By Alexa Santory
Some think it’s taboo to talk about feminine hygiene, but someone has to do it! Learning how to take care down there is a process. You really just have to find what works for you! There are still some general rules thumb you need to know, though, like how to balance your pH (yeah, you’re acidic down there), if soap is okay to use, and the miracle that is cranberry juice. We’re also gonna break down some of the more serious issues we face down there that people don’t really seem to talk about either. Keep reading to get some vital information about your goodies.
First, 5 Important Things to Know About Feminine Hygiene
Not even gonna lie to you guys, I love talking about this stuff because it’s a part of what makes being a woman so unique, and we should all be comfortable talking about it. I understand how it can be a sensitive or uncomfortable topic for some people, but this is a safe environment with no judgment whatsoever. We’re just trying to keep you guys informed because we want you to take the best care of yourselves! Let’s get into our top 5 tips for taking care down there.
Tip 1: Having a scent is totally normal.
Vaginas have a natural scent, and knowing this is going to help you a whole lot because you’ll also be able to tell when something’s wrong. Another thing that’s normal? Discharge. It’s also totally normal not to have it, too. Everybody and every body are different. Your scent is caused by a combination of factors like the bacteria down there, your diet, what kind of underwear you wear, and how well you clean down there. You should know that if the scent is something totally out of the ordinary, it’s probably due to some type of infection, so pay a visit to your doctor!
Tip 2: Water and cranberry juice are your V’s BFFs
I talk about this a lot but please drink water. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. No but in all seriousness, cranberry juice is pretty much where it’s at when it comes to flushing out the nasties. UTIs can be extremely uncomfortable, and given how common they are, every girl should have a bottle of cranberry juice in her fridge. It’s still delicious when you’re not suffering. Cranberry juice is full of antioxidants and acidic compounds that are wonderful for flushing out the bad bacteria that lurks in our urinary tracts. If the juice just isn’t your cup of…. juice...try a cranberry supplement pill. They work just as well and you can take them with your morning vitamins. Speaking of which…
Tip 3: Get into probiotics
Good bacteria are what we want and lucky for us, that’s exactly what probiotics are. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to restore balance to the gut. Good and bad bacteria exist down there too, and probiotics are a great way to strike a balance. Incorporating a probiotic into your daily routine can help restore good flora and reduce the risk of issues like yeast infections, BV, or an unbalanced pH. If you’re ever ill and need to take antibiotics, I recommend using a probiotic to counteract it. Antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria -- they get rid of all of it. Probiotics can help get things back on track. Fermented foods like kimchi, miso, kombucha, and yogurt are jam packed with kitty-friendly probiotics, too!
Tip 4: Soap may not be entirely necessary
Alert the media! I’m probably rocking your world right now, but you don’t have to use soap down there because the body is amazing and vaginas are self-cleaning. You know that discharge I mentioned earlier? That’s your body getting rid of dead cells and other potentially harmful material. It’s totally natural and normal. There are, of course, options in terms of soap to use down there. They’re specifically formulated to balance the pH of the vagina, so please, I beg of you, DO NOT use your body wash to wash your kitty too. Harsh soaps are going to throw the whole thing out of whack and may even lead to infection. Also, don’t ever put soap inside of you because it can really disrupt the natural balance of your vagina which is self-cleaning. In reality, you really only need water. If you’re not entirely comfortable with that, get into a pH balanced wash, preferably one that’s unscented. Scented soaps can lead to irritation for some women. Also! Please don’t douche. Douching washes e v e r y t h i n g out, good and bad. And that’s just bad for business. It’s not necessary and quite frankly, it’s archaic.
Tip 5: Always pee after sex
Getting a little PG-13 here, but this is great advice for all ages. Please pee after sex. It is of utmost importance and I can’t stress enough how much trouble it’ll save you in the future. Peeing after intercourse helps cleanse the urethra of harmful bacteria, like those that can cause a UTI and other infections. If you’re prone to UTIs and you’re sexually active, doing this and drinking more cranberry juice should help curb the problem!
The tougher stuff no one wants to talk about…
Women deal with enough just for being women. Can we please have an open discussion about the reproductive issues that plague us? The female body goes through a ton of changes over a lifetime. Sometimes those changes are more serious than we signed up for. People tend to shy away from discussing these issues, but they’re more common than you think.
This is a disorder where the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus (the endometrium) starts to grow on the outside of the uterus. It can affect your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the tissue in your pelvis, too. It’s painful, especially on your period. The lining is what we shed on our periods, so it goes through the same process when it’s growing outside. The difference is that this hardened tissue has no way of exiting the body. It can cause severe pain during your period and during sex. It can also lead to excessive bleeding on or between periods.
