Fifty percent of people in this world own one, yet they are still a taboo subject in many ways. For example, no one ever talks about the fact that, sometimes, they just don’t quite work properly. Some have trouble lubricating, some are prone to UTIs or yeast infections and some get extremely painful or heavy periods while others go two years without one! Aren’t vaginas so weird? A lot of women have painful sex but—due to these taboos—are too afraid to talk about it. Conditions such as vulvademia medically explain some cases of painful sex, but there is also a lot of misinformation and misuse out there, so it’s important to be open and honest with yourself and your partner(s). Fun fact: Not only can there be misuse when it comes to smushing our parts together, but there can also be overuse. Last year, my gynecologist told me not to have sex for two weeks, because she said I had an “overuse injury.” Apparently, vaginas aren’t really meant to have sex all that much. In fact, the normal “sex act” (intercourse) is only supposed to last three to five minutes! Anyway. Moving on.
I have one of the most ill–functioning vaginas in the world—I have low estrogen in my vulva, I suffer from chronic yeast infections and I currently have a severe UTI. In addition, condoms irritate the living daylights out of me, semen literally burns me (some people legitimately have a semen allergy, jury is still out on whether I am one of these people) and my vagina is abnormally small. If you don’t suffer from any of these taboo conditions, either because you are extremely lucky or because you don’t own a vagina, you probably don’t know much about them. So let’s slide right in.
What is a yeast infection? According to WebMD, “Yeast is a fungus that normally lives in the vagina in small numbers. A vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast cells are growing in the vagina.” These infections are very common, and, though they can be uncomfortable, are easily treatable.”
Yeast infections can be caused by normal stuff. The culprit behind your pain could be hot tubs (personal experience), antibiotic use or even wet bathing suits, so don’t be surprised if post–summer your vagina isn’t doing so hot. At the peak of my yeast infection issues, I actually had to blow dry my vagina instead of using a towel after a shower. To prevent a yeast infection, keep your vagina nice and dry, take a probiotic and eat lots of yogurt (it’s full of the good bacteria).
Symptoms of a yeast infections include 1) vaginal itching 2) vaginal discharge that is usually white, thick, clumpy and either odorless or yeasty and 3) pain while peeing or during sex (thanks WebMD, but also my life). I once had a yeast infection for two months in high school and didn’t know, so if you ever have any of these symptoms, please call your doctor.
Real talk: I always thought that there must be something wrong with me, because I literally got yeast infections all the bleeping time. However, after finally visiting the #1 gynecologist in North America (Dr. Nyirjesy at the Drexel Vaginitis Center, Philly represent) this past summer after months of waiting, I learned that chronic yeast infections actually affect normal, healthy women all the time and they are extremely treatable. Getting an infection doesn’t make you unhygienic or dirty, it makes you a normal woman with a normal vagina.
The same goes for UTIs. According to WebMD, if you own a vagina, your chances of getting a UTI in your lifetime are 1 in 2! UTI stands for Urinary Tract Infection, and they have a bad rap for being caused by having sex and lots of it. This is true and also not true. Basically, a UTI occurs when something (namely, bacteria) that shouldn’t be in the urethra gets in the urethra and travels up. It could eventually even infect the bladder or kidneys if untreated. As WebMD explains, this is why women are told over and over again to wipe front to back after using the bathroom—this ensures that fecal matter doesn’t travel forward and into the urethra. Some women are more prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras.
However, having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract. This is why gynos, your mom and that guy at Wawa always tell you to PEE AFTER SEX. Some say it’s a myth, but all I’m gonna say is I had sex last week and didn’t pee, and now I have a UTI (first one in my whole life, so).
Other ways to prevent a UTI include taking a cranberry probiotic and drinking lots of cranberry juice—doctors don’t really know the science behind cranberries, but it definitely works. Symptoms of a UTI include burning or pain when you urinate, frequent or intense urge to urinate, pain or pressure in your lower back or abdomen, cloudy/dark/bloody/or strange smelling urine, feeling tired or shaky and/or fever or chills. A fever could be a sign that the infection may have reached your kidneys, so again please see your doctor if your vagina is being funky. (While WebMd provided a lot of this info, WebMd is not a doctor. Go to a real doctor. Seriously).
