As if there wasn't enough pressure on women to retain a youthful glow and a slim figure, there are countless trends that dictate what we should be doing with our vaginas. These days you can pick up a Vajazzle Kit in Poundland, because apparently the "less is more" mantra doesn't apply to our nether regions.
With the rise of the Vajacial and vaginal reconstructive surgery, from laser treatments that aim to tighten your vagina to labiaplasties, it seems that no part of the female body is free from scrutiny.
The vagina is, essentially, a well-oiled machine; it's self-cleansing and has a delicate pH balance, also known as the vaginal flora, and interfering with it can do more harm than good. Trends that gain popularity through celebrity endorsement, such as vaginal steaming or inserting Jade Eggs into your vagina, can put unnecessary pressure on women to "fix" themselves, when in actuality they are perfectly healthy.
Mandatory sex and relationship education is set to be in place by 2019, and hopefully vaginal health will be on the agenda. There are some genuine health issues that many women believe that they simply have to put up with because they are not properly informed about them, such as incontinence after childbirth.
Teaching women how to properly tone their pelvic floor muscles will be a major benefit to women of all ages, improving both their sexual health and pleasure as a toned pelvic floor can lead to more intense orgasms and prevent urinary incontinence. However, Jade Eggs are not the solution; a good Kegel exercise regime includes contracting and releasing the pelvic floor muscles, whereas the Jade Eggs concentrate on the contraction. Over time, this could lead to pelvic pain as the pelvic floor muscles can become too tight.
Kegel exercise balls, also known as jiggle balls or Ben-wa balls, are safe to use, and some vibrators even have inbuilt pelvic floor training programmes to help you tone your PC muscles more efficiently.
People also need to be made aware of the ingredients in products such as personal lubricants, as many products on the market contain glycerins that can cause thrush. "Tingling" and "cooling" lubricants can also contain menthol or chilli extracts, which can cause irritation if you have sensitive skin. There are good lubricants available on the market that are 100% organic and nourish the skin too.
If women and young girls are missing out on education about their vaginal health, it's no wonder that many turn to celebrities or follow trends simply because they are popular. Many women aren't comfortable discussing their genitalia; an Eve Appeal survey (2016) reported that 65% of the women surveyed were uncomfortable saying the word "vagina". These women could be made to feel self conscious about their bodies if they believe that they are somehow abnormal because of the media perpetuating the idea that you should achieve a certain look through surgery.
Vulvas come in all different shapes, sizes and colours, and while plastic surgery is a personal choice, labiaplasties should only really be considered if an elongated vulva causes pain or bleeding.
Getting to know what's "normal" for you is important as you're more likely to notice any changes such as the colouration, smell and thickness of your discharge. If you notice any differences or start experiencing pain or bleeding during sex, go and see your GP rather than attempt to steam clean your vagina or shoot it with lasers.
By talking about vaginas and celebrating vulval diversity, hopefully women will be able to talk more openly about their vaginal health. We also need to teach young people that grooming habits should also be a personal preference; pubic hair is completely natural and it is in no way dirty or unhygienic. If you want to remove your pubic hair, ensure that you do so safely and maintain your skin health by exfoliating and moisturising to keep ingrown hairs and irritation at bay.
What's more, trends will come and go, so while you may think that reconstructive surgery or having your pubic hair lasered off is a good idea now, it may be something you regret later on in life. If we can encourage women to embrace the appearance of their vaginas, and teach them how to maintain good vaginal health from a younger age, then they will hopefully live a lifetime of body positivity and good sexual health.