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THE LATINA SEX AND THE CITY
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At 13 years old, I opened Mami’s bottle of Lemisol, poured some on my hand, and rubbed it all over my vagina. And oh, how it burned! My vagina felt like it was on fire and I didn’t know how to make it stop. I thought my mom’s favorite feminine wash (and that of all old-school Dominican women) would leave me with a cleaner and healthy vagina. I thought my vage would smell like flowers! Instead, I felt like I needed a fire extinguisher.
I’ll leave out the details of what happened next. (Let’s just say my mother was not happy.) Since joining adulthood, I’ve stopped messing around with products that mess up my pH balance, especially since certain feminine washes can cause yeast infections and an overgrowth of bacteria. I know what you’re thinking, how can I maintain a healthy vagina without them? Gynecologist Michele G. Curtis, M.D. and sexual health expert Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D give us the scoop.
Clean your vulva.
But isn’t that the same thing as your vagina? Actually, no. The vulva is everything on the outside, including your labia, clitoris, and urethra. The vagina is the internal cavity. So, when you’re washing your private parts focus on the vulva.
Say no to douching.
I decided to give douching another go at 35. And guess what? I was diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis — a temporary vaginal condition that results from an overgrowth of atypical bacteria — a month later. Boskey confirms how harmful douching can be as it “not only has the potential to disrupt the natural vaginal bacteria, but if there is an infection in the vagina or cervix, it has the potential to force that infection up into the cervical canal and uterus.”
Embrace your scent.
I understand how self-conscious women can feel over that scent. From a young age, we receive messages about what a healthy vagina is supposed to smell. You know, like a fragrant flower. Our vagina is supposed to have a specific odor that is uniquely ours. What our responsibility is as the keeper of our private parts is to distinguish between our normal odor and a sign that something is wrong. “If it’s smelling unpleasant, and the odor changes over time, talk to your doctor,” Boyken added. This may mean you have an infection that requires medical attention.
Use pH-balancing moisturizers.
Some products are recommended by doctors to help a woman’s pH balance, specifically if you’ve douched and had infections as a result. Also, “some women never feel like things are 100 percent right in their lady part,” Curtis admitted. “ In these cases, RepHresh or Luvena vaginal moisturizers are a great option as they are designed to keep your pH in check.
Stick to wipes.
They sell feminine wipes over the counter to help you freshen up. Stash a few feminine wipes in your bathroom cabinet to use before sex. However, Boyken recommends you “choose the gentlest option out there” like the all-natural SweetSpot Lab Feminine Wipes.
Use a gentle soap.
Many gynecologists recommend simply rinsing your vagina with water. I know, I know — that’s not clean enough for a healthy vagina! A great option is using a mild and gentle soap like Dove. Again, make sure it’s fragrance-free so your vagina stays healthy and sting-free.