From smear tests to painful urination and sex, here are your most common concerns about keeping your vagina happy and healthy answered…
Firstly, what’s normal in a healthy vagina?
A healthy vagina will have a bit of a musky smell, which is normal, as is a vaginal discharge (in most cases). Normal discharge colour can range from clear to a milky white at different times of your cycle and you may notice more when you’re ovulating, sexually aroused, or breastfeeding.
Read more: Sex during pregnancy — what you need to know
The smell may be different if you’re pregnant. But if you notice a fishy smell it could be an infection called bacterial vaginosis, or a yeasty smell could mean thrush (which is a fungal infection). Did you know that your vagina can smell sweet if you eat fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit? Watch out for asparagus, onions, garlic and broccoli though – they can cause a bit more of a whiff.
A common sexually transmitted disease, trichomoniasis (‘trich’), is caused by a parasite that easily spreads through unprotected genital contact (condom use can lessen your chances of getting it, but the parasite may infect areas that aren’t covered by the condom). Most people who have the parasite don’t develop symptoms, but it can cause an odour along with redness and pain during urination or sex.
Soap and water – The best way to clean your vulva
Your vagina self-cleans; fluid from glands inside your vagina and cervix carry away dead cells and bacteria to help prevent infection. ‘Just use unperfumed soap and water to clean the vulva,’ says sexual health expert Natika H. Halil.
Pap smear timeline…
The South African HPV Advisory Board recommends you have your first Pap smear by the age of 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active, whichever happens first. After that you should book a smear test every year until you’re 30 then – if you’ve had clear tests up until then – you can go once every three years.
Thrush: How to soothe the itch
Three out of four of us will have the yeast infection thrush at some point. ‘You might notice itching, soreness and redness around the vagina, vulva or anus; white discharge from the vagina that may be thick and look like cottage cheese, or smell yeasty; pain when passing urine and having sex,’ says Natika. ‘Or you may have thrush but no symptoms.’ Try an over-the-counter cream like Canesten.
Simple solutions to vaginal itching
Vaginal itching might be triggered by chafing or sweating due to tight-fitting clothing, or an allergy to detergents, fabric softeners, or shower gels.
Some tampons and sanitary pads can irritate your skin too. Try tampons made from unbleached cotton, or a menstrual cup like the Mooncup Menstrual Cup (R549; faithful-to-nature.co.za)
Take a probiotic supplement
‘Bacterial vaginosis is very common and is due to a loss of lactic-acid producing bacteria in the reproductive tract,’ says Dr Sarah Brewer.
‘Use an over-the-counter antibiotic gel to clear it up and also take a probiotic supplement to replenish levels of lactic acid-producing ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which will find their way into the reproductive tract.’
Evidence shows that taking vitamin D3 supplements can also help reduce bacterial vaginosis symptoms.
A workout for your pelvic floor
The iTouchsure Pelvic Floor Exerciser (R1 580; tenscaresa.co.za) is a super easy-to-use pelvic floor exerciser that can be used at home with a range of clinically tested programs – providing relief from incontinence, as well as improving sexual well-being.
Pain when you pee?
It’s probably cystitis, a common bacterial urinary tract infection (UTI). But hold off on the cranberry juice. A study by Yale School of Medicine found that contrary to popular belief, the juice doesn’t ease symptoms. Best option? Flush out the infection by drinking at least two litres of water a day.
Read more: How to prevent bladder infections from sex
Be prepared for menopause
Menopause, The Answers (Orion) by Dr Rosemary Leonard is a helpful menopause ‘bible’ which looks at everything from hot flushes and sex to the pros and cons of hormone-replacement therapy. Also, have a look at menopause.co.za – a website dedicated to promoting women’s health during midlife and beyond.
How to stop vaginal dryness during sex
Up to 45% of us may suffer with vaginal dryness at some point. Try a vaginal cream like GynaGuard Lubricating Moisturising Gel (R84,95, Dis-Chem). It’s a non-sticky moisturising gel that will help with lubrication during sex.
You can also speak to your gynaecologist about an oestrogen-based cream or tablets that can be used to prevent regular dryness.
Top tip! The average couple has sex once a week. According to sexpert Tracey Cox, those having more sex weren’t any happier than those getting it once a week – ‘because once weekly is a realistic goal’. Plus, 9am on Sunday mornings is the most popular time for couples to have sex.
Read more: How often is everyone else having sex?
Thinking of freezing your eggs? Download an app…
FrzMyEggs (free for iOS/Apple; Android) helps women decide if egg freezing is right for them. The egg-freezing ‘calculator’ uses your age and other health indicators to estimate how many eggs you might be able to freeze per cycle.
That information helps determine your pregnancy success rate, how much the whole egg-freezing procedure will cost, and it’ll weigh up the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision.