October 13, 2019
When you think of gynecological health, the word that probably comes to mind is “vagina” — and that’s the extent.
And, sure, vagina is part of the whole amazing female reproductive system, but to think just “vagina” is a simplified (and kind of wrong) description of what you probably really mean.
While a big player, the vagina is actually the internal tube between the vulva and the cervix, which while not in terms of childbirth, is more of an insertion area for tampons or the penis during sex.
So ... the vulva doesn’t get a lot of mention, but it definitely should.
The vulva consists of the external parts of the female genitalia. This includes the glans clitoris, labia minora and majora, opening of the urethra and vagina (the introitus), and the surrounding tissue.
Now that you’re more familiarized with the anatomy of the vulva, you might be more inclined to pay attention to its health.
1. Keep it hygienic, but don’t go overboard. Treat the vulvar area with care, but keep it free of harsh detergents and deodorant sprays.
We get it, but these items may cause yeast infections or irritations that could lead to minor skin infections.
Sensitive skin soaps or formulas designed especially for the care of a women’s most sensitive areas are more helpful in the long run.
And you might not want to hear this (again), but 100% cotton underwear really is best for breathability.
2. Avoid douches, unless prescribed by a doctor. Brilliant marketing from douche brands did a number on women.
We might think douching freshens that not-so-fresh feeling about your vulvar and vaginal health, but in reality, douches can upset the gentle balance of vaginal flora and pH balance causing irritation and possibly, yeast infections.
While these types of infections may start in the vagina, your vulvar area pays the price too.
3. The clitoris. Need we say more? This is as good as any reason to show some respect to your overall vulvar health.
The magical clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings completely devoted to achieving the female orgasm (which is double the number of that in the penis, if you’re keeping score).
4. Lubrication. Following the birth of a child, changes in hormones as we age, even different forms of birth control, can all cause changes in lubrication, which can lead to pain and irritation during sex.
While the lubrication you feel originates from the neck of the uterus and conveniently travels through the vagina to the vulva, hormonal changes and decreases in lubrication can upset the balance in your vulvar area. To avoid irritation or infection, seek your doctor’s lubricant recommendation.
There are vulvar disorders, though rare to extremely rare, that you should still educate yourself on, if anything, to recognize and lesson any sense of panic. However, should you recognize any of these disorder symptoms, seek a physician’s care. Disorders and their symptoms include:
Younger readers may not remember this, but there is a famous scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes in which Kathy Bates’ character and other women are encouraged empower themselves to take a mirror and look “down there.” Kathy Bates’ character Evelyn Couch laments that she “can’t even look at her own vagina.” We hope that you can — and appreciate all the things it does for you. (Of course, we know the quote should include “vulva” in this context, but we’ll let that go.)
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