Dr Zac Turner on what makes a healthy vagina: smell, discharge and sex

Dr Zac Turner has advice for a young Sydney woman who does not believe her vagina is healthy.

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week Dr Zac Turner sheds some light on what makes a vagina healthy.

QUESTION: This is a bit embarrassing to say but I don’t think I have a healthy vagina. It tends to have an odour and lets out a fair amount of discharge – sorry I should’ve put a content warning before this!I want to know if this is because of my genetics, or are there tricks to make my vagina healthy? – Anon, 27, Sydney

ANSWER: Thanks for your question. It’s certainly not one to be embarrassed about. Believe it or not, I get many patients coming to me with a whole range of questions about their genitalia. Penises and vaginas are very tricky to understand and maintain. We often feel nervous to talk about them out of fear from outing ourselves to have ‘abnormal genitalia.’

My first recommendation is for you to open yourself up. Go to one of your closest friends and ask them about their vagina. Tell them about what’s happening with yours, and I bet you they may have encountered the same problems and have solutions to them. If symptoms persist, I recommend you make a trip to your GP who can refer you to an OB-GYN.

Before we go through my Dr Zac tips for a healthy vagina, let’s go through how one looks and operates.

A healthy vagina will too have a presence of discharge, however, it will be clear or slightly whitish. There is no ‘normal’ amount of discharge, and it varies between people. Usually, discharge will increase during ovulation.

Inside the vagina, the elastic mucosa or internal vagina tissue, it should feel moist and supple. I tend to tell my patients it should feel elastic.

In regard to scent, all vaginas will smell. A healthy vagina will have a scent that is not foul, but rather familiar. That may not make any sense, but my readers with a vagina will understand.

You should always be on the lookout for a few warning signs your vagina’s health is in decline. Thick white discharge and itchiness could mean you have an STI. If it’s painful during sex or urination it could be that you have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s some tips to keep your vagina healthy:

Wash smarter not harder

You don’t really need to wash your vagina, but you do need to wash your vulva. Washing your vagina can lead to many problems, as the soap you are using will disrupt your bacterial balance. This leads to vaginosis, yeast infection and other irritations.

You should wash your vulva with warm water, or with a mild soap. Spread your lips and gently cleanse around the folds, using a clean washcloth or your hands.

For my male readers, here’s a quick recap on some basic anatomy. The vagina is the inner canal inside your body, the vulva is the outer parts of the vagina such as the clitoris, clitoral hood, and inner and outer labia.

I will tell my patients to think of their vagina as a healthy ecosystem where everything is in balance. Did you know a vagina has a slightly acidic PH which kills bad bacteria and maintains the good stuff?

Millions of years of evolution have led to this point where a vagina can (most of the time) look after itself. Modern soaps, sprays and gels will affect your ecosystem, so be careful what you use and try to stick to natural products. Let your vagina clean itself and stay out of it!

Never, and I mean never, purchase products that claim to rid your vagina of its odour. These were created to prey on your insecurities and are quite harmful.

Embrace the vintage look

I’m not saying it isn’t okay to trim or remove hair along your swimsuit line, but I am saying you should keep your pubic hair. It has many purposes, such as protecting your vagina from extra bacteria, and it eliminates issues related to friction and sweating.

Have smarter sex

Sex with yourself and others is a common cause of problems with your vagina. There are a few things to consider. When you use lubrication, you should check the ingredients list. Avoid glycerine, parabens, scents, flavours, dyes, and non-natural oils.

Use body-safe sex toys and make sure they are made from safe materials such as silicone.

And you should always pee after sex, as it helps flush out any germs caught during the act.

Sleep in your birthday suit

Sleeping naked allows your vagina to breathe. Research suggests that cooler temperatures boost the health of your vagina, which can’t be achieved if you are wearing clothes. You may also start to feel liberated when you begin waking up naked and jumping out of bed!

Your vagina isn’t something to mess around with! Listen to your body and look out for any warning signs. I recommend you see an OB-GYN for any further advice if your symptoms persist.

Got a question: askdrzac@conciergedoctors.com.au

Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.

Originally published as Dr Zac Turner on what makes a healthy vagina

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