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Vulvovaginal health

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Health problems affecting the area of the female vulva and vagina include:

The vulva and vagina have a "normal flora" of "friendly" microorganisms (including the lactobacillus which turns milk into yogurt) which help to keep the area healthy. When the normal balance is disturbed, an infection can result.

The generic term for infection of the vagina is vaginitis. Symptoms may include an unusual or unpleasant discharge, itching, or pain during intercourse or at other times, but vaginal infections may also be present without any noticeable symptoms.

The following measures are advisable for keeping the vulva and vagina healthy and happy:

  • Wash once a day or so with soap and water. Other measures are seldom necessary or advisable. Two notable examples: So-called "feminine hygiene sprays" are unnecessary, may be generally harmful, and have been known to cause severe allergic reactions. Vaginal douching is generally not necessary and has been implicated in helping to cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) and candidiasis ("yeast infections").
  • After using the toilet, wipe from the front toward the back to avoid introducing bacteria from the anal area into the vulva.
  • Drink plenty of water and urinate frequently and as soon as possible when you feel the need, to help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract and avoid urinary tract infections. For the same reason, try to urinate before and after sex.
  • Change out of a wet swimsuit or other wet clothes as soon as possible.
  • Avoid fragrances, colors, and "deodorants" in products that contact the vulva/vagina: sanitary pads, tampons, toilet paper. Some women who are sensitive to these substances should also avoid bubble baths and some fabric detergents and softeners.
  • Avoid wearing leather trousers, tight jeans, panties made of nylon or other synthetic fabrics, or pantyhose without an all-cotton crotch (not cotton covered by nylon - cut out the nylon panel if necessary). Wear skirts without panties or pantyhose whenever possible, for example at home or when driving. Sleep without panties: eight hours a day is better than nothing.
  • Anything which has been in contact with the anal area (see anal sex) should be thoroughly washed with soap and water or a similar disinfectant before coming in contact with the vulva or vagina.
  • Use condoms, practice safer sex, know your sex partners, ask sex partners to practice basic hygiene (soap and water) of the genitals.

See also Sexually transmitted diseases, Pelvic inflammatory disease, Obstetrics and Gynecology

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