If you have a vagina, then you already know owning one can be quite the responsibility. Periods come out of them, and sometimes babies. And then there's the whole keeping it clean and healthy thing. If you don't take care of your vagina, and look after its many needs, it can lead to some pretty big health issues.
Let's say, for example, you have a tendency to leave tampons in for too long. (Like, over-eight-hours too long.) Not only can this habit lead to an increased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, but it can cause other infections, up your chance of foul odors emitting from the region, and create annoying irritation. (All signs you need to take better care of your vagina, btw.)
In fact, caring for your lady bits often means caring for your overall health. So consider it of utmost importance. "It's very important to take care of vagina as it's one of the paths through which infection can ascend up and reach the uterus, tubes, ovaries and adjacent pelvic structures," says OBGYN Dr. Neha Singh Rathod, in an email to Bustle. "Maintain personal hygiene and take plenty of fluids, wash your private parts with normal tap water ... avoid using vaginal douches and creams, [and always get an] annual check up and pap smear.” If you do these things, you should be good to go. If not, you may experience some of the issue below that are all signs you need to take better care of your vagina.
1. You Have Thick Discharge Coming Out
Clear smooth discharge is one thing, but please see a doctor if it seems to be a little too chunky. As women's health expert Dr. Amir Marashi says, "Some [discharges] are normal, but if you feel itchy or see a cottage cheese, it could be a sign of a yeast infection and that your pH balance is off." A yeast infection could be a result of irritation caused by douching, wearing too tight clothing, or a poor diet — among other things.
2. There's A Strong Fishy Smell
If you smell something fishy down below, take note. "It could mean you have bacterial vaginosis and that is a sign you need to take better care of your vagina," Marashi says. A bad case of BV can really impact your health, so ask your doctor about a course of treatment ASAP.
3. Things Don't Feel The Same Since You Had A Baby
If you've recently had a baby and are now experiencing problems like pain during sex, it could point to an issue with your pelvic floor muscles. When that's the case, it's often a good idea to make an appointment with an aptly-named "pelvic floor therapist." As certified postnatal fitness specialist Jenna Dalton says, "They can check for any kind of pelvic floor dysfunction and educate you on how to take great care of your pelvic floor and overall vaginal health so sex can be enjoyable again."
4. You Keep Getting UTIs
If you don't shower after working out, or constantly forget to pee after sex, you might be upping your chances of getting a urinary tract infection. Habits like these can introduce bacteria into your urinary tract, OB/GYN Dr. Yvonne Bohn tells me. Preventative measures — like peeing after sex — are a good idea. But if you already have a UTI, you're going to need a course of antibiotics from your doctor to truly knock it out.
5. You're Having Trouble Inserting Tampons
If you want to use a tampon, but it just won't go in, take it as a sign that something might be up with your vaginal health. "This may be caused by vaginal cysts, extra tissue, [or] tense vaginal muscles," says women's health expert Dr. Ronald D. Blatt, in an email to Bustle. These are symptoms your doctor should know about, so don't be afraid to bring them up at your next appointment.
6. It Looks Red And Swollen
As Blatt tells me, swelling can be caused by douching, a vaginal infection, cysts, or even an STD. "With your physician's help, determine the cause and treat it properly," he says. A red, swollen vagina is never a good thing, so get yourself checked out soon.
7. You're Experiencing All Sorts Of Dryness
Vaginal dryness is something that's easily fixed, and yet many women simply put up with its agonizing side effects — like pain during sex. If you experience dryness, Blatt tells me it could be due to an allergic reaction. It might also have something to do with your birth control, which has a tendency to dry up vaginal tissue. Whatever the case, there are plenty of ways to remedy the situation.
8. You Leave Tampons In For Forever
Menstrual hygiene is totally a thing, so be sure you're switching your pads and tampons every four to eight hours. "Never leave in a tampon of wear a pad for an extended period of time," Okeke-Igbokwe says. "When you are menstruating, make sure you change [them] routinely."
9. Sex Is Super Painful
Again, pain during sex can be due to dryness. But it could also be due to issues like a UTI, yeast infection, and/or bacterial vaginosis. If you experience pain during sex, take it as a sign that your vaginal area may need a little extra care. (Read: lots and lots of lube. And probably an antibiotic, too.)
10. It Hurts For Seemingly No Reason
Any type of pain in your vaginal area should be cause for concern. As Blatt tells me, this is especially true if the pain is accompanied by discharge, odor, and itching as it may be a sign of vaginitis. This is any type of swelling of the vagina — caused by BV, a yeast infection, or a condition called trichomoniasis — and should be treated by a doctor.
11. You Never Let It Breathe
If you consistently wear super tight clothing, or underwear made from synthetic material, then you might need to let your bits breathe. "Go for mainly cotton blends since some women can experience irritation from the various synthetic fibers used to make underwear," Okeke-Igbokwe says. And give sleeping underwear-free a try.
Your vagina will thank you.
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