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STIs: Vaginal Health

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Understanding how your vagina protects itself against infection can help you stay healthy.

What's Normal?

A Proper Acid-Alkaline Balance

Cervical mucous and an even acid-alkaline level (a balance between the acidity and alkalinity of your bodily fluids) keep your vagina healthy and clean.

A healthy vagina is slightly acidic. This acidity keeps many kinds of bacteria under control.

Mucous produced by the cervix moistens and lubricates your vaginal walls and plugs the cervical opening. This helps to keep bacteria out of your uterus.

Vaginal Discharge

Normal vaginal discharge has a mild odour. It can be yellowish, pasty white or clear and stringy, (like an egg white). It often leaves a yellowish stain on your underwear. How much discharge you have is affected by your hormones. This amount is different for every female.

Vaginal Infections

Causes of Vaginal Infections

Vaginal infections can be caused by:

  1. Unprotected sexual contact. Unprotected sex spreads germs from one person to another.
  2. A bacterial imbalance. A bacterial imbalance means that there is more “bad” than “good” bacteria in your vagina. This imbalance can lead to infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.

Situations That Cause Imbalances

Situations that can cause bacterial imbalances and make your vagina more susceptible to infection:

  • Having your period.Less acidity and more alkalinity in your vagina during and after your menstrual period can lead to infections or make infections worse.
  • Being on the birth control pill or being pregnant. The hormonal changes caused by oral contraceptives and pregnancy can increase alkalinity and the chance of infection.
  • Being on antibiotics. Antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria in the vagina, but can also destroy the good bacteria. This imbalance lets “bad” bacteria overgrow.
  • Unprotected sex. Semen is alkaline and helps certain infections grow. Sexual intercourse also introduces “bad” bacteria into the vagina.
  • Douching. Douching dries out the mucous membranes and irritates and damages the vaginal walls. It also upsets the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
  • Pad and tampon use. Germs and bacteria can start to multiply and cause irritation if you leave a tampon in for too long. Super-absorbent tampons can dry out the vaginal lining, and pads with plastic lining or perfume can irritate your vagina and labia.
  • A diet high in sugars and carbohydrates. Cells in the vaginal walls contain sugar. Some of the sugar in food and drinks such as pop, juice and bread can be drawn in by these cells, creating a perfect place for germs and yeast to multiply.
  • Stress, anxiety and lack of sleep. Pressure, tension and sleep deprivation can lower your immunity and make it hard for your body to keep the proper acid-alkaline balance.

Preventing Infections & Irritation

You can prevent vaginal infections and irritation by:

Eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Avoiding harsh detergents.

  • Don’t take bubble baths.
  • Don’t use perfumed soaps and feminine hygiene sprays.
  • Don’t use strong detergents and fabric softeners when washing underwear.

Practicing hygiene.

  • Don’t douche. (Douching can cause infections by washing away “good” bacteria.)
  • Wash your genitals with only warm water.
  • Always wash or wipe from front to back.
  • If you use soap be sure to rinse your genital area well.
  • Don’t put anything in your anus and then into your vagina (without thoroughly cleaning it first).
  • Don’t use anyone else’s wet towel, washcloth or bathing suit.
Practicing safe sex.
  • Always use latex or polyurethane condoms when you have vaginal and/or anal sex and dental dams or condoms for oral sex.

Watching what you wear.

  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid thong underwear for extended periods of time.
  • Don’t wear underwear to bed. (Try boxers!)
  • Avoid wearing tight jeans and pants.
  • Take off wet bathing suits as soon as possible.

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