Home > women genital health > Women Genital Health (1)

Women Genital Health (1)


Many women feel uncomfortable talking about or looking at their genital area, and as a result are unsure of the difference between their vulva and vagina. The vulva is the external part of the female genital area, which includes the labia majora and labia minora (inner and outer lips), clitoris, urethra and vaginal opening.

The vagina is a muscular tube which leads from the vulva to the cervix, the lowest part of the uterus (womb). The fact that the genital area is not easy to see also makes it difficult for women to easily identify the different parts. It can be useful to have a look with a mirror if you are unsure about your genital area. Secretions from the cervix and the glands at the entrance of the vagina help to keep it clean and healthy. These secretions vary during the menstrual cycle and are part of a normal, healthy vagina. Fluid also passes through the vaginal walls in response to physical activity and sexual arousal.

All these secretions make up the vaginal discharge and fluid that a woman normally notices. Usually discharge is whitish, drying yellowish on underwear, and varying in amount throughout the month. It has a characteristic (but not bad) smell unnoticeable to you or others if you shower or wash regularly.

Maintaining healthy genitals

The skin of the female genital area is especially sensitive and needs protection from

physical damage and certain chemicals.

Keep the vulva dry and well aired by:

• wearing only plain, loose-fitting cotton underwear and changing it daily

• changing out of damp bathing suits or exercise clothing as soon as possible

• changing pads and tampons regularly (check the packaging instructions if unsure about time length)

• avoiding tight-fitting clothes, g-strings, panty-hose and synthetic materials next to the skin

• avoiding long exposure to hot, sweaty or chafing conditions, eg sauna, aerobics Irritation to the vulva can be avoided by:

• not using soaps or antiseptics – use plain water or a soap alternative such as Cetaphil, Dermaveen or Hamilton QV wash to wash the area

• not using perfumed deodorants or talcs near the vulva • not using perfumed pads and tampons

• using soft, unperfumed toilet paper

• not over-washing the area (once a day is sufficient) and patting it dry after washing, rather than rubbing with a towel

If you are experiencing vulval irritation you should:

• make sure that all clothing in contact with the vulva has been rinsed well so no washing detergent remains, and avoid fabric softener on underwear

• wash the genitals gently in plain, cool water. Burning and irritation can be relieved by cool washes or salt baths (2 teaspoons table salt per litre of water)

• avoid getting shampoo on the vulva, and avoid using bath gels and bubble baths

• avoid panty liners and use only 100% cotton tampons and pads

• avoid sex when you have pain, or consider alternatives to painful intercourse, such as oral sex. Avoid using lubricants such as KY jelly if these increase irritation. Light vegetable oil can be useful as a lubricant for sex, but will cause damage to condoms, dams and diaphragms. Sometimes semen can be very irritating, so condoms or ejaculation outside the vagina can be helpful

• avoid scratching as it can damage vulval skin and make itching worse. Reduce itching with cool washes and compresses. Don’t rub the area with toilet paper, just pat gently dry with unperfumed paper

• limit exercises that can irritate the area, such as horse and bike riding

• avoid shaving or waxing the genital area

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