Care of Your Vulva and Vagina Part I

Two Things to Keep in Mind
in Regards to Feminine Hygiene.

1) The female body is naturally healthy!

2) Proper care requires no care at all!


What Genitals:We live in a society that denies the existence of Female  Genitalia

The first challenge confronted when teaching good hygiene practices to girls and women is making them consciously aware of their external genitals. If girls and women are not aware of their genitals it is very difficult to get them to care for them. We live in a society that denies the existence of their genitals. We seldom hear mention of the words "vulva" and "clitoris." They are taboo. All we usually hear about is the "vagina." When "feminine hygiene" is mentioned we usually think of menstruation and the internal reproductive organs, not the vulva. Care of the clitoris and vulva is seldom if ever mentioned and as a result they are often completely neglected or the attention they receive is harmful.


A Secret Fragile Garden

During puberty remember the first time you found your underwear covered with a clear to yellowish colored fluid that was watery or sticky in consistency? Did you believe you were sick or had injured your genitals while exploring the changing landscape? You likely had no one to talk too about this body fluid and knew asking would be inappropriate since it involved "down there." You may have grown to accept this continuous and ever changing flow of fluid, but never knew why it existed, accepting it as part of being a woman.

Where does this fluid come from, what does it do, and why me you ask? The same thing that was responsible for the development of your breasts and the start of your menstrual cycle is also responsible for this fluid, estrogen. It is necessary if your body is to stay "healthy." This fluid is part of your body's natural defenses against infection. When you start menstruating and engaging in partnered sex your body needs to be able to eliminate potentially harmful organisms that may try to take advantage of the presence of menses (blood) or that you may acquire from your sexual partner(s). Evolution has tried to ensure our survival by providing us with natural defenses.

I used the word "healthy" above in place of the word "clean" as we often have the wrong idea of what clean means in regards to our bodies. Based on our common way of thinking, a clean body is actually an unhealthy one, especially when it comes to your vulva and vagina. Believe me, you do not want a clean vagina or vulva, you want them healthy.

Kenneth Todar said

"During reproductive life, from puberty to menopause, the vaginal epithelium contains glycogen due to the actions of circulating estrogens. Doderlein's bacillus predominates, being able to metabolize the glycogen to lactic acid. The lactic acid and other products of metabolism inhibit colonization by all except Doderlein's bacillus and a select number of lactic acid bacteria. The resulting low pH of the vaginal epithelium prevents establishment of most bacteria as well as the potentially pathogenic yeast, Candida albicans. This is a striking example of the protective effect of the normal bacterial flora for their human host."

Okay, lets try that in non-medical terms. Estrogen is produced by the ovaries and is the "female" sex hormone or chemical messenger that circulates throughout the body and prepares the body for conception, pregnancy, birth, and breast-feeding. Some areas of the body, like the breasts, vagina, and vulva are very sensitive to this chemical messenger. The outer skin cells of vagina are told by estrogen to store a type of sugar. Beneficial and common bacteria that live in the vagina consume this sugar and release a mild acid. The resulting acidic environment prevents unwanted organisms from living in the vagina and entering your body and thus prevents yeast and other forms of infection.

You can see how bacteria, which we usually consider to be bad, are extremely important in preventing "harmful organisms" from entering your body through your vulva and vagina. Bacteria actively protect you from disease. This is why a "clean" vagina is an unhealthy one. If your vagina does not contain these beneficial bacteria it cannot protect itself. If you create an unhealthy environment inside your vagina beneficial bacteria cannot survive, leaving you vulnerable. If you change the vaginal environment by douching, making it too dry, moist, or warm it cannot protect you. If you introduce anything into the vagina that kills this beneficial bacteria, harmful bacteria, funguses, and the like can take over and you end up with an infection. A yeast infection is the most common form of infection that results when the beneficial bacteria lose the fight.

As a result of this defensive process your body and vagina are always producing vaginal fluids that exit the body through the vulva. This fluid contains the unwanted and potentially harmful material your body is trying to literally wash away, similar to urination. Your body cleans itself and does not need your help. If you did not wear form fitting clothing the moisture would either dry out on your outer labia and pubic hair, or fall to the ground. It may also travel down your thighs and evaporate away. As a result of the water evaporating away, most bacteria, funguses etc. cannot survive and die. The surrounding air would also be cooler than body temperature. The cooler dry environment would prevent the harmful bacteria from reproducing and forming an infection. Trap this moisture against your warm body and it is a different story.

