Vaginas are magical. These self-cleaning, elastic, muscular life and love canals that can give amazing amounts of pleasure to their owners and others are sophisticated in both design and function. But with great complexity comes the great potential for system hiccups.
The common umbrella term for many hiccups is “Vulvovaginitis” and describes any irritation of the vulva or vaginal areas. Often the irritation comes in the form of painful swelling or itching caused by an external factor irritating sensitive mucous membranes. (Ever gotten something in your eye, be it infection or irritant? Same idea. ) Many cases of vulvovaginitis occur because of an imbalance of naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts and sometimes parasites or viruses.
But don’t fret! These are easy to remedy. Here’s a handy guide to the more common causes:
What is it? Overabundance of candida albicans, a type of yeast that already exists in small numbers in the vagina. (Though other types of yeast can get out of control, candida albicans is the most common.)
How can I tell? Aside from itching and redness, a yeast infection can be accompanied by an odorless cottage-cheese like discharge.
Why is it happening? Something has disrupted the vaginal ecosystem. Too much moisture and not enough circulating air, unprotected sex with a male partner who has an overabundance of this fungi in his urethra, stress, medications, lubricant with glycerin, douches, perfumed products, high estrogen levels, immune disorders or even diabetes can help tip the scales.
What do I do? If you are 100% sure it’s a yeast infection and you’re not pregnant, you can skip the doctor and drop by your local pharmacy for an over the counter cream or suppository. If you like to go for natural remedies, pick up some plain yogurt (sugar + vagina = irritating) and apply inside and out. (One friend with recurring yeast infections swore by home-made yogurt pops: take several tampon applicators, fill with plain yogurt and place in freezer. Very soothing to the irritated skin and destructive not only to the yeast but to the spores as well!)
*NOTE: If you are having unprotected sex with a male partner and need to be treated for a yeast infection, make sure he visits a doctor and does the same! Otherwise the imbalance can happen over and over and over.
What is it? Bacteria imbalance!
How can I tell? A creamy, whitish/greyish, odorous discharge which can sometimes smell fishy after exercise or before your period.
Why is it happening? Same idea as behind yeast infections, but with bacteria instead of yeast. Once again, the ecosystem is off-kilter and one or more bacteria are more abundant than usual. Any introduction of bacteria by way of hand, penis or shared sex toy, can start the chain reaction. Stress, antibiotics, douching, etc. can all play a role in fostering the imbalance.
What do I do? Go to a doctor, have them test your vaginal fluids. If the culprit is indeed BV it can be treated with medications.
What is it? A parasite! (Known in science circles as Trichomonas vaginalis)
How can I tell? Yellow or greenish, frothy, odorous discharge sometimes accompanied by irritation.
Why is it happening? Your body is responding to a foreign entity in the vagina. This little microscopic parasite loves living in vaginas or in males’ urethras and passes itself between those two worlds. Mouth and anus, not so much.
What do I do? Go to a doctor, get a physical examination and take the treatment they prescribe. If you have a partner be sure they’re treated as well.
This list is not exhaustive of all the things which might irritate the vagina and the best advice is this: pay attention to your body! If something seems off and you can’t identify it, please don’t spend too long trawling the interwebs to figure it out. Go to a clinic or primary care physician ASAP.
One of the best ways to keep tabs on your lady bits is to pay attention to them. Don’t bind them up in nylon fabrics, douche them, or spray with noxious fumes. And, though some people cringe when I suggest this, know your own taste.
That’s right, taste yourself. Take a clean hand, place inside, withdraw and lift to your lips. Knowing what your healthy vaginal secretions taste like helps you identify when the environment starts becoming imbalanced. We already do these things with other body parts (cupping your breath, sniffing your armpits or sneaking a glance into the toilet) so why not your lady bits?