The subject of women's health can often feel taboo for a lot of people. There are questions we need answers to, but first we have to feel comfortable asking them.
One of the most popular questions that women have is "am I cleaning my vagina properly?" For such a sensitive area of the body, there are conflicting reports on how to properly care for vaginas to make sure your overall health remains positive.
"The vagina contains more bacteria than anywhere else in the body after the bowel, but the bacteria are there for a reason," says Professor Ronnie Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Luckily, there are doctors and experts who are committed to keeping women in good health, and this is their advice on how to properly clean your vagina.
1. Focus on the whole area
"The vagina has really great mechanisms within it to keep it clean and have its own little healthy 'ecosystem,'" says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., a gynecologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
While the internal workings can clean themselves, it's still important to focus on the surrounding areas to make sure you're not gathering bacteria that can be harmful to your body.
2. Stick to basics
A lot people are under the impression that scented soaps will make their vaginal area smell better overall, but Dr. Shepherd says this isn't the case at all.
"Unscented soaps are always better because they don't have [fragrances] that could be irritants," says Shepherd. In fact, she suggests using bar soap over shower gel, because it has a lower alcohol content and a very minimal scent.
"All women are different," says Professor Lamont. "Some may wash with perfumed soap and not notice any problems. But if a woman has vulval irritation or symptoms, one of the first things you can do is use non-allergenic, plain soaps to see if that helps."
"If nature had intended the vagina to smell like roses or lavender, it would have made the vagina smell like roses or lavender," continues Professor Lamont.
3. Daily routines are important
Your vaginal area is often confined during the day with undergarments and pants. This causes a lot of sweating and other secretions. You should be washing your vagina once a day, even if it's just with a washcloth. Don't overdo it, though. Cleaning your vaginal area more than once a day can disrupt the pH balance and cause problems in the future.
"During your period, washing more than once a day may be helpful," says Dr. Suzy Elneil, consultant in urogynecology at University College Hospital. "Good perineal hygiene is necessary by washing that area at least once a day using your normal bathing routines."