Vaginal health and upkeep — what to do and what NOT to do down there

Taylor McDaniel, Staff Reporter

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Drink pineapple juice, put garlic cloves in it, douche down there: all common rumors and misconceptions when it comes to vaginal health. 

What absolutely should not be done is putting anything inside of the vagina that could upset the natural pH balance. 

The vagina is essentially self-cleaning, doing so with natural and healthy secretions. Balanced bacteria is also imperative in its health. The “good” bacteria is a tad acidic and helps to ward off the “bad” bacteria. There are tips to keep the equilibrium solid while there are also things that a person should never do.  

Douching, or cleaning out the vagina with water or other fluids, can actually do more harm than good, possibly causing a woman to be more prone to vaginal infections. However, washing the outside skin of down there is completely fine, encouraged even. 

“Be sure to get in between the vagina fold and the extereria and the labia, just nothing inside,” said Dr. Nancy Jansen, director of the Graham Health Center (GHC) at Oakland University. 

The American Public Health Association (APHA) recommends using mild, unscented soap while washing the exterior area. Another tip is to always be sure to wipe the vagina and anus from front to back to avoid spreading any germs. 

Above all, the APHA said a good diet and regular hygiene are key to keeping the vagina healthy. 

Camille Bilby, a third-year student at OU, believes the destigmatization of discussing vaginal health is important. 

“[As a young teen] in my shame and confusion, I felt too shy to seek out answers from adults in my life,” Bilby said. “I turned to the internet, where there are all manner of dangerous lies and misinformation.”

The widespread misinformation referred to by Bilby includes letting garlic cloves sit overnight in the vagina, which is highly inadvisable, according to Harvard Health Publishing, and douching with scented products to improve the smell. 

Although, apparently the pineapple rumor may have some truth to it, as a person’s diet has an effect on any body fluid, vaginal or otherwise, altering natural pH balance and smell of bodily secretions. However, drinking or eating pineapple right before sexual relations will not alter the scent. Only proper hygiene and diet on the long-term scale will help the vagina be — and smell — healthy.

One clear indicator of poor vaginal health can be a strong, unpleasant, “fishy” kind of odor and an odd color discharge (yellow, greenish, gray or thick white). It is completely normal and natural for the vagina to have a slight odor and experience clear or white, moist discharge, but any changes should receive medical attention. Symptoms such as itching, redness and burning (can cause burning with urination) should also be sought treatment for as it could mean a vaginal infection.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a vaginal infection caused by the imbalance of bacteria within the vaginal environment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 84% of women who have been found to have BV reported no symptoms, but Jansen said the infection is quite common.

“For some women, it’s nothing they’re doing wrong, [vaginal infection] just happens,” Jansen said.

While BV is more common in women who are sexually active, it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, having BV can increase the chances of acquiring HIV or a STI, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease.

Only a healthcare provider can diagnose a vaginal infection, so it is probably best to skip the home remedies and internet posts. 

“As an adult, I can look back and realize that this would have led to nothing but bad [results],” Bibly said.  “Upsetting my vagina’s pH balance and risking infection or worse, and that, above all, the slight scent of my vagina was totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of.” 

For more information on vaginal health, go to the American Sexual Health Association website or visit the Graham Health Center on campus.