We’re taught a bunch of things growing up that we never use in life (like cursive!), but often don’t learn necessary skills like how to handle medical debt or how to do taxes, and we most definitely don’t learn enough about sexual health. Talking about sex and sexual health is still taboo, but it’s important we know how to best take care of our bodies to maintain good health and feel empowered. And that includes knowing how to properly care for and clean your vulva and vaginal area.
When it comes to cleaning your vagina and vulva, the guidance out there can be a little confusing, especially with the influx of wellness products designed to “freshen things up” down there. The reality is, your vagina is a pretty well-oiled machine, and while the marketplace would have you believe that you need a dozen products to clean it, the reality is, it’s pretty simple. But here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when it comes to cleaning your vagina.
How to Clean Your Vagina
“I recommend that people actually leave their vulva and vaginal area alone to maintain good health,” Kameelah Phillips, MD, board-certified ob-gyn and the founder of Calla Women’s Health, told POPSUGAR. You may think that you need to go all in when you bathe to clean your vagina, but you don’t, since your vagina is self-cleaning. “Your discharge is literally your vagina’s shower,” Dr. Phillips said. The discharge your vagina produces moves bacteria and “things that can get stuck in the vagina” out on a daily basis, she explained. The amount of discharge your vagina produces can change often based on your ovulation cycle (if you ovulate), your health, and infections, she added.
Douching is another practice that has been marketed toward people with vaginas, but Dr. Phillips recommends avoiding it. “When we introduce douching, even if it’s water, it disrupts the natural balance of healthy bacteria that your body’s trying to establish,” she explained.
To clean down there, you should open your labia and run a wet finger or a little bit of soapy water down your labia to remove smegma (a buildup of dead skin cells, oil, and other fluids found on the tip of the penis or in the folds of the vagina) followed by rinsing clean with water. If you have pubic hair, it’s OK to use mild soap on the hair-bearing region, like your outer labia, as hair traps odor.
To clean your inner labia, Dr. Phillips said to simply rinse it with water. If you want to use products that are advertised to clean your vagina, Dr. Phillips recommends only using them on the hair-bearing area. “Less is more when it comes to vulva and vaginal care,” Dr. Phillips emphasized.
How to Clean Inside Your Vagina
Don’t. Dr. Phillips recommends only washing the outside of your vulva and the major labia with a mild soap. “We don’t grow up learning how to care for our vaginas…you don’t ever need to insert your fingers or soap or anything inside to wash your vagina,” she said.
The fact is, your vagina doesn’t need to smell like rose gardens. In fact, it’s normal for your vagina to have a scent and for that scent to change on a daily and monthly basis. If you do notice a scent that’s a little off or fishy, it could be an indicator of an infection and you can consult your primary care doctor or ob-gyn. Your vagina is extremely sensitive, so be sure to show it some TLC, but don’t go overboard with how you take care of it. If you have questions about your vaginal health, be sure to ask an expert no matter how odd or unusual you think your questions may be.
— Additional reporting by Alexis Jones