Science Mom: Vagina Maintenance For Dummies (And Everyone Else)
Vaginas! About half of the world has one, and yet referring frankly to one in public tends to have much the same effect as screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded place. (Fun fact: throwing an unused tampon in its original packaging into a gathering of fraternity boys works about the same way as throwing a live grenade, but with much less mess if you just want them to stop hitting on you or to vacate their bar table so you and your friends can sit down.) Because of the taboo around vagina-talk, there are a lot of misconceptions out there over how to properly care for and maintain one. If you happen to a.) have a vagina, or b.) be the parent of a child who is in possession of a vagina, here’s what you need to know.
1. How to clean a vagina.
No soap required! Warm water and a washcloth will do you just fine. Vaginas are much like self-cleaning ovens, although much less likely to overheat and explode. Sudsing up your downstairs region is a no-go, because soap does two different things that you don’t want to have happen. First, it upsets the delicate pH balance of your vaginal ecosystem–a healthy vagina is supposed to be naturally on the acidic side, but soap destroys that acidity. Secondly, soap has antibacterial effects, and while that might sound on the surface like a good thing, remember that not all bacteria are bad! The vast majority of microscopic creepy-crawlies living all up in your business are on Team You.
So between a changing pH and other antibacterial effects, the application of soap to that miniature Circle of Life going on in your pants is going to upset the natural order of things. Clearing out your friendly neighborhood crotch-bacteria means that microbes of the not-so-friendly variety can move in, and that’s how things like yeast infections can crop up. (More on that joy later.)
And as for douching? Absolutely not. Besides upsetting the status quo pH balance just as much as soap does, douching can introduce all kinds of foreign bacteria into your nethers. There’s a reason we call that awful ex-boyfriend of yours a ‘douchebag’: because both he and it are abjectly terrible for you.
2. How a vagina is supposed to smell.
Spoiler alert: vaginas have a smell to them. Additional spoiler: they do not smell like roses or cinnamon or unicorn farts. They smell like … vaginas. A healthy vagina has a natural odor to it, and while if you detect an unpleasant whiffiness (“fishy” is the usual adjective) something might be up, don’t listen to a sexual partner who tells you something is wrong with your vagina just because it smells like itself. Deodorized menstrual pads and sprays can alter the pH balance and make things even worse (except for the company who is now happily collecting your money for additional vagina-scent-obscuring products).