Sexual hygiene is essential for everyone. Understanding how to properly wash your vulva can minimize the risk of bacterial infections and improve your overall hygiene. It can also make you feel cleaner and healthier. But societal taboos associated with sexual health issues and the genitals prevent people from accessing reliable information.
If you’re wondering how to properly wash your vulva or vagina, you’re not alone. Vulva-owners across the globe take to the internet to research this subject, and the answer isn’t always what people think. But before we discuss how to properly wash your vulva, we should start with a brief anatomy lesson highlighting the difference between a vulva and a vagina.
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ
Most people assume the term vagina refers to the entire female genitalia. But that’s not even remotely accurate; the vagina is merely the canal within the body, whereas the vulva is the outer parts of the vagina, including the clitoris, vaginal lips (inner and outer labia), and the clitoral hood. The vagina is the inner canal, and the vulva is the outer region.
The vagina is essentially a self-cleaning organ, i.e., it regularly cleans itself. But how?
The vagina produces natural secretions and maintains pH balance to clean itself. It also contains good bacteria that correct the pH balance in your genitals. Your vagina has a slightly acidic pH balance that prevents harmful bacteria from invading your vaginal canal and inner organs. As such, the good bacteria within the vagina ensure it remains clean and hygienic while preventing harmful bacterial infections.
Since your vagina already has good bacteria responsible for maintaining its cleanliness, your personal input is unnecessary. In fact, using soaps, feminine washes, douches, and other external products to clean the vagina can be harmful. Your vagina must maintain its delicate pH balance to continue performing its self-cleaning activities, and external products can kill good bacteria and alter the pH levels.
The best thing you can do for your vagina is to leave it alone — no cleaning necessary.
Cleaning your vulva is essential for hygiene
While you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) clean your vagina, the vulva is another matter altogether. The vulva refers to the outer female genitalia, including the clitoral hood, clitoris, and inner and outer labia. The vulva doesn’t contain self-cleaning mechanisms, and it’s also exposed to external pollutants, so it must be washed regularly to maintain proper sexual hygiene and health.
When washing your vulva, please use warm water and plain, unscented soap. You can use a gentle sponge or washcloth to clean around the vagina every day. You can also spread your labia apart to clean around the vaginal lips with a wet washcloth or your hands. But you should perform this action delicately — don’t get any water or soap inside the vagina because you might alter the natural pH balance.
After washing and cleaning the vulva, please wash the area between your vulva and anus. The anus is a hotspot for bacterial accumulation, and leaving your anus unwashed may lead to the spread of bacteria into the vagina. While washing this region, you should ideally go in a front-to-back motion, from the vulva to the anus. Ideally, you should clean your genitals once every day.
After washing the vulva, you can either pat it dry with a soft towel or allow it to air dry naturally.
Sexual hygiene when you’re on your period
Vulva-owners often wonder if they need to adopt different sexual hygiene standards when they’re on period. But that’s not true. You must use the same techniques mentioned above when you’re on your period. Wash your vulva using warm water and a soft washcloth in a front-to-back motion — no fragrant washes, soaps, or other materials are necessary. If you’re worried about the scent, you can wash it multiple times a day when you’re on your period.
Don’t use soap while washing your vulva
You don’t need to use soap to wash your vulva or anus. And if you must use soap, please choose a scentless, colorless, and mild soap. You must avoid fragranced and colorful soaps because they contain harsh chemicals that can damage or irritate sensitive vaginal lips. Furthermore, if fragranced soap enters the vagina, it can alter the natural pH balance, affecting your vagina’s ability to clean itself.
There’s nothing wrong with natural bodily odors
The market is full of feminine washes and sprays that promise reductions in body odors. However, these items are both unnecessary and harmful to your sexual health and wellness. Your vulva doesn’t need to smell of roses and flowers. Most feminine sprays and soaps have been produced to capitalize upon insecurities regarding body odor — they’re completely unnecessary and, in some cases, harmful. You must avoid all scented products. Period.
But whatever your vagina smells like, you must embrace it.
All vulvas are unique, and they carry unique scents. Your vulva’s natural odor might range from slightly acidic and coppery to sweet, and it can also change with your diet and menstrual cycles. But whatever your vagina smells like, you must embrace it. Other than your sexual partner, no one else can smell your vagina. And if your partner can’t tolerate your natural scent, that’s their problem — not yours.
Wear breathable, soft cotton underwear
You should ideally wear soft, breathable cotton underwear. Breathable cotton allows moisture to air out naturally instead of keeping it trapped within the vulvar region. This is one of the most effective means of maintaining a clean vulva and preventing the accumulation of bacteria. You should avoid synthetic and nylon fabrics because they can irritate your sensitive vaginal skin. You must also change out of your wet clothes as soon as possible.
If you follow the tips and advice mentioned above, your vagina and vulva will remain healthy and clean. As for the odor? There’s nothing wrong with natural bodily scents — embrace it.
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