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Let’s Talk Female Hygiene: 4 Things Your Mother Never Taught You

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While we may not always like to admit it, momma usually knows best. She was there to soothe the scrape on our knee from crashing our bike for the first time; she dried the tears away from our first heartbreak with her wise words and famous chocolate cake; and she’s the first phone call we make whenever another “adulting crisis” pops up.

But there is one area where mom’s advice may have missed the mark — and it’s an awkward one — proper hygiene for keeping things fresh and clean “down there.” Vagina, lady-bits, hoo-haw, whatever you choose to call it, there’s a good chance she never taught you these four essential female hygiene habits. Maybe it was just too awkward, maybe she thought you’d find out from your friends, but either way, you need to know. Keep reading to find out what they are. Your vagina will thank you.

You don’t need to wash “down there” with soap

It’s not every day that you hear you’ve been cleaning your vagina all wrong, but if you’ve been reaching for perfumed soaps and gels in the shower to keep things fresh and smelling nice, then you’ve been doing it all wrong. “The vast majority of vaginal infections I see in my office are self-induced — generally by women who think they’re doing a good thing by washing their vagina with soap and water, or worse, with douche,” says Lisa Stern, APRN, a nurse practitioner who works with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles.

The truth is, your vagina is self-cleaning. Amazing, right? It does so through discharge secretions and the good bacteria that help keep pH levels (how acidic the vagina is) balanced. Perfumed products only disrupt this balance and therefore make you more susceptible to infections. Trust your body to do its own work and stick to washing the outside area only, gently, and with water or unscented soap.

Avoid tight clothing and underwear

Say goodbye to that tight pair of jeans. Turns out, they aren’t doing your vagina any good. “Tight clothing can cause friction against sensitive genital tissues, [which can lead to] microscopic tears,” says Linda Nicoll M.D., an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Due to moisture becoming trapped, it can also lead to yeast infections.

Now before you go and toss out your entire wardrobe, consider these alternatives: you can switch to looser pants (at least for a while) or skirts to give your lady-bits room to breathe. When it comes to underwear, aim for 100% cotton. It provides better ventilation and is super absorbent. If you’re scared that cotton means a big pair of granny panties, don’t fear! There are plenty of underwear options out there that are sexy and 100% cotton, like this pair from Free People.

Don’t stay in damp clothes or bathing suit bottoms

Growing up, your mother may have made you stay in your wet bathing suit bottoms until you got home from the beach or pool. If so, this was a big mistake and a habit you should unlearn ASAP as sitting in wet bottoms makes you prone to yeast infections. “Yeast and bacteria really thrive in moist, dark places, like a wet bathing suit or wet workout clothes,” Alyssa Dweck, an assistant clinical professor and OB/GYN at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told The Huffington Post. “So if you’re really prone to those types of infections [yeast or bacterial], you’re going to want to change out of a wet bathing suit and just put on a dry one.”

Talcum powder (think baby powder for the vagina), while controversial, may be a useful product to apply to your lady-bits as it absorbs moisture fast. Be sure to research and see if it’s right for you.

The Right Way To Clean Up After Sex

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Now we can’t blame our mothers’ entirely for not telling us this one. After all, having the “birds and bees” talk was awkward enough; it’s not exactly easy to tell your daughter to clean her vagina after she gets some action. But it is super important, according to Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California. “Good hygiene should always be the rule, not the exception, especially after sexual contact. Sex can bring a host of new bacteria, which is challenging for the vagina to fend off.”

The first thing to do is pee after sex, as bacteria can get up in your urethra during the deed. Peeing immediately after will clean out the unitary tract, therefore preventing a unitary tract infection (UTI). Since sex can get pretty messy, especially if you’re using lubricants, it’s important to wash up afterward, too. Using warm water or non-scented soap, be gentle and wipe front to back in dabbing motions.

When it comes to our — say it with me, ladies — vagina, whether or not you’re getting down and dirty every weekend or once in a blue moon doesn’t matter. Taking care of our nether-regions is seriously important to prevent bad habits or existing issues to get even worse. Do you get UTI’s frequently? What about yeast infections? The truth is that it’s not your mom’s fault — the stigma around talking about vaginas can be seriously overwhelming. But these issues are easy to prevent if you know the right way to keep yourself clean. Brush your teeth twice a day, wash your hair every other day, and keep your vag clean. Okay?!

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