If your vagina could speak, this is what she’d say.
1. Soap is not your friend
It may seem counter-intuitive to not also liberally lather your yoni with shower gel. But soap will cause more harm than good.
The vagina requires a certain pH to remain healthy and soap destroys its delicate environment.
“Soaps have colourants, fragrances and preservatives. These all change the pH environment of the vagina – which is then conducive to infections that are pH dependent,” says Dr Moyra Stein, a GP in Cape Town with a special interest in women’s health.
“The causes range from the use of antibiotics, stress, bathing with bubble bath or wearing tight clothing such as lycra and nylon underwear which result in the vagina not being able to breathe.”
“Glycerine soaps are the best, or soaps that are scent and colour free.”
2. Thrush doesn’t have to be the story of your life
Thrush, an infection resulting from an overgrowth of the bacteria called Candida Albicans, is an odourless white vaginal discharge that resembles cream cheese. It may also cause genital redness, swelling and itching.
Dr Stein says, “The causes range from the use of antibiotics, stress, bathing with bubble bath or wearing tight clothing such as lycra and nylon underwear which result in the vagina not being able to breathe.
“People who have diabetes as well as immunocompromised persons are also more susceptible to developing thrush.”
But by eliminating the causative agents over which we have control, such as regular use of antibiotics, bubble bath as well as lycra and nylon panties, we can substantially reduce the occurrence of thrush.
“Reducing sugar intake, consuming pH balanced foods and taking probiotics regularly can also help control thrush,” explains Dr Stein.
3. Smelling like fish is common but not ‘normal’
For every woman who is in tune with her vagina and its needs, there is a woman – and man – who is not. We’re socially conditioned not to talk about our vaginas. For some, the mere mention of the ‘V’ word is even too much.
It’s not surprising then that there are those who are misinformed or simply ignorant and who believe untruths like ‘a vagina is supposed to smell like fish.’ It’s not.
The fishy smell can be attributed to a very common vaginal infection known as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).
“BV is as common as Candida (thrush), but women will not discuss it as freely as thrush, as it usually presents clinically as a frothy grey/ yellow offensive discharge (it may also be asymptomatic – except for the odour in some women – and merely be detected on a pap smear),” says Dr Stein. “It is best described as a fish-like odour and will present when there is a pH imbalance, which results in BV, caused by the bacteria Gardnerella.”
Thankfully BV is easily treated with oral antibiotics. It is also not an STI so your partner need not be treated – unless the BV becomes chronic.
4. Soap is not the only culprit
Apart from washing your nether region with soap being a leading cause in unbalanced pH levels and hence infection, such as BV and thrush, there are other things that upset your pH levels.
Sperm is one of them. Which is why women will usually notice the fishy odour straight after sex.
Dr Stein explains: “Women are not susceptible to infections every time their vaginal pH changes, and the pH may not change that dramatically.’ However, if you keep noticing a fishy smell after sex, it may be advisable (assuming that you’re not already doing so in the interests of safe sex) for your partner to always wear a condom.
Unless of course you are trying to conceive.
“Some women have chronic recurrent BV with their menstrual cycle, which in turn changes their vaginal pH monthly. These women may require a more long term treatment with medication.”
Saliva is another potential pH changer for some women. And not to put a damper on your sex life, but this means that using saliva as lubrication, as well as oral sex, may very well be the reason for this unpleasant odour.
Dr Stein explains that she has never had a patient complain about thrush or BV due to oral sex as the cause, but she doesn’t discount the possibility.
Especially if a partner has poor oral hygiene. The solution? Mouthwash before going down under and opting for something like coconut oil over saliva as a lubricant.
5. A-more-wet-than-usual vagina doesn’t mean you have an infection
Your vagina is not supposed to be completely dry. The amount of vaginal fluid you secrete (when not aroused) depends upon where in your cycle you are. “There are women who are excessive secretors of normal vaginal fluids,” says Dr Stein, “and they fear that such excessive secretions implies a vaginal infection.
But not every woman is able to wear a G-string, and panty liners weren’t invented for nothing!”
6. Every vagina has a unique smell
“How a vagina smells is totally variable, depending on the age of the woman, where she is in her menstrual cycle and whether she is on hormonal contraception or not,” says Dr Stein.
“Not all semen smells or tastes the same, and this goes for healthy vaginal secretions as well!” Unless you smell an odour that is different from your norm or the secretions are different to what you’re used to in terms of volume, consistency or appearance, your vagina is more than likely quite healthy.
In the case of any of the former, or if you want confirmation that your vaginal secretions are normal, says Dr Stein, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
If you feel you or your man needs a primer – or refresher – on all things vagina, the Vagina Varsity is where its at.