June 19, 2023
The vagina may not be a body part we put on display — like our face or hair — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take great care of it. Last month, as part of our “I’d Never” series, MU Health Care OB/GYN Dr. Denicia Dwarica shared five things she’d never do during pregnancy. Now, she’s back to let us know what she wouldn’t do when it comes to the health of a vagina.
Here are six things she would never do as a gynecologist:
1. Never Put a Product in Your Vagina if You Can’t Understand the Ingredients
We get it. When things down below itch or feel uncomfortable, you want a quick fix. But Dr. Dwarica warns that you should proceed with caution. If your symptoms don’t go away on their own in a matter of days, the best thing you can do is consult a doctor.
“The female organs are self-cleaning,” Dr. Dwarica says. “So, you shouldn’t need to put things in there to feel better or cleaner. And if you need to use a dictionary to understand the ingredients listed, you shouldn't use it inside your body.”
She cautions never to treat something persistent with something you discover online — even if labeled as “natural.” Anything that isn’t recommended by your doctor or prescribed for that use can be dangerous.
Your external genitalia (collectively called the vulva) is another story. Your vulva can handle over-the-counter products, which may help relieve irritation from shaving, waxing or abrasive clothing. But know your skin type and try products on a small area first in case there’s a reaction.
“You can treat the vulva just like you’d treat your skin,” Dr. Dwarica says. “But it’s important to understand the inside of the vagina versus the vulva area.”
And that brings us to #2…
2. Never Go Through Life Without Learning About Your Reproductive Anatomy
The female anatomy can be a dark and mysterious place, especially if you’ve never looked at it in a mirror. But looking at the outside is only half the battle. You also need to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of your reproductive organs.
“When you know what exists, you know what’s normal and what to treat,” Dr. Dwarica says. “Not knowing your anatomy can make you unaware that different things affect different parts of your genitalia. For instance, understanding that pee and babies come from two different holes.”
With so much online information, learning more about your lady parts is easy. If you’ve never peeked at your vaginal area, ask your doctor during an exam. They can use a mirror, point things out and explain what’s what.
3. Never Ignore Constipation
Constipation may not seem like a gynecological issue. But not going regularly can affect pelvic floor function.
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and tissues that separate the different organs in your pelvis and hold them in place while you take care of bodily functions, such as peeing, pooping and having sex. When your pelvic floor is weak — or affected by a build-up of stool — it impacts all the organs in your pelvis.
“It goes back to understanding how everything in your pelvic area works together,” Dr. Dwarica says. “Some women only have a bowel movement once a week. And then they come in because of urinary urgency and incontinence (they pee their pants) or pain with intercourse. They’re always surprised when one solution is to get on a bowel regimen.”
Ideally, you should have one bowel movement a day. If you’re not, try adding more exercise, fruit, vegetables and fiber to your lifestyle.
4. Never Overlook Vaginal Discharge
Discharge is one of those topics that rarely gets talked about. But Dr. Dwarica suggests thinking of discharge as you think of sweat. The vagina is an organ and has glands similar to how the skin has sweat glands. The amount of fluid produced varies from person to person and depends on what your body is doing. Vaginal discharge changes according to your hormone levels.
“Discharge is actually good,” Dr. Dwarica says. “It can tell you what part of your menstrual cycle you’re in for example — though you can still expect to get discharge after menopause. Discharge can also indicate when something is wrong in your vagina.”
Typically, discharge ranges from clear and thin to white and thick. But it’s cause for concern if your discharge is:
- Foul smelling, with a fishy odor
- Irritating to your vulva
- Mucus-like, with a green or yellow color
“Whenever you’re concerned, get it checked out,” Dr. Dwarica says. “Definitely don’t try to self-treat.” (See tip #1.)
5. Never Assume Painful Sex Is Normal
Pain during sex is common — almost 75% of women have painful sex at least once in their lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that pain during sex is okay.
Mild pain can occasionally happen if your body has trouble with sexual response (lack of arousal or desire). But painful sex can also be a symptom of a gynecologic condition — especially if the pain is severe, happens often or persists.
“Sex should not be traumatic,” Dr. Dwarica says. “Pain is a good indicator that something’s not right. Trust your instincts if something feels wrong.”
6. Never Settle for an Uncomfortable Tampon or Pad
It’s easy to get in a rut when it comes to period products. People tend to use the same tampons and pads they’ve always used (sometimes since their teen years) because it’s familiar. And let’s be honest — a heavy period day is not a time for experimentation. But if what you use isn’t working for you or doesn’t feel comfortable, you shouldn’t settle.
“If I recommend an over-the-counter medication to a patient, I always tell them to start with the smallest size because I want them to try it and see if it’s comfortable,” Dr. Dwarica says. “It’s the same with tampons. Try different sizes and brands to ensure it’s comfortable and that you aren’t leaking.”
She also notes that you’ll likely need different absorbencies throughout your period. But choosing the wrong one, keeping it in too long or using it when you don’t need it can cause discomfort.
“Anything processed or foreign in and around your vagina — like panty liners and tampons — can be irritating,” Dr. Dwarica says. “So only wear them for the minimum amount of time you need to.”
Next Steps and Useful Resources
Want to speak with an OB/GYN? Find one today.
Missed other installments of our “I’d Never” series? Check out:
- 7 Things I’d Never Do — Advice From a Urologist
- 5 Things I’d Never Do — Advice From a Colorectal Surgeon
- 5 Things I’d Never Do — Pregnancy Advice From an OB/GYN