Women do not spend enough time looking after our vaginas.
To rectify this travesty, GP Dr Henderson dispels 10 common myths and misconceptions about vaginas and intimate health.
Vagina size depends on your build
"There is little or no correlation between the height and build of a woman and how big or small her vagina is. In fact, the size and shape of vaginas vary by nature from person to person and there is no common ‘standard’.
"Also, the vagina is very stretchy and can expand or contract during sex, childbirth, or due to hormonal fluctuations – so there’s really no one-size fits all."
The vagina has several parts, including the labia, clitoris and uretha
"Actually, although it’s often used to describe the whole intimate area, the term 'vagina' only refers to the muscular internal passage that ends at the cervix – the opening to the uterus.
"What we often think of as the external vaginal area is actually called the vulva. The vulva is an umbrella term for the external intimate area, which includes the inner and outer labia (vaginal lips), the entrance to the vagina, and the urethra, where urine exits the body."
Healthy vaginas don’t smell
"In fact, all genitals have a light natural odour - but the vagina can smell stronger at certain times of the month due to hormonal fluctuations, during pregnancy, or after sex.
"Because of the high concentration of sweat glands in the genital area, they may also produce a ‘sweaty odour’. The key is to know what's normal for you: your GP can be consulted if anything unusual is noticed or if Bacterial Vaginosis is suspected this can be diagnosed via a self-test available over-the-counter from the pharmacy."
Infections are down to poor hygiene
"Ironically, common vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) can actually be caused by wanting to be clean. Vaginal infections are rarely down to how little or often you wash, as the vagina is a self-cleaning organ which has natural microflora that thrive at an acidic pH and help to prevent infection.
"However, the good bacteria which keep the environment in check can be disrupted by washing with medicated or perfumed soaps, bubble bath and shower gel."
Discharge is dirty
"Discharge is actually full of ‘good’ bacteria which help protect against infection, and exists to lubricate and cleanse the vagina – and so it’s definitely not ‘dirty’. Healthy discharge should be white or clear and relatively odourless.
"Know what’s normal for you, and if you notice more discharge than usual, itchiness or a marked change in smell then go to the doctor or try a self-test."
Thrush is the most common infection
“Though thrush is the best known vaginal infection, the most common among pre-menopausal women is actually bacterial vaginosis (BV).
"Despite the fact that one in three women will have the condition at some point in their lifetime, nearly half of UK women (48%) don’t know what BV is. BV develops when the normal pH of the vagina is disrupted so that ‘good’ bacteria are reduced and ‘bad’ bacteria overgrow, causing a strong, fishy smelling discharge.
"BV can be caused by over washing or ‘douching’ with heavily perfumed washes or even water, which can disrupt the vagina’s natural pH balance."
BV is an STI
"Wrong. A recent survey revealed a staggering 60% of women incorrectly believed BV was a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia. BV is not an STI, but an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria naturally found in the vagina that occurs due to a pH imbalance."
Infections during pregnancy are a cause for concern
"Though vaginal infections are more common during pregnancy and can result from the natural changes in hormones. If you suspect you have a vaginal infection while pregnant your GP can diagnose the condition and advise on how to treat it during your pregnancy."
Lots of sex causes looseness
"The vaginal muscles are incredibly stretchy, and while the vagina does respond to arousal by expanding in size to accommodate intercourse, it shrinks back to its usual size afterwards, so having lots of sex does not contribute to loss of vaginal ‘tightness’."
For diagnosis of an infection, you have to go to the GP
"Although GPs and other healthcare professionals are still available to help women if they need further advice or guidance on treatment options, it’s beneficial that in cases where women are not able to visit their GP – whether through feeling awkward or a lack of time – that over-the-counter options are available to help women diagnose such conditions themselves."
Canestest Self-Test for Vaginal Infections allows women to diagnose common vaginal infections like thrush and bacterial vaginosis (BV) at home in seconds, making it easy to seek the right treatment. (£9.99, available from Boots and all good chemists. For more information visit www.canesten.co.uk.)