All women should be concerned about their vaginal health, but what constitutes a healthy vagina? While it depends somewhat on a woman’s age, the vagina generally has an acidic pH, contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria that help fend off infections, and is naturally lubricated.
A healthy vagina also secretes small amounts of discharge. Discharge is a normal physiologic reaction — it’s essentially shedding of cervical and vaginal cells. But if women experience changes in vaginal odor, a change in color of their discharge that may be associated with discomfort — whether it’s pelvic discomfort or vulvar discomfort, itching, or burning — any change needs to be evaluated.
Following a balanced, nutritious diet and drinking plenty of fluids are both key to vaginal and reproductive health. Yogurt can potentially help prevent yeast infections and aid in their treatment.
Having regular gynecological exams is crucial to maintaining your vaginal health. It is also recommended that women undergo pap smears starting at age 21 to screen for changes in vaginal cells that might indicate the presence of cancer. Gynecologists and many primary care physicians are trained to diagnose diseases and disorders that can harm the vagina or your reproductive system as a whole.
Your vagina should stay clean and dry — and what you wear can affect that. Certain types of fabrics and tight-fitting clothing create warm, moist conditions in which yeast thrive. Wear breathable cotton underwear and avoid thongs. If you’re prone to yeast infections, change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible.
Common sense can go a long way in protecting the health of your vagina. After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to avoid bacterial contamination of the vagina and to lower the risk of bladder infection. Change sanitary pads and tampons regularly during your period.