Maintaining a healthy vagina
The vagina is designed to naturally keep itself clean. It manages its own pH balance (how much acid versus base is present) and it releases its own discharge (a mucus or goo-like substance that works as natural lubrication in the vagina).
Clear discharge (or sometimes white when you’re ovulating every month) is healthy and normal! Unless it smells bad or makes you feel sore or itchy, then you don’t need to worry about it. If it's a different color than normal, you could have a sexually transmitted infection, so get tested or talk to a doctor.
Since your vagina naturally cleans itself, you do not need to use any soaps or wipes or rinses inside the vagina. To keep the outside of the vagina (also called the vulva) clean, you can use gentle soaps, like you would on any other part of your body. You definitely do NOT need to buy any special soaps for your vagina. Douches (or water rinses that flush out the vagina) are not healthy; they don’t prevent infections and they can mess up the natural balance of helpful bacterial that always live inside your vagina.
Steaming & herbs
Vaginal steaming (V-steaming or yoni steaming) is kind of like douching, but hot water steam rather than just a rinse. Sometimes people put herbs or essential oils in the hot water because they want their body to absorb these herbs. Just like douching, this does not have any proven benefits, and the vagina likely is not absorbing any of the herbs. However, hot steam could be really dangerous to the delicate skin in this area, and it could mess up the natural self-cleaning process that the vagina does to keep its own pH balance.
Putting herbs or ‘detox pearls’ directly into your vagina is especially harmful. They will not ‘tighten the vagina’ or ‘detoxify the womb’ in any way, but they can cause infections.
Generally, anything that claims to detoxify your vagina or your womb is a myth. Your body is so powerful that it naturally detoxifies itself—you don’t need to let anyone talk you into spending money on methods that might be risky.
It’s normal for the vagina to have its own smell, but if it ever suddenly smells differently to you or fishy, you should talk to your doctor. It could be a sign that you have an infection like BV (bacterial vaginosis).
If you wear pads during your period, you might also notice an odor during your period that you don't typically experience. This is normal and expected! (If it is distracting or if you're particularly concerned, you can still talk to your doctor about it.)
Always using condoms during penetrative sex is a really good way of protecting your vagina from infections and keeping it clean. Another great way to keep your vagina healthy is actually to exercise and eat healthy (more vegetables, less sugar and processed foods). This will help your pelvic floor muscles (muscles that are important for keeping your vagina, uterus, and bladder up in the INSIDE of your body) stay strong, and it will help your vagina maintain its balance of good bacteria.
Underwear can also play a big role in infection. Follow these tips to minimize your risk of infection:
Wearing the right kind of underwear is important. Your vagina needs to stay dry to stay healthy. Cotton underwear helps keep you dry because it absorbs moisture well. Other materials like nylon and polyester don't absorb moisture well which can lead to irritation.
It's important to change your underwear when it gets wet or when you have discharge from your vagina. This is especially important after you exercise and sweat. Additionally, when you have your period, it's a good idea to change your underwear more often than usual to stay clean and fresh.
If you get infections often, you can decide not to wear underwear at night. This helps your vagina to get some air and stay healthy. It's your choice whether to wear underwear to bed or not. Do whatever feels comfortable for you.
The infections discussed below are not STIs (not transmitted through sex.) For information on STIs, visit our page here.
Something’s itchy down there... what's going on?
If your vulva (if you don't know where that is, check out this page) feels like it's burning or something is itchy, it could be a sign of an infection. Not to worry though! These are easily treatable by your doctor. Here are some common infections:
Yeast infections are characterized by yellow or white discharge coming from your vagina. You might feel a burning or itching sensation. It might be irritated and red as well. You may want to look closer at your vulva with a mirror to get a better idea of what’s happening!
About 75% of people with vaginas get a yeast infection at some point in their lives. They’re easily treatable with creams your doctor can prescribe. In the future, you can prevent yeast infections by wearing cotton underwear and changing into a dry pair of underwear if they get wet.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections, commonly known as UTIs, are caused by bacteria that move into the urethra. This happens when bacteria from the colon moves to the urethra, often from not peeing after sex or from wiping “back to front.”
You might have a UTI if you pee more than usual and feel a burning sensation when you pee. You might feel pain in your lower back, and feel like you can’t hold it, even if only a little comes out when you pee.
UTIs can be diagnosed through a uranalysis test at your doctor’s office. Once confirmed, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection. UTIs can be prevented by drinking more water and peeing after sex. Additionally, some research has suggested that drinking cranberry juice can reduce UTI risk because of the large amounts of vitamin C it contains.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. You might have BV if you notice an unusual “fishy” smell from your discharge. BV is the most common type of vaginal infection and can be treated with antibiotics or with over-the-counter medicine such as boric acid which can be bought in the form of pills at any grocery store. Be extra careful if you use boric acid as it is dangerous to have around kids and pets.
BV is not an STI, but your likelihood of getting it increases if you are sexually active. It’s important to be honest with your doctor about sexual activity and get regular checkups to keep you healthy!
Maintaining a Healthy Penis
To clean your penis and genital area, you can gently wash with soap like you would wash any other part of your body. While washing, lift your penis up to clean underneath it, as a lot of sweat and dirt can get trapped underneath it.
If you have a foreskin, you should pull it back to wash the head of your penis underneath the foreskin. Then put the foreskin back in place.
If you ever feel a lump while you’re washing your testicles, you should tell your doctor.
To be or not to be circumcised
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin that covers the tip of the penis. It is usually done on the first or second day after the baby’s birth. Circumcision can be done on older children and adults, but this can be more complicated because it needs general anesthesia.
Circumcision is a relatively simple procedure that is done in the hospital and has few complications. Although there has been some debate in recent years over whether a circumcision is medically necessary and whether it provides any health benefits, the general agreement among healthcare providers is that benefits outweigh risks for the procedure.
If you are interested, you can learn more about the procedure here.
Maintaining a Healthy Anus
Douching is squirting water into the anus to rinse it out. