Posted on September 12 2018
Let’s make openly talking about our vaginas a thing. Seriously. I mean, as women, we all have one. And let’s be real: they’re a big part of our lives. Whether we’re bleeding out of them, practicing procreating with them, pushing babies out of them, or even just peeing out of them, they get a good amount of action. And they should get an equal amount of care and attention.
If your family is anything like mine, you can empathize with the fact that I never got “the talk,” nor was I ever taught how to properly care for one of my most important body parts. I learned everything from vaginal anatomy to how to insert a tampon online. Sex and anything related is considered taboo in many family cultures. It’s sensitive stuff, and no one really wants to say the wrong thing. But if we don’t talk about these things, there will be girls who turn into women that end up doing the wrong things.
Our vaginas are a big part of our lives. And any pain, discomfort, or holy-shit-this-can’t-be-normal should be avoided at all costs.
Let’s start with the basics.
The Basic Anatomy of the Vagina
We might think of the vagina as the flower in between our legs, but that’s just the opening. Most of your vagina is not visible: it’s the soft, flexible muscular canal that connects your uterus to the part you actually can see.
The vulva is every part of that “flower,” or external part of the vagina that you see.
The outer lips/labia majora is the outermost part of the flower, made of normal skin that grows hair naturally.
The inner lips/labia minora is the second set of petals that do not grow hair and are usually darker than the outer lips. They provide extra protection of the innermost parts of the vulva and secrete oils to prevent irritation from the lips rubbing together. This is the part of the “vagina” that women are most self-conscious or insecure about due to the way they look. So it’s important to note that the inner lips are not always symmetrical; there is often one that is longer or wider than the other, and they commonly extend beyond than the outer lips. This is completely normal.
When you spread the vulva, the clitoris is the small nub at the top of the folds. It contains 8,000 nerve endings and is frequently the sweet, sweet reason for orgasms. The clitoris is protected by the clitoral hood, a flap of skin that slides back and forth depending on arousal levels.
The urethra is the small hole just below the clitoris where urine comes out. It’s hard to see or feel, but it’s there.
The actual opening of your vaginal cavity is called the vestibule. Though the vagina can be imagined as a “tube,” it’s not open like a tube all the time. Unless there is a tampon, finger, or penis in there, the walls of the vagina are touching when relaxed.
The vagina leads to the cervix, which is a relatively short “neck” that extends from the uterus. The cervix stays closed unless giving birth or menstruating, when it opens only enough to let blood pass through. The cervix connects the vagina to the uterus, where, should you choose to, you’ll hold your child for 9 months before sending it alllllll the way down the vaginal canal into the world. The uterus sheds its lining (hello, period!) about every 28 days if there is no fertilized egg to hold.
The Basic Smell of the Vagina
Vagina smells like...vagina.
And it shouldn’t smell like anything else, including flowers or powder-fresh. Vaginas have a naturally unique scent: one that isn’t bad or offensive. And it shouldn’t be messed with! That means that creams, perfumes, or scented products aren’t necessary! Not only are they not needed, they affect the pH of your vagina, which can lead to harmful bacteria overgrowth, setting the stage for infection and actual unpleasant scents.
When you sweat or go a while without a shower, you may notice the natural odor becomes stronger, but this only means that you are in need of a shower, not perfume! If your vagina smells like anything other than vagina (i.e. fishy or musty), something is off and you may need to get it checked out by a doctor.
The Basic Do's and Don't of Vagina Care
Your vagina is like an oven: self-cleaning. Except you don’t have to manually remind it to do so. The vagina is an ecosystem of its own. It has its own bacteria (lactobacillus: the good kind!), its own pH, and its own methods of maintaining health.
The internal vagina doesn’t require any outside intervention to keep itself clean. The only part we are responsible for keeping physically spic and span is the vulva, which should be cleaned with your fingers and warm water only. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts for keeping your vagina clean:
Douching is the process of flushing water or other fluids up the vaginal cavity. While this was once popular enough to have douching kits sold in common drugstores, doctors now recommend against it. Douching can cause an imbalance in the vagina’s flora (bacteria), inviting yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. If you already have an infection, douching can push the bacteria further up the vaginal cavity, spreading it to the uterus and fallopian tubes.
DON’T stick bags of herbs inside you
Yes, apparently this is a thing. Herbs are incredible healing tools that we can use to alleviate and cure a variety of ailments… but they should never be inserted into your vagina. These products are marketed to cleanse your uterus and vagina, but in fact they can do the opposite. Users often report removing the bags after the recommended 2-3 days to find an abnormal discharge and smell. While it may seem like this bag of herbs worked by drawing “impurities” out, leaving a bag of anything in the vagina for days at a time can be the very cause of these abnormalities by irritating the vaginal lining and encouraging the growth of anaerobic (bad) bacteria.
DON’T use soaps/scents/fragrances
The vagina has an acidic pH of 3.8-4.5 which helps prevent pathogens from growing. Soaps are highly alkaline, with a pH of 9-10, and can cause an imbalance of the vagina’s pH, inviting harmful bacteria and pathogens to grow. Anything containing chemicals, scents, or harsh abrasives can be irritating to the sensitive folds of the vulva and cause vaginal dryness. So skip the vanilla-scented body wash down there!
DON’T put anything in your vagina that was in the back door
This includes fingers, penises, and toys. Going from back to front without properly cleaning first exposes your vagina to bacteria that can cause bacterial vaginosis and other smelly, itchy, and uncomfortable conditions.
Now for the DO’S…
DO use warm water
Make your vulva the first thing you clean in the shower, before you bust out the soaps and scrubs. All you need is your hand and warm water. Use your fingers to spread and clean between the folds, but don’t ever go inside (ESPECIALLY with soap!).
DO wash yourself after getting dirty
Always wash yourself after sex, physical activity, or swimming/getting wet. Allowing your vagina to sit in a moist (sorry) environment can cause problems later on.
DO wear cotton underwear
Your vagina has a preference. Cotton, breathable underwear. Synthetic fabrics and materials prohibit the the flow of air and moisture between your vagina and the outside world. By wearing anything other than cotton, you can be closing off your vagina, creating a breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria.
DO use organic, unscented cotton tampons/pads
The vaginal canal is what’s known as a mucus membrane, which means it secretes and absorbs fluids more quickly than our skin does. The vagina and vulva have the ability to absorb chemicals immediately without metabolizing them. Just like any crop, cotton can be grown conventionally with the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, or organically, without the use of toxic chemicals and genetically-modified organisms. Since your vagina is ultra-sensitive to absorption, it’s important to use organic cotton products to make sure you’re not absorbing anything that can be dangerous to your body.
DO love your vagina and continue the conversation!
While we’re making vagina-talk a thing, let’s also make a thing out of stopping vagina-shaming. Of others, and of ourselves. Our vaginas are beautiful and strong. About as unique as fingerprints, no two vaginas look the same, so we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious about the appearance of our own. Porn-culture is overpopulated with “perfect” vaginas that don’t accurately represent the population of vagina-owning badass women in this world.
We also shouldn’t feel ashamed about what comes out of them. Every noise, secretion, and smell that comes from between your legs has been heard, seen, and smelt before by someone else. Odds are, it’s totally normal.
Don’t be afraid to educate yourself on all things involving the vagina. Don’t be afraid to discuss it with women you trust. And above all, practice being loving and accepting of your most beautiful and powerful feminine organ.