The amount of vaginal flow is greatest mid-cycle, day fourteen, of the menstrual cycle, when ovulation occurs. The peak flow rate is 1.96 grams [0.4 teaspoons] over an eight hour period. During a twenty four hour period that equates to 1.2 teaspoons. The lightest flow days are days seven and twenty-six with 1.38 and 1.37 grams [0.3 teaspoons] per eight hours respectively. This equates to almost a full teaspoon over a twenty-four hour period. The amounts given are presumed to be averages, so some women will have greater or lesser flow rates. These values apply to women who experience menstrual cycles. To get an idea of how much liquid this is pour a teaspoon of water on your kitchen counter. Now envision this flowing from your vagina and coming in contact with your clothing. See below for information on flow rates during menstruation.

Estrogen

Keep in mind the important roll of estrogen in you bodily defenses and how medications, birth control pills, and menopause may affect your body's natural defenses. Lifestyle, diet, and vitamins may also influence your estrogen levels. If you do not have sufficient estrogen in your system or if for some reason your body is insensitive to estrogen, you may be more susceptible to infection. You may find you are more prone to infection at certain times in your menstrual cycle because of the changes in hormone levels. There is the possibility that even though your estrogen levels are in the very broad range of "normal," they may be too low for your body. There are different types of replacement estrogen and they do not work the same. Estrogen acquired from female horses, Premarin, may not work for you, or you may need to use an estrogen cream on your vulva and vagina in addition to using oral estrogen. Hormone replacement is a very complex subject and is something doctors actually know little about.

Menstruation

Your menstrual period is your uterus' way of caring for itself. The opening through the cervix into your uterus is very tiny, but it must permit sperm to enter if an egg is to be fertilized. If sperm can enter so can potentially harmful organisms. If this should happen you may find yourself with a pelvic infection, which can be very painful and result in infertility. To help prevent this your uterus sheds its lining frequently and hopefully washes away any harmful organisms that are present. While menstruation can be troublesome at times it is beneficial for your body. Your vagina then rinses away any remaining menstrual fluid when your period has ended.

There is a growing debate over whether menstruation is necessary on a monthly basis to keep a woman's body healthy, or if menstruation is necessary at all. In the past, a woman spent a greater percentage of her lifetime pregnant and nursing so she would menstruate far less often than women do today. Women are also living longer and are menstruating for a greater number of years. The question becomes, is menstruation a burden on women's lives or is not menstruating a health risk? I do not believe we know the answer to that question at this time. Each woman must decide whether taking a medication that stops menstruation is appropriate for her.

The average amount of menstrual flow is 30-40 mL [6 to 8 teaspoons] [2-3 tablespoons] over the course of an entire menstrual period. To get an idea of how much liquid this is, pour two or three tablespoons of water on your kitchen counter. The amount varies from woman to woman, from 15 to 724 mL [3 to 147 teaspoons] [147 teaspoons equals 3 cups]. Amounts in excess of 80 mL [16 teaspoons] [5 tablespoons] [1/3 of a cup] is considered excessive and requires medical evaluation. During the first three days of flow, the average flow rate is 1.07 grams [0.23 teaspoons] per hour, or 1 teaspoon every five hours. Since these are averages, the minimum and maximum can be significantly greater or lower. "Each soaked normal-sized tampon or pad holds a teaspoon (5ml) of blood. That means it is normal to soak one to seven normal-sized pads or tampons ("sanitary products") in a whole period." A "regular" sized tampon can absorb 6 to 9 grams [1.2-1.9 teaspoons] [6 to 9 mL] according to US government set standards. The liquid absorbed by a tampon is 65% blood and 35% genital fluids. It is the absorption of the "genital fluids" that dries the vagina out, at times causing problems removing tampons.

Your Vulva

Your vulva is actually part of your body's natural defensive barriers to disease. The folds of your vulva and their moist surfaces may stick together helping to keep unwanted things out. The body fluids produced by the skin of your vulva, like sebum, are further protection against infection. The white cheesy smegma, collected sebum, that may form between your labia and under your clitoral hood actually protects your body and is not a health risk, nor does it indicate poor hygiene practices. (See photos shown below) Your vulva should be moist on the inside, but excess moisture needs to be able to evaporate or wick away when it reaches your outer labia. If clothing traps the body fluids the accumulated fluids will need to evaporated away, increasing the risk of infection.