Okay, so low estrogen. What is estrogen? According to healthywomen.org, estrogen refers to a group of hormones that play an essential role in the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and the reproductive process. Many women suffer from low estrogen, in varying forms, and it can cause lots of issues, including painful sex. This is because when estrogen levels are low, the vagina can become drier and the vaginal walls thinner. This can even happen if you’re on the wrong birth control pill, as recently happened to a friend of mine, so if you feel like your vagina is dry maybe you need to switch pills.
Low estrogen is usually associated with older women and menopause, but it can affect young women, too. However, low estrogen in young women can be a signal of something more serious, so if you think you might have this, get tested by your physician. My low estrogen is confined to my vulva, which is unique, and is actually due to my chronic yeast infections, according to the doc. I treat it simply by rubbing a low dose estrogen cream on my vulva daily, and inserting the cream vaginally once a week. I should be able to stop this treatment in the next couple of months once the yeast and estrogen are all balanced out. My mother, who is going through menopause, uses the same cream. Bonding at its finest.
Having all of these problems with my vagina has been, as you can imagine, tough to say the least. Guys can’t go down on me the same day I have applied the estrogen cream since they shouldn’t ingest estrogen (we’ve all seen John Tucker Must Die). So if I want to receive oral sex, I literally have to plan for it. I also have to have awkward conversations when I have sex with someone for the first time, explaining that it might hurt me (like, a lot) until I get used to it, I absolutely need to use lube and I would prefer not to use condoms, which means I need to know the last time they got tested and then usually have to ask them to not bang other people whilst banging me, which, if you know college boys, doesn’t always go over well. Over all though, I’ve found most guys to be understanding, and mostly just excited that they get to put their penis inside of a real live vagina, no matter how poorly functioning that vagina may be (and for them, the fact that it’s small actually adds to their excitement as far as I can tell). Also, a lot of these issues are temporary. Within the next three months, my estrogen and yeast issues will be totally cleared up, and by tomorrow my UTI will be gone, too. It’s important to get the proper treatment you need to live a happy and healthy life, in and out of the bedroom. If I hadn’t spoken up to my doctors and insisted that something was wrong, I wouldn’t have been able to nip these issues in the bud. (I’ll always have a small vagina and hate condoms, but you can’t win everything).
If the experience of the last year of my vagina falling apart has taught me anything, it’s that I shouldn’t be having sex with someone who doesn’t want to talk or understand my vagina issues anyway. Respect is more than just a text the morning after, ladies. If you can’t say, “Hey dude when was the last time you got tested,” “I have a condom allergy” or, “I have a UTI because I didn’t pee and now my hoohah hurts like a mofo can we watch Netflix instead tonight” without embarrassment or because you’re worried he’s going to be unchill, then he shouldn’t have the privilege of touching your hoohah anyway.
To sum up, this is what I have learned from my trying vagina experiences:
- Wipe front to back
- Pee after sex
- Use lube (water based!!)
- Don’t EVER sit in a wet bathing suit
- Like literally bring an extra bathing suit to the beach if you are going to go swimming
- Don’t dry your vagina with the same towel twice (if it’s really irritated, use a blow dryer or air dry)
- Drink cranberry juice
- Eat yogurt
- Never douche
- Literally don’t douche
- If you don’t know what douching is, amazing
- Really, just like use lube even if you don’t think you need it
- Take probiotics, especially if you’re taking an antibiotic (this one is VERY important)
- Get tested for a latex allergy (latex free condoms exist and ignore what I said earlier, condoms are really important, SHS says chlamydia is spreading all over Penn!)
- Don’t use scented soaps on your vagina, ever—water is the best, but if you must use soap, use plain Dove bar soap
- Vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like roses!!! They are supposed to smell like vaginas. Only be concerned if it smells particularly metallic, fishy or like baking bread. Otherwise, it is just the lovely, purely unique smell of your vagina
- USE LUBE
- Don’t use scented tampons (don’t use anything with a scent on your vagina, idk how many different ways to say this)
- Shaving and waxing are actually really bad for you--the hair is there for a reason! It’s job is to protect you from all the bad stuff that could cause infections. Rocking a bush is making a comeback, I swear (don’t take my word on that)
- Don’t use panty liners for normal discharge, only for period or spotting
- Lastly, If your vagina is acting funny, go to the doctor
- Go to the freakin’ doctor
Hope this was helpful, vagina owners. Love your hoohah and it will love you back.