Some years ago in a UNILAG hostel bathroom, another young lady and I were at the tap having our baths side by side. She used a coarse rubber sponge and washed herself vigorously, when she got to the juncture of her thighs, she used her bath sponge to thoroughly scrub her vulva like she was scrubbing at a dirty kitchen floor and it was all I could do not to cry out “stop” because apart from the fact that such vigorous scrubbing with a coarse sponge was going to seriously bruise her vulva, I could see and smell the strong, harsh scent of the medicated soap she was bathing with and I couldn’t believe she didn’t know that such soap is bad for her genitals. This was ironic, because given the way she was scrubbing it with that sponge, she was determined to have it spick and span, but what she did not know was that the soap was only going to make her vulva smell foul, not fresh, in the end. So while we bathed, I had to patiently educate her on the proper ways to care for her genitals, now I’m going to share some of those tips.
1. Do not use harsh soaps or medicated soaps
Some women use only clean water to wash their genitals and it keeps it clean and fresh but if you must use soap on your nether regions, make sure it is mild toilet soap or feminine hygiene products that are PH balanced. This is because of the presence of beneficial bacteria whose work is to prevent infections and maintain a normal PH level. Because the vagina is acidic, when you wash the opening with harsh soaps, it would interfere with its normal conditions – alter its PH balance, kill off these beneficial bacteria and this may lead to vaginal irritations and or infections
2. Trim the pubic hair
Pubic hair starts to grow from the onset of puberty; it is a protective cover for the genitals. However, the hair can also trap in sweat and moisture that can lead to an offensive smell therefore it’s important to groom the hair, keep it to a minimum and not let it grow wild like an untamed forest. However, you shouldn’t shave it off completely because this would then leave the area without its protective cover. Shaving close to the skin with a razor may also cause bruises, nicks or epidermal abrasions (invisible cuts on the skin) that may be easily infected. Also, when the hair starts growing back, it would grow straight up and sharp such that it may cause itching especially between the vulva lips. You may also experience ingrown hairs which could be painful, discomforting and sometimes cause hair follicles to be infected, inflamed, and sometimes filled with pus.
3. Wipe or wash after urination
It is important to wipe or clean your vaginal area with water after urinating. This will get rid of the acrid smell of urine and keep the vaginal area clean and dry. When wiping your genitals, use white unscented toilet paper that is thick and doesn’t shed particles. I mean toilet paper that is like serviettes or paper towels so that the particles do not find their way into the vagina opening. Alternatively, you may use a small towel to pat the vagina dry after washing instead of toilet paper. Also, wipe from front to back after taking a dump. This will prevent fecal matter from your anus coming to your vagina and putting you at risk of bacterial infection.
4. Change your sanitary pads and pantyliners frequently
Don’t use these things for a long period of time- change them as often as you can because when you keep them on for long periods of time, it will cause unpleasant odours and increase your risk of infections. When you wear a panty liner, sanitary pad or tampon don’t keep it on for a whole day without changing it because after absorbing your vaginal discharge or menstrual blood, it will keep the moisture and warmth close to the vagina and this may lead to an infection.
5. Practice safe sex and treat infections
Morning after pills will only prevent you from getting pregnant; they won’t protect you against STDs. Use condoms when having sexual intercourse so as to keep such diseases out. And if you contract a disease or infection, do not leave it untreated because this could lead to more serious health problems and fertility problems in future if left to fester.
6. Choose bottom clothing carefully
Your genitals need to breathe! Very tight clothing or shorts will reduce air circulation around the vagina area which will cause you to sweat around there more and give off offensive odours. Choose panties made of cotton materials. Nylon and other synthetic materials increase vaginal sweating. Also, try to spread your panties under sunlight or iron them after washing. You may get irritations or discomfort from wearing panties that are slightly damp or musty and this is likely to happen when you dry your panties indoors. If possible, don’t wear panties to sleep at night so that your vaginal area can breathe and get more air.
7. Keep chemicals out of your vagina
Do not use deodorant, spray, powder or scented tissue or wipes to keep it smelling fresh! Apart from the fact that the chemicals in these products may cause irritation, they will only cover up the smell (if you have foul smelling vagina) for a while without actually eliminating the cause of the odour. Hair removal creams are also unadvisable because the skin around the vagina is very sensitive and so it may react adversely to the chemicals in the cream.
8. After sexual intercourse, urinate and then wash your vagina.
When you urinate and then wash your vaginal area after sexual intercourse, you get rid of body fluids and residual materials from condoms and lubricants used which may lead to irritation or infections if left in the vaginal area.
9. Proper nutrition
“You are what you eat” – this cliché holds true for the vagina too. Eating good, nutritious food and a balanced diet will go a long way in helping your vaginal hygiene. Drink plenty water and eat a lot of fruits. A balanced diet with plenty vegetables and fruits will not only help your hygiene as a woman, it would also boost your immune system and keep you from experiencing infections or falling ill often.
About the Writer: Temitope Adeiye is a lover of literature, good food, and owambe parties. You may find her (or her alter ego Fatimah) on twitter @midnightsun84, read her blog, or add her on Facebook.