Many women have inner labia that project beyond their protective outer labia where form-fitting clothing can irritate them. It is not unusual for women to report minor irritation involving their vulva, though this irritation is not normal. The problem is their clothing, not their body. When a woman sees other women wearing form-fitting clothing she assumes she should be able to wear the same, even though this simply is not true. How do you know the women you see dressed in this manner are not experiencing irritation and infection? Do not blame your body if it causes you discomfort or pain when you neglect or abuse it. If the problem were a woman's body it would not be shaped the way that it is and our species would not have survived the evolutionary process. There is a reason why your body is formed as it is and functions as it does.

Scent Versus Smell

If you slip your fingers between your labia and then smell them you should detect a distinctive scent. It may be light, strong, pungent, musky, or earthy but there should be a scent that is yours alone. If anything, the scent should smell pleasant, perhaps additive. Many women enjoy smelling their genital fluids while they masturbate. Men, and perhaps women, are often aroused by this scent and will sometimes spend hours giving oral pleasure as a result. (Ladies, your partner may actually "enjoy" or be "driven" to give you oral pleasure even if you cannot understand why.) If there is no scent or it smells like roses or fish, there is something wrong. A "fishy odor" is NOT normal and is likely an indication of a bacterial infection. Unpleasant "odors" are the result of bacterial infections, something allowed bacteria that are normally present to become numerous. Perfumes simply do not belong on or near the vulva, as they are a potential irritant.

It is bacteria, not body fluids that are responsible for scents and odors. Your body fluids are not the problem. Special apocrine sweat glands located around the vulva, nipples, anus, and underarms produce a type of sweat that is broken down by specific bacteria. These bacteria in turn produce a distinctive scent. These scents tell people who we are and what our current reproductive or sexual state is. Eccrine glands are more numerous and cover larger areas of the body and produce much of the sweat we produce. Fresh sweat and body fluids are not unpleasant to smell, but can become so once bacteria feed on them and reproduce given time. The solution is allowing the excess moisture to evaporate away naturally.

Americans have become overly concerned with and adverse to bodily scents. Mass advertising has led us to believe any scent or odor coming from the human body is bad and will result in those around us rejecting us. This is true because advertising has made it so. Advertising has used preexisting believes to create a need for their products. This does not mean women, and men, should be embarrassed by or try to hide their natural scents. We must learn how to distinguish between normal body scents and odors. If you cannot smell the person next to you or they smell of perfume, this is not natural or necessarily healthy and beneficial.

Clothing May Be Hazardous to Your Health!

Did you know your body was not designed with clothing in mind? In fact, our bodies are designed for us to go without clothing. If this were not true, can you name any other animal on this planet that wears clothing? The female reproductive and sexual organs of many species are formed and function much the same as our own, but their vulva is plainly visible for all to see, and more importantly, exposed to the open air.

If you look at the history of women's clothing you will find women have only recently started wearing form-fitting cloths, for less than one hundred years. While there are a few exceptions, women have almost always worn nothing, loincloths, skirts, or dresses. It is important to note they did not wear anything underneath these articles of clothing. Clothing was never in constant contact with the vulva. Women knew wearing form-fitting clothing was more likely to result in a yeast infection, long before "doctors" existed. When undergarments did come into existence they were loose fitting and only recently have they been designed to allow for form-fitting outer garments. It is interesting to note that when underwear first came to be, only "sexual women" wore it, whereas the opposite is true today.

Women's fashion started to change with the advent of commercially produced sanitary napkins and tampons following World War I (1914-1918). Prior to that women usually wore bulky homemade diapers, for lack of a better description, during their menstrual period. You could never hide these under form-fitting clothing. During World War II (1939-1945) thousands of women entered the industrial workforce where skirts and dresses were often times not appropriate, because of modesty and the need for physical protection and mobility. Still, dresses and skirts were the style of the day at home and out on the town. "Feminine" women still wore dresses.

This changed during the sexual revolution. During the sexual revolution women fought for sexual equality, to be treated the same as men, not as lesser beings. The battle in part concerned whether women were physically equal to men and due equal recognition and compensation. If women's bodies were no different, with the exception of the obvious differences, or at least no less then men's, they could and should receive the same pay and respect. If men and women are truly the same they should also be able to dress the same. Persons with authority and power after all wore pants. If women were to be seen as having power and authority they too should wear pants. Unfortunately, the battle cry become, "If men can wear pants, women must wear pants!"

