The older I get, the less I care whether I'm perfectly waxed and lingerie-d down there, and the more I just really want to avoid discomforts like yeast infections — which may get more frequent as women age — pain during sex and ingrown hairs. From what I've heard from my close friends, this is a common sentiment, as is the general decision to prioritize health over certain aesthetic efforts. (Some days, I'd rather make my workout a little longer at the expense of a perfect blow-out in the morning — y'know?)
I'm not saying I'm against grooming or cute underwear, just that I'd rather make choices that also keep my body healthy whenever possible. Luckily, there are plenty of easy, painless things you can do to keep things comfortable down there. Below, find seven tips from experts that will keep your lady parts — and you — healthy and happy.
A healthy diet doesn't just go a long way toward keeping you trim; it'll also keep things operating smoothly down there. "Eating foods that are good for your heart, brain and muscles are also good for your vagina," says New York-based gynecologist Sheeva Talebian a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM fertility clinic. "So make sure you're loading up on all the common-sense things like good fats, good carbs, plenty of fruits and veggies, and avoiding processed foods and too much sugar." She adds that women who are prone to yeast infections should load up on yogurt with live cultures of good bacteria. "This can help keep the vaginal pH and gut flora healthy and prevent yeast overgrowth," she says.
Another thing you can do if you're prone to yeast infections is add a supplement to your diet, says Talebian. Acidophilus and lactobacillus are the same types of good bacteria that can be found in yogurt, but if you're worried you're not eating enough of it, you can take them in capsule form. You can get them at any grocery or drugstore, and there are even special formulations for women. You might also want to consider boric acid capsules, which can be inserted manually to help nix recurrent yeast infections.
I'll admit I'm prone to yeast infections (they're the actual worst) and that sleeping commando, on the recommendation of my gynecologist aunt, has kind of changed my life. "Wearing no underwear at night and cotton loose ones during the day can prevent yeast from growing," says Talebian. "Also, be sure to quickly change after exercise and swimming so you're not lingering in those damp underwear or bathing suits, allowing fungus or bad bacteria to multiply."
Hygiene freaks and micromanagers, relax. Your vagina was made to self-clean, so you don't need to be obsessive about it. "Near-daily showers are always good, but douching is not advised because it can disrupt the natural environment of the vagina, which then leads to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis," says Talebian. Basically, keep it simple, she says. "I recommend using a soap that is low in dyes and perfumes, cleansing the outer vagina well, making sure to get into the exterior folds of skin. Be careful not to use the soap or anything else internally."
And no, I don't mean hitting the literal gym. "Kegel exercises are great for your vagina," says Talebian. "They're great at any age, but especially as you get closer to wanting to get pregnant and during and after pregnancy. Kegels help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which lowers your risk of incontinence and prolapse of your pelvic organs — in layman's terms, that means a drooping uterus and cervix." Turns out, keeping it tight has more benefits than just resulting in great friction during sex.
Yes, it's expensive, and no, it's not fun, but waxing is a lot better for the skin around your vagina than shaving. "Even though shaving can be seen as the fastest and most convenient method of hair removal, it only removes hair at surface level, meaning the hair will reappear in one to four days," says waxing expert Noemi Grupenmager, founder and CEO of Uni K Wax Centers in New York City. "By continually cutting the hair, you stimulate its growth, which may also lead to irritation for those with sensitive skin. By waxing, you'll immediately begin to weaken the hair follicle, resulting in slower, lighter, thinner and sparser regrowth. Waxing is also safer because it will help you avoid daily risks of nicks, cuts, ingrown hairs and the burn associated with using a razor." Kinda worth it at the end of the day.
When you go through certain life changes — namely, childbirth and menopause — you may experience dryness or discomfort that can be dealt with using the right lubricants. “As a woman becomes menopausal, vaginal dryness can become a real problem,” says Talebian. “Your ovaries produce less estrogen, which means reduced secretions and ‘thinning’ of the vaginal tissue. This can make intercourse painful and even bloody.” And the same thing can happen right after you have a baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Menopausal women should talk to their gynecologist about local estrogen creams. “These can be safe and effective,” says Talebian. “And postpartum women should use over-the-counter lubricants since estrogen creams aren’t always safe while you’re breastfeeding.”
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