Douche or Don’t? 10 Tips for Vulvar Care You Didn’t Learn in Sex Ed. Class
As a young girl I don’t ever recall being taught anything about vulvar care in sex ed. class. No wonder, many women coming into my practice have no idea what the vulva even is, much less how to properly care for it. So lets start with that.
The vulva is the external female genitalia. It is the soft tissue that lies on top of the pubic bone (aka mons pubis) and runs down either side of the vaginal opening to end at the perineal body (the space between the vagina and anus). The vulva includes the labia minora, labia majora, urethral and clitoral tissue and glands that secrete fluid for lubrication.
So does the vulva play a role in sexual function? Of course it does. This tissue contains nerves and muscles that, if stimulated properly, can help you get your mo-jo going. The vulva (and pubic hair) also act as a protective barrier for other more delicate parts including the clitoris.
Vulvar care is key in avoiding infection and irritation. When the vulva is not happy you can experience symptoms of pain, itching, burning or sensitivity. To learn a little more about vulvar pain syndromes visit Common Conditions.
When you consider the multifaceted role the vulva plays, it becomes apparent why it is so important to ensure proper vulvar care. Here are a few points to consider:
1) Let it breathe: wearing synthetic underwear or thongs are a big no-no as this can aid in the growth of bacteria leading to infection, and thongs can irritate the vulva. Wearing 100% cotton underwear is best.
2) If the vulva feels irritated or swollen, a cold compress or damp cloth over the area can help alleviate discomfort.
3) Taking a sitz bath can also help alleviate pain and discomfort.
4) If experiencing dryness or chaffing over the vulvar tissue, you can apply natural lubricants such as olive oil, coconut oil or even Crisco (yes I said Crisco). Dryness can often become a problem when breast-feeding or after menopause.
5) Stay away from shaving or waxing the vulva. This will irritate the skin and also take away the protective barrier the hair can provide.
6) If wearing sanitary pads for incontinence or menstruation, change frequently and try to use 100% cotton pads. Pads containing plastic materials are much less breathable.
7) Make sure you use gentle soaps or detergents to wash your undergarments.
8) Use soft white toilet paper and ALWAYS wipe from front to back.
9) DO NOT use vaginal douches, perfumes, sprays, shampoos etc. These products often contain harsh chemicals that can cause more irritation and also disrupt the normal pH balance and normal bacterial flora in the vagina.
10) The vagina is a self-cleaning oven; use water only to wash and ensure the area stays dry to minimize unwanted bacterial growth.
So please keep your vulva happy by following these top 10 tips. If you have vulvar symptoms that continue to persist, be sure to follow up with your doctor.
I now leave you with a photo of a vulva I took at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam while there for a pelvic conference. Happy, sad or mad vulva?…For you to interpret as you wish.
Angelique Montano-Bresolin is a graduate of the University of Toronto Physical Therapy program and has been practicing as a Registered Physiotherapist for over 20 years with a specialty practice in pelvic health. Her extensive post-graduate training has included courses to assess and treat all genders and ages with concerns such as: incontinence, abdomino-pelvic pain and sexual pain in many populations including: pre and postnatal, post-surgical, post-menopausal and post-cancer. In 2012, she founded Proactive Pelvic Health Centre in Toronto, Ontario.