The question that was not asked was, "Should men be wearing pants?" The answer to that question is "no." Form fitting clothing holds the testicles too close to the body and the increased temperature decreases sperm production. A minor inconvenience many would say. We do not take into consideration that warm moist dark places are great breeding grounds for harmful organisms like bacteria and fungus, but then circumcision probably takes care of that problem; I am by no means trying to justify circumcision. It is interesting to note that men have seldom worn form-fitting clothing throughout history too. As peculiar as it sounds, women should have required men to wear dresses, not dressed as men do.

Clothing and the Changing Work Environment

Something to consider is how industrialization and urbanization has affected women's lives and health. In the not so recent past people wandered from place to place looking for food and water. They owned few material possessions and their clothing was as minimal and simple as circumstances permitted. There was little time for sitting around. As people settled down and started to raise their own food, women primarily worked at home. Her home being a small farm where she gave birth, cared for her children, and performed manual labor. She worked from sun up to sun down and there was seldom time for her to sit and relax. When people left farms for the city, women often became housewives but others became office workers and saleswomen. With time women started working in factories on assembly lines. As the pressure to marry decreased and women became more independent increasing numbers of women went to work outside the home instead of starting a family right away. Many of these jobs require women to sit in one place for several hours each day. When at home women may spend considerable time sitting while watching television, talking on the phone, or using the computer. While not readily obvious, women today, in industrial societies, spend a considerable amount of time sitting in a chair.

Why should the amount of time women spend sitting be a cause for concern? Consider where your vulva is and the environment that exists around it when you are sitting in a chair. Your vulva is likely concealed by panties and thick denim pants and is pressed against the padding of your chair. If you are wearing a dress then you may have pantyhose on in addition to your panties. Consider things if you use a panty liner daily. How much body-heat does these layers of clothing and the chair on which you sit trap? How does the moisture your body produces twenty-four hours a day evaporate away? When you go to the bathroom do you find your panties and pubic hair to be warm and moist? What likes warm moist dark places?

Balancing Lifestyle Requirements and Caring for Your Body

If form fitting clothing is bad for women then the women who read this article will only wear dresses and skirts and nothing underneath from here on out right? Unfortunately this is probably not a reasonable expectation. Today, a modern woman is often defined as woman who wears pants. There is social and peer pressure on women to dress in a certain way. A woman cannot be taken serious if she is wearing a dress, some believe. Dresses and skirts may be impractical in some work and school environments. While wearing dresses and skirts with nothing on underneath may be the ideal, it may not be a possibility for the average woman, while at work and school, in today's society.

Changes that have occurred in society can prohibit women and girls from wearing loose fitting clothing at all times. Today, they are much more physically active and more likely to be involved in outdoor recreation and sports. Lets face it, you do not want to be wearing a skirt or dress when you slide into home plate or are tackled on the football field. Many occupations and sports require personal protection and mobility. Mores concerning modesty and nudity do not permit women to swim naked or hike through the woods wearing only a loincloth, unfortunately. Things are not as simple as they once were.

The main thing to keep in mind is, women are not at work or school twenty-four hours a day and are usually do not engaged in athletic activities for more than an hour each day. Women spend the remaining time at home or engaged in casual or less structured activities. Doing the laundry is still work but you can wear what you want. If you are sitting at home eating diner, watching the television, or cuddling with your partner, there is no reason you must wear pants or for that matter, clothing at all. At night you can sleep nude or while wearing only a simple nightshirt; if you are cold put another blanket on the bed and wear socks. If you are socializing with friends after work or school, you can wear a dress or skirt. It does take some thought, self-awareness, and effort but dressing in a manner that is good for your body does have its benefits. Unfortunately, the benefits of wearing loose fitting clothing become most apparent to women when it is too late, when their body has already been damaged or their life made very unpleasant by chronic vaginal or vulvar infections.

Respect Your Body

When women must wear form-fitting clothing they must acknowledge and respect the limits set by their body. Clothing that rubs against your vulva constantly, traps moisture, and holds in excess body heat is bad regardless of the situation. Wearing skintight outfits may be fashionable at the gym but are abusive to your body and vulva. Harmful bacteria are going to have a bonanza in your tight sweaty hot aerobics outfit that has just irritated your delicate genital tissues by rubbing against them while you did one thousand reps on the stair-climber. Tight jeans may attract attention and give you orgasms when you are walking down the street but the constant friction and thick fabric is abusive to your vulva. Women should also be aware of the possible effects of wearing a bra that forces their breasts into an unnatural shape, redistributes gravitational forces, and traps moisture and heat may have on their breasts. Do not allow fashion to ruin your life or cause health issues to arise. Respect your body because it is the only one you have.




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