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HEALTH

Self Care for “Down There”

We’re kicking off a self-care month at Pill Club, so, being the people we are, we’re zeroing in on how you can deliver some tender loving care to a very important part of your body. You know where we’re headed, don’t you? — your vaginal zone!

Though this amazing region is usually hidden from view, often not called by its real name, and sometimes used as a put-down (that just needs to stop), the vagina and its surrounding areas deserve your respect. Before we go any further, we know there can be confusion about which part of the body is called what, so let’s clarify: your vagina is on the inside; it’s the tube (also called the birth canal) that connects your uterus to the outside of your body. Your vulva includes the parts that are on the outside of your body, including the outer labia, the inner labia, and that powerhouse of approximately 8000 nerve endings, the clitoris!

Credit: CDC

Now, let’s have a look at five ways to show this zone some love.

1. Be The Top Decision-Maker

First, if you have a vagina, guess who it belongs to? Uh huh, that’s right — YOU. You, you, and only you should have the final word on who or what (this is a sex toy-positive zone) gets access to your vagina. It’s always your choice, and yours alone. In other words, make sure your vagina is participating in activities that you want to do. How to make sure this happens? Communication.

You, you, and only you should have the final word on who or what (this is a sex toy-positive zone) gets access to your vagina.

Remember, the best time to talk about sex is before you start having it. So, what should you talk about? It’s a good idea for you and your partner to discuss any sexual activity that makes either of you uncomfortable or is off limits, your relevant sexual history (including STDs and STIs), the method(s) of birth control and/or protection against STDs/STIs that you’ll be using, and if you plan to have a monogamous relationship. We know this can be an awkward conversation, but don’t worry, it’s likely that you’ll feel much better afterwards. And a final point: no one should ever shame you for setting limits or voicing your concerns about sexual activity.

2. Know Your Normal

It’s essential that you know how your vaginal area looks and feels, so explore and figure out how it all works! Know what’s normal for you. While you’re at it, be sure to check out your clitoris and your cervix. By the way, your cervix feels similar to the end of your nose.

Gaining an understanding about your unique body is necessary to learn what gives you pleasure, and to help you identify any changes. We’re serious. It’s your body. You’re living in it.

It’s crucial to go to your medical provider on a regular basis — and ask questions! Actually, we encourage you to think of your medical appointments as a chance to learn; don’t be shy about talking to your provider.

Gaining an understanding about your unique body is necessary to learn what gives you pleasure, and to help you identify any changes.

A practical recommendation from Pill Club’s walking treasure-trove of medical information, Sandy Wang, (a.k.a. our senior lead nurse practitioner) is for the next time you have a Pap exam: “Bring along a handheld mirror and ask if you can take a peek,” she urges. “If you know what’s normal for your body, then you’ll be more likely to notice any changes.” Did you get that? Knowing your body is a necessary part of taking care of your health. And knowing what’s near it is also key. Read on…

3. Know What’s Getting Close

Did you realize the vagina has a highly absorptive surface? This means whatever you put near or into it could potentially disrupt the vaginal ecosystem and possibly even have an effect throughout your body. Yikes!

A way to reduce this risk is to be aware of ingredients in the products that you choose for sexual health — items like condoms, lubricants, and toys. Pay special attention to ingredients labeled “fragrance,” as fragrances may contain chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and allergies. (Check out this article for even more information.)

Did you realize the vagina has a highly absorptive surface?

It would also be wise to examine your choice of tampons and pads to find out more about the materials used to make them. But, companies making menstrual care items aren’t currently required to disclose ingredients on products (can you believe it?), so where to begin?

Photo credit: Cora

A good starting point is to seek out companies choosing to disclose their ingredients. And if we might offer an excellent suggestion, consider using organic cotton pads and tampons made by Cora, Pill Club’s recent care package partner. While conventionally processed cotton can often include toxic pesticides and insecticides, not something to invite next to your most sensitive tissue , Cora’s products are made with pure, ethically sourced ingredients, and the company’s dedication to health and transparency includes a commitment to workers’ health, human rights, and the environment.

4. Super Cleaning Not Required

Your vagina has self-cleaning powers! It’s true. Using heavily scented soaps and douching (washing out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids) is not required. In fact, this could be downright harmful.

Your vagina has self-cleaning powers!

Although we’re bombarded with messages about maintaining a “fresh” and “clean” vagina, our steadfast voice of reason, Sandy Wang, shares advice on a simple way to address this topic: “The best secret in keeping your precious petals fresh and clean is washing (externally-only, please!) with hypo-allergenic soap and water. Using heavily scented soaps and douching can throw off your vagina’s normal pH balance. Remember, vaginas and vulvas come in all different shapes, colors, and are truly YOU-nique. Knowing your normal is the best way to monitor anything that deviates from your baseline.”

What a perfect transition to our final point…

5. Celebrate Differences

Realize that we all look different “down there” and it’s all good! Contrary to highly-altered images you may see, or comments you may hear, all vaginal areas do not look the same.

Let’s start by talking about the very visible outside part (the vulva). Some people have vulvas with natural pubic hair, while others shave the sides or completely wax the entire area. Others have dyed or bleached hair, and some might have a piercing or more. Totally fine. Totally your choice.

The labia majora (outer lips) and labia minora (inner lips) of your vulva can vary from those of the next person. One side can be visibly larger than the other, the inner lips might be visible (or not), the outer lips could completely close, or you might have a combination of these characteristics. This is normal! Your inner tissue may have edges that are smooth or scalloped, and could possibly be darker in color than your outer tissue.

Contrary to highly-altered images you may see, or comments you may hear, all vaginal areas do not look the same.

Hey, no matter what the size, shape, or color of your vulva is, it’s completely fine (unless there’s a lump, pain, or itching in that area — and, if so, get that checked out, would you?). Again, differences from person to person are completely normal.

We hope you show your vagina and vulva some extra love this month, and then don’t stop! If you need a little more encouragement, check out this great Bedsider article. And whenever you have questions about your body and/or your sexual health, don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical provider. They’re there to help you be the best you can be!

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Kimberly Stinson Serrano, Pill Club Content Strategist/Editor

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