Did you know your vagina’s a hard worker? We’ll allow a snigger there. But it’s true. Let Oi’s birth mother (we wish she was ours) and Co -founder Bridget take you through all you’ll need to know about good garden maintenance. How it self-cleanses, what it likes, what it doesn’t like and what might make her angry?
The vagina is a complex, integrated environment, a dynamic organ which helps maintain a healthy equilibrium in our body.
Our vagina, like our body is exposed to fluctuating hormones, the consequences of a modern diet, stress, an abundance of imitation or unnatural products and artificial light (not natural as in the sun and moon, but man-made lighting that can interrupt our circadian rhythms).
Our vaginas are beautifully designed to handle many of these stresses but sometimes, just like us, they succumb to imbalances which can lead to irritation, infection and general grumpiness all ‘round.
Vaginal ecology is the study of the vaginal environment and its interactions. By understanding your ecology, you are better able to understand your health as a woman and the impact your choices have on your overall health as a human. Understanding your own natural body ecology gives you the necessary tools and techniques to better support your total wellbeing in a powerful, dynamic and natural way.
The smell and taste of a healthy vagina is mild, earthy and slightly pungent with a pleasant, musky aroma. It certainly doesn’t smell like fish or have a strong foul odour. A healthy vagina does not smell or taste bad and is not fishy! In fact, it’s full of fabulous pheromones, those chemicals of attraction.
Vaginal fluids are secreted from the cells of the vaginal wall which act similarly to sweat glands, producing moisture from the inner mucus membrane surfaces. Normal vaginal fluids vary in colour from clear to white and vary from person to person.
The amount of secretion differs from one woman to another as well as for the same woman at different times of the month and ranges from slight to moderate. Some women are naturally wetter or drier than others, just as some people have oily skin and hair, and some people sweat more than others.
It’s really not important how much or little, but that you understand what your ‘normal’ is, as everyone is unique. Your vaginal fluid reflects your age: where you are at with your cycle; your sexual arousal; the use of hormonal contraceptives and your diet and fluid intake.
For most women who are having normal fertility cycles, the fluctuating patterns should be reasonably comparable each month. In general, most women produce more fluid during the week leading up to and including the day of ovulation (roughly two weeks after they finish their period) whilst they are driest the week before their period. Prepubescent girls, breast-feeding mothers and menopausal women are often drier and their cycles vary less.
A healthy vagina is full of friendly bacteria, commonly a strain of Lactobacillus Acidophilus, similar to yoghurt. These good bacteria protect the vagina and keep it healthy in numerous ways. It’s the good bacteria’s job to control the population of unfriendly microbes such as yeast and “bad” bacteria.
Bacteria are very clever, they protect the vagina by firstly filling up the space, like a garden which is abundant with flowers, leaving no space for the weeds.
The acidophilus bacteria also maintain a hospitable vaginal environment by producing two important chemicals: lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, a liquid form of oxygen which maintains pH balance in the vagina, which is acidic.
This hospitable acidic vaginal environment also discourages the growth of unfriendly microbes, your good bacteria are hardworking friends and set to work shifting your vaginal ecology back into line if something goes awry.
There are a variety of things including changes in your cycle that can alter the vaginal balance which can lead to irritation and/or infection, particularly when the vagina is the driest just before your period.
Other factors that can cause an imbalance in your vaginal ecology are blood (during your period) and semen, both are alkaline (whilst your vagina is acid), but most often your healthy population of good bacteria can easily deal with this.
Sometimes your good bacteria can die off, leaving your ecosystem vulnerable and susceptible to a takeover by unfriendly bacteria or yeast. There can be various reasons for a decline in good bacteria such as stress, poor diet, misguided ‘hygiene practices’ affecting your vaginal environment, but sometimes it happens for no apparent reason.
Antibiotics can be a common cause of good bacteria die-off as they can affect normal gut flora, this means that the antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria at the same time. When you take antibiotics you are more at risk of a yeast infection or overgrowth. This is one of the reasons you need to be careful about taking antibiotics and only use them when you really need to.
Your vaginal fluid contains a small amount of natural sugars which helps to discourage yeast overgrowth, while an increased level of sugars encourages it. When you are pregnant or if you have diabetes, then you will have elevated levels of sugar in your vaginal fluid and therefore an increased risk of a yeast infection, some people are also more sensitive to the effects of sugar and need to be more careful by reducing their sugar intake.
Your vagina is a naturally ambient 37 degrees, the same as your body but any hotter than that, perhaps lace knickers, synthetic clothing, tights/pantyhose or tight jeans can raise the temperature, even slightly, which can also cause a yeast infection, yeast loves the heat!
It is always recommended to wear cotton-only knickers, natural fibres close to your skin and 100% organic cotton tampons and pads and, when you can, go free-style in bed with nothing at all.
Some contraceptives and spermicides which contain Nonoxynol 9, the chemical that’s in all spermicides, condoms with spermicide , jelly diaphragms and all other types of spermicidal products, can cause inflammation and irritation to our sensitive vaginal ecosystem. Always read the label and only use as directed and where absolutely necessary.
Contraception and other birth control methods such as the depo injection, under skin hormonal implants and progesterone IUDs, all work by deceiving your body into thinking that it’s pregnant and therefore doesn't need to ovulate. So just like in actual pregnancy, there can be slightly elevated levels of natural sugars in your vaginal fluid and hormonal fluctuations which can alter the normal pH balance that can lead to an increase in bad bacteria or yeast which may lead to irritation or infection.
By now you should know the answer to this.
Generally, there are some seriously ridiculous products on the market and feminine hygiene products are some of them. These include douches, vaginal deodorants, sprays, wipes, washes and powder. These products are entirely unnecessary and often full of colours, perfumes, dyes, preservatives and a whole chemical cacophony, all of which carry their own risk to our health. Exposure to unnatural synthetics can alter the natural pH balance of our skin including our vagina making us more susceptible to irritating and infection.
A good wash routine is a natural wash routine, water is all you need to keep clean. Use your fingers to help reach the crevices and get to know your body’s ‘normal’ and that’s it.
Getting to know your body and understanding what your ‘normal’ is means you can catch a problem early before it becomes an infection. An Imbalance exists before you get an infection and if you learn to understand your body you will know when it is out of balance and take measures to get what you need. This may mean looking at your diet, having more rest or some early nights. By understanding the early signs and symptoms you will notice the shifts in your body and the part you play in your own health, the power of healing lies in your hands.
Be aware of any unusual changes including variances to the colour and smell of your vaginal fluid, this includes how you feel, your naturally healthy discharge and vagina should never be itchy, burn or feel swollen, this is an imbalance or irritation, a warning sign and time for you to take stock of an imbalance and ways to bring that back into balance by making good decisions to protect and care for your vaginal garden.
Essentially, your vagina is a self-regulating, self-cleaning ecosystem and the less you disturb the natural balance, the better your health will be. Appreciate, respect and support your beautiful and sophisticated system with its natural resilience and ability to maintain itself.
Bridget Healy - Co-Founder - Oi