In severe cases, endometriosis can lead to fertility issues. Because of the severity of the disorder, it’s recommended to see a doctor for proper treatment. There are some home remedies to help alleviate some of the pain. Using a heating pad, the same way you would for cramps, can help ease up the pelvic muscles. Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can help as well. Upping your intake of turmeric can help reduce the growth of tissue outside the uterus because it might slow down the hormone estradiol, according to one study.
These are fluid filled pockets that grow either in or on the ovary. They’re super common, so much so that you may have one right now and not even know it. Don’t be scared though! Most ovarian cysts don’t cause any pain and go away on their own. These fall into the “functional cyst” category. Follicular and corpus luteus cysts are grown naturally to produce estrogen and progesterone and release an egg when you ovulate. Functional cysts develop around our periods as a way to help our bodies release an egg.
There are other, more serious types of cysts though. Like dermoid cysts, which can contain tissue like teeth, hair, and skin, are formed by embryonic cells. They’re typically non-cancerous, but sound like something out of a horror movie nonetheless. There’s also cystadenomas, which develop on the surface of the ovary and are filled with water or mucus, and endometriomas, which develop as a result of endometriosis. The latter two are much more serious since the can cause the ovary to move out of its proper position and cause ovarian twisting, a super painful symptom that can stop the blood flow to the ovary. This is one of the two biggest risks women face in terms of ovarian cysts, the other being rupturing. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to stop the development of ovarian cysts. Getting pelvic exams regularly, like when you go visit your gyno, can help. Also monitor any changes in your periods and if they’re more painful than normal.
As a symptom of our periods, women experience PMS. You know, the bloating, the irritability, and the tiredness. Did you know that there’s a more extreme version of PMS that affects up to 5% of women? PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, causes emotional and physical symptoms that can be debilitating for most women. Symptoms of PMDD include all those of PMS, plus mood swings, depression and feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, intense anger, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and intense fatigue. These symptoms may start 7 to 10 days before your period and stop 1 or 2 days after it starts.
No one knows for sure what causes PMDD, but those tricky hormones may be the reason. Studies have found a connection between PMDD and low levels of serotonin, aka the happiness hormone. When it comes to treatment, it’s really all about self-care. Sure, birth control can help regulate hormone levels, and in more extreme cases, your doctor may put you on antidepressants. While going on the pill has its upsides, it has just as many downsides, too (take it from me, someone who’s been on BC for almost 4 years). What it really comes down to is taking care of yourself and being mindful of your condition and your symptoms. Take time to slow down a bit around this time. Changes in your diet could help, as well as exercise. Some even say meditation and yoga are super helpful. PMDD is such a hard condition to understand, especially since it comes and goes so quickly. You’re never alone in this, though!
Let’s talk about tampons…
Sooooo…. what about feminine hygiene products? Is it true they’re probably doing us more harm than good? That’s what we’re learning now, especially with all the new options women have to feel comfortable during our periods. More and more information is being released on the basic toxicity of your regular drugstore sanitary napkins. Apparently, the FDA doesn’t regulate the ingredients in feminine hygiene products (oh great, another way the government shows us they don’t really like women) because they’re classified as “medical.” This gives brands the leeway to add just about anything to their products, including chlorine and pesticides. Yes, the same stuff they spray on fruits and vegetables to keep bugs away is going into our tampons and pads. The vagina is extremely absorbent, so using products that contain these chemicals means our bodies are going to absorb them, which could potentially lead too much greater harm. Let’s also not forget about toxic shock syndrome. While rare, leaving a tampon in for an extended period of time could lead to TSS, so please change your tampons often.
Over the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve seen a rise in feminine hygiene alternatives to traditional tampons and pads. Brands like Thinx, which sell panties with built in sanitary napkins, have become extremely popular and have led the pack on innovative ways of helping women feel comfortable on their period. There’s also been a rise in brands producing natural tampons and pads, free from harmful chemicals. Companies like Lola use social media to sell their product and promote an open conversation about the dangers of harmful chemicals in feminine hygiene products. More and more, we’re seeing women call out big brands on this issue, which is helping to pave the way for a more open and honest conversation about what we put in our bodies during this delicate time of the month.
You should know what you’re putting in your vagina. Brand transparency is important. Don’t let these big brands fool you anymore -- there are plenty of less harmful options out there. I’m making the switch, are you?
The Streets Are Talking
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