Diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend. It’s actually her vagina.
From the time we understand our vagina as little girls to giving her the respect she deserves as women, there’s a bond that develops between us and the most intimate part of our body. From our first period to our first sexual intercourse, our vaginas are subjected to pressure, pain, pleasure, and everything in between.
However, despite the key role the vagina plays in a woman’s life, she’s balefully ignored by most of us. Vaginal health is something that we know we should be concerned about, but most of us don’t have the memo on how to go about it.
Practice safe sex
This is a no-brainer. Using a condom during sexual intercourse reduces the chances of catching Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like HIV, herpes, gonorrhoea, and chlamydia. According to reports, using condoms also help maintain a steady pH level for the vagina, touted to be anywhere between 3.8-4.5, which is important because it helps retain the health of the good bacteria that help fight Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), yeast infections and other diseases.
An additional point to note here is something we all turn a blind eye to—lubes! Buying and using lubricants during sex isn’t just a ‘man’s duty’. Sometimes, it’s normal to experience vaginal dryness and using a lubricant can stop the intercourse from being painful and causing abrasions.
About 20 percent of women tend to wash out their vagina with a mixture of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. This is extremely harmful, because it increases the vaginal pH level, and with it, the growth of harmful bacteria which can cause a slew of infections. Everyone loves a good fruity body wash, soap and powder, but these are not to be used inside the vagina because unlike the skin around the rest of our body, it doesn’t have the additional layer of protective tissue.
Don’t skip that doctor’s appointment
A common mistake that most of us make is shying away from that looming doctor’s appointment. Especially, when that doctor is our gynaecologist. However, an annual visit to go get pap-smeared is highly recommended by most health experts especially after women become sexually active or after they hit menopause. Fibroids and PCOS are common among women after a certain age, but it’s always better to diagnose it and treat it before it leads to a larger problem—fertility or otherwise—in the future.
While we may be favourable to the idea of wearing sexy thongs and lacy underwear, they aren’t ideal for maintaining vaginal hygiene. The preferred candidate? Cotton. Wearing cotton underwear helps in letting air into the vagina and absorb the moisture. Otherwise, there arises the painful possibility of an ugly red rash around the sides and entrance of the vagina. Even with cotton, it’s important that we change our underwear at least once or twice in a day.
Let’s talk about periods
A BBC report from May 2020 found that only 36 percent of Indian girls and women use and have access to sanitary napkins, while the remaining population uses old cloth, rags, husk or ash to manage the flow. It also stated that as a result, nearly 23 million girls in India drop out of school annually once they start their period. This is a horrifying statistic for a country of billions. When India went into a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic in March, a lot of young girls who were receiving a free supply of sanitary napkins from their schools, had their supply cut off.
While the Indian government has been rallying for awareness and discussion regarding menstrual hygiene over the past few years, not much has actively been accomplished in the interim: in introducing new and important measures for the distribution of free or subsidised disposable pads among the rural sections of society or by offering cheaper, sustainable alternatives like menstrual cups, and reusable pads.
The 2015-2016 National Family Health Survey had reported that the number of disposable pad users in India had increased to 58 percent, with rural users at 48 percent and urban users at 78 percent. However, the introduction of GST on disposable pads caused an overall surge in the prices of disposable pads, especially for women residing and working in rural parts of India, and the numbers have since changed.
According to a report, women in slums of Hyderabad do recognise that cloth is a bad substitute for sanitary napkins and due to factors such as limited private washing spaces, they do not hygienically utilise the cloth products. The report also revealed that even among the disposable pad users, many practised unhygienic methods such as wearing the pad for the whole day or for two consecutive days when the flow is light.
While the measures and methods available to women from different socio-economic backgrounds regarding vaginal health are highly differentiated, the need to open up a conversation and spread awareness about menstruation, contraceptives and routine check-ups mark the tip of the iceberg. To this end, women need to work together and stop tip-toeing away from the speaking about the most important part of our body—our vagina.
(Edited by Kanishk Singh)