10 Surprising Things That Could Be Affecting Your Vaginal Health

I’m in my mid-20s and I’m STILL learning new things about the well-being of my genitals. Lucky for you, I’ve decided to share with you some of the factors that can negatively affect your vaginal health. I hate to break it to you, but a lot of them are things you probably love.

  1. Stress Pretty much every aspect of your physical health suffers when your stress levels are high. However, you might be shocked by the true extent to which anxiety can affect your vagina. It can cause a loss of libido, which in turn can make you drier down there. Sex can become painful, or in some severe cases impossible. Stress has been known to bring on the condition vaginismus, described by England’s National Health Service as recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted.” Basically, stress sucks.
  2. Coffee I’m sure this news will disappoint my fellow caffeine lovers out there, but coffee can have some nasty effects on the health of your genitals if it’s consumed in excess. For one, strong coffee can actually change the odor of your vagina. While that’s not exactly dangerous to your health, it’s kinda weird. More worryingly, excessive coffee consumption can lead to an increased risk of nasty yeast infections. The high amount of caffeine in the drink can actually destroy vital vitamins and minerals that fight off such infections. Maybe go for a decaf at Starbucks next time.
  3. Alcohol Drinking is pretty bad for the body in a number of ways—we already know this. However, did you realize it’s actually a leading cause of painful vaginal dryness? The dehydration that you often feel after drinking a few glasses of wine can spread all over your body and even reduce the amount of natural lubricant in your genital area. Yet another reason why drunk sex really isn’t a good idea. You don’t want to wake up with a sore vagina.
  4. Fried food Why are all of the most delicious foods so bad for our bodies? Turns out that fried foods have one rarely talked about medical side effect—they can damage your vagina. Yep, really. Certain studies link fried foods to an increased risk of developing bacterial vaginosis. Scientists aren’t quite sure why this is the case but suspect it’s due to people on high-fat diets not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals that would fight off such an infection. To make matters worse, sweet foods are also problematic. You know what loves a warm, sugary environment like the body? Yeast. You know what really doesn’t cope well when it contains excess yeast? The vagina. Tragic, I know.
  5. Bubble bath While you might love to have a good long soak in a bubble bath at the end of a hard day’s work, your vagina is probably going to suffer for it. Soaps of all kinds can irritate your genital area, but being submerged in soapy water for long periods of time is a real no-no. Doing so can reduce your vagina’s amount of natural lubricant and leave you at a higher risk of developing a UTI. Bubble baths can throw off your vagina’s natural slightly acidic pH levels, opening the floodgates to a whole host of problems.
  6. Pantyliners As if women didn’t suffer enough already thanks to periods, turns out our sanitary towels can cause a whole ton of vaginal issues. Leaving them on for too long can increase your risk of developing a yeast infection, which isn’t ideal when you’ve already got blood pouring from your lady parts. Likewise, scented sanitary pads can irritate the vagina and further increase your risk of infection. If this has made you want to switch to tampons, beware —they too can trigger yeast infections and potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome if changed infrequently.
  7. Sexy underwear If you’re thinking of treating your partner by slipping on some sexy underwear in the near future, you might want to check your vagina’s in a healthy state first. Tight, synthetic underwear can cause a whole load of issues. It traps a lot of heat in your genital area, increasing your risk of developing a yeast infection. It can cause irritation to the skin around your vagina and even cause ingrown hairs to form. Thongs are particularly risky. Since they literally sit on your butt hole, they easily pick up E. Coli bacteria from leftover feces. If this makes its way into your vagina, you’ve got the perfect recipe for a horrid UTI. Let’s be honest: looking sexy probably isn’t worth getting sick with one of those nasty buggers.
  8. Sex toys Don’t panic: it’s not the time to throw out your vibrators just yet. However, be aware that failing to maintain them properly could be pretty damaging to your lady bits. Unclean sex toys are breeding grounds for the kind of bacteria that can cause UTIs and yeast infections. Toys made from porous materials like latex, wood, or vinyl are particular culprits for this, as the bacteria sitting on them have plenty of places to hide! Make sure to keep your toys clean and maybe consider putting condoms over ones that could be especially problematic. Also, be careful what kind of lube you use on them. Some lubricants can damage the material of sex toys and cause small holes to form on their surface where bacteria can linger. Yikes!
  9. Shaving Not only is it a total faff to constantly remove pubic hair, it’s potentially bad for your health.  The whole point of having hair down there is to trap any nasty, bacteria-covered objects that shouldn’t go anywhere near your vagina. Removing that hair can leave you more open to numerous fungal, bacterial, and viral infections. Plus, the act of hair removal isn’t exactly kind to your skin. Your genitals are tender at the best of times; why make them suffer by damaging the skin further?
  10. Douching. Repeat after me: douching is bad. Let’s say it louder for the ladies at the back: DOUCHING IS BAD. Manually cleaning out your vagina might seem like a great idea at the time but it can cause so many issues. It can affect the natural pH of your genitals and remove the ‘good’ bacteria that live in your vagina. It can leave you more susceptible to infection and even move already existing infections up to your uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. If this happens, you could find yourself having permanent fertility problems. Seriously. Just don’t do it.

Things you can do to keep your vagina healthy

  1. Pee when you need to go! Don’t hold in your pee! This can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) which can burn and hurt like hell. Although they affect your urinary tract, UTIs can also put your vagina out of business until you feel better, which means no sex! Ugh.
  2. Choose cotton. Cotton underwear is the best to wear because it helps your skin to breathe while preventing the accumulation of moisture that can cause bacteria in your vagina to thrive. Plus, they’re more comfortable. What’s not to love?
  3. Avoid fragrances. Your vagina is supposed to smell the way it does and it cleans itself daily. If you’re putting fragranced soap or lotions up there, you’re just irritating it and disrupting its PH balance which can cause infections. Washing inside with pure water is more than enough to keep things fresh.
  4. Avoid shaving and waxing. Yes, you want to be smooth down there, but don’t go overboard. Ingrown hairs can cause irritation and if you have sensitive skin, shaving or waxing can really hurt. You might even cut your skin, allowing bacteria to enter. Try to trim instead of removing your pubic hair fully.
  5. Use lube. If you feel you need extra lubrication, always remember to bring lube to the bedroom. If you don’t, the vagina and labia can become irritated and even chafed. Ouch! It’s just not worth it.
  6. Eat probiotic foods. Certain foods are really good for keeping your vagina’s PH levels healthy. This prevents things like yeast infections from happening. Make sure you stock up on probiotic foods like yogurt, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut that prevent bad bacteria from getting out of control.
  7. Don’t douche! Douching is a terrible thing to do to your vagina. It actually pushes water up into the vagina, eliminating its natural secretions. This messes up the vagina’s natural production of healthy bacteria it needs to function. As stated above, it’s unnecessary and even harmful.
  8. Be careful about lingerie. You might love your sexy lingerie, but make sure it’s not made from materials that can irritate your vagina or even cause allergies. For instance, synthetic fibers, elastic, and dyes can be harmful. It’s a good reason to start stocking up on organic lingerie that looks sexy while being good for you.
  9. Wash your clothes carefully. Be careful of how you wash your underwear. If you’re using chemical detergents that have a strong smell, these can irritate your sensitive skin. Make sure you choose gentle products that have as little scent as possible.
  10. Seriously, always wipe from front to back After using the bathroom, always wipe yourself from front to back. This prevents the transfer of germs from the rectum to the vagina, where they can cause infections. The same “front to back” rule should apply when you wash yourself in the shower to keep your vagina germ-free.
  11. Take that post-gym shower. When you sweat, you sweat all over—even in the vaginal area —so make sure you have a good shower after that intense workout at the gym. If you have a lot of pubic hair, be sure to wash it well to clean away germs.
  12. Do your Kegels! You work out the rest of your body, so don’t neglect your vagina. Kegel exercises keep your vagina strong and can increase your sexual pleasure. How do you do them? Contract your pelvic floor muscles for five seconds, take a short break, then do more.
  13. Stay away from glitter and other foreign objects! One of the latest vagina trends is to insert a capsule filed with glitter into your vagina where it will dissolve and release the glitter contents. WTF? Doctors are warning that foreign objects such as these “glitter-bombs” shouldn’t be inserted into your vagina because they can cause inflammation or bad bacteria to flourish. Plus, they’re just really gross!
  14. Keep your sex toys clean. Be sure to wash your sex toys well before and after use. Women’s Health has a great guide. Toys made from glass, stainless steel, wood or silicone (that are motorized toys) should be cleaned with a damp cloth and mild soap. Items made from stone, stainless steel, silicone or Pyrex that aren’t motorized can be put in boiling water for up to 10 minutes. But if you’re going to share sex toys made from hard plastic, jelly rubber, thermoplastic elastomer (TPR) or elastomer, even washing them with water and soap won’t always eliminate bacteria and STIs, so use a condom if you’re sharing them!
  15. Stop stressing. You might want to wash your vagina more during certain times of the month when its smell changes, but don’t overdo the hygiene. It’s perfectly normal for your vagina to smell differently at different times of your menstrual cycle, and it’s not always a sign that something’s wrong. Stop worrying about your vagina so much and let it do its thing!