It’s 2019: The taboo of the vagina should be far from gone by now. And though some of us still view vaginal care as a restricted subject, we have to face the fact—with pride, of course—that “down there” deserves a little TLC. Your vagina is special, so it’s time to treat it as such.
But, with old wives tales and questionable Instagram threads on the subject running through our brains, finding the right way to keep your vagina happy can get complex. While there’s no need to create a daily 10-step regimen—our experts are actually against crazy in-depth routines—here are a few ways to show it some love.
First, Know What Not To Do
According to Vera Papisova, award-winning journalist and former Teen Vogue wellness editor, it’s important to sift through the vaginal care myths and educate yourself on what not to do before you start trying new things.
“Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough medically accurate information available about vaginal health, so there’s a lot of misinformation I’ve had to unlearn,” she says. “In my experience, there are certain things even doctors still disagree about, and more research needs to be done in general. For example, I take Fem Dophilis probiotics everyday per recommendation of a hormone expert, but my OB/GYN says probiotics taken orally do nothing. I’m convinced it works to prevent bacterial vaginosis (BV) and UTIs.”
If you don’t want to eat preservative-filled foods, why would you put toxin-filled tampons in your body’s most sensitive area? When your period comes around, it’s best to stick to organic tampons, according to Dr. Felice Gersh, award-winning OB/GYN & author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones and Happiness.
Stay Protected From Your Protection
“Sadly, our lives are not lived as nature intended us to live,” says Dr. Gersh. “We don’t want to get pregnant when not ready. We want sanitary products that allow us total freedom. We like to control our periods. I get it and feel the same way! The problem is all the things we do alter the vaginal microbial environment and can create vaginal problems.”
For these reasons, Dr. Gersh advises sticking to condoms over IUD and oral contraceptives, if you feel comfortable doing so. She also suggests staying away from spermicidal products due to their ability to kill good vaginal bacteria, and to never, ever douche.
“Depending on who your partners are, and the kind of protection you use, read the ingredients in everything,” Papisova adds. “I only use water-based lubes and organic condoms. I never use anything artificially flavored or anything that claims to create tingling sensations. Vaginal walls are like sponges, so if there are weird chemicals in it, swipe left.”
Dr. Gersh recommends using condoms with all new sexual partners, and insist on testing for the usual sexually transmitted infections before beginning an intimate relationship. We know the “Have you been tested?” question is uncomfortable to ask, but trust us—your vagina will thank you.
Ditch The Soap
We’re all subjected to the idea that using soap is at the helm of cleanliness, but that’s not entirely true when it comes to down there.
“Vaginas are self-cleaning, so I’d avoid douching at all costs,” Papisova says. “When it comes to the vulva and the skin around this area, the worst thing you can do is shave or use perfumed soap—this is the danger zone of infections. I’ve even been warned against using unscented, PH-correct washes. Plus, I am really sensitive to BV, and anytime I’ve tested ‘personal hygiene’ products, I usually get an infection. A product that has worked great for me over the years has been Sustain’s Post Play Wipes, and I keep those in the bathroom and next to my bed.”
If your pubic area is feeling dry or irritated from shaving and other forms of hair removal, Dr. Ferg suggests opting for natural alternatives, likes organic aloe vera gel and vitamin E suppositories.
Only Use Sex Toys As Sex Toys
This seems like a no-brainer, but seriously, don’t shove anything up your vagina that isn’t meant to be in there. l Like your tampons, you have to make sure that everything you put in, or near, your vaginal area is free of toxins and sanitized properly to avoid any infections or other mishaps. If you’re on the prowl for something to spice up your bedroom, Papisova recommends purchasing a high-quality sex toy made of non-toxic materials like silicone, and to follow the proper cleansing procedure to keep it clean.
Your Body Is Unique, So Treat It As Such
Think of your vagina as a snowflake—it’s totally unique in its own beautiful form. Which is why Papisova recommends treating your vagina as such:
“Everyone’s body is different, which means everyone’s vagina, vulva and labias look, smell, and feel different,” says Papisova. “Of course, it’s totally normal to feel vulnerable about your body because we’ve all been conditioned to hate ourselves, but the idea that anyone’s body should be a certain way is abusive and violent. There is no ‘right’ way to have sex or experience pleasure, and it’s OK to skip penetration all together. Communicate what works and doesn’t work for you — ask your partners what they like and are comfortable with. Lose the judgment and be fearless with self-acceptance.”
Acknowledge What Feels Right—And Wrong—To You
While experimenting with sex can be a good thing, don’t force yourself into anything that feels uncomfortable. Papisova suggests safely taking your time to explore what your body does and doesn’t like.
“Something I never see talked about is vaginal care for sexual trauma survivors. Sadly, sexual violence is so common it’s normalized as typical sexual experience,” she says. “That kind of trauma can manifest in so many different ways, and for some people it can be especially hard to feel their bodies in any way. After my sexual assault, I wish someone told me it was okay to not have sex if it was painful, but at the time I thought this was normal. I wish I took more time to check in with my body and explore on my own, so I sooner learned what sexual pleasure actually felt like. Being able to safely explore myself helped me understand that sexual assault is not a punishment for being sexually active, and there is no reason to feel guilty about enjoying a dope orgasm because orgasms are a form of vaginal care.”