means it’s up to you to figure out what feels good for you to do in terms of post-sex clean-up. Maybe you hate the sticky feeling between your legs and can’t wait to leap out of bed to shower immediately after the sex is over; maybe the stickiness annoys you but snuggling (after a quick pee break) is more important; or maybe the mess turns you on. To each their own! As long as you pee and do what feels good to you, you should be in good shape.

Experts

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN, clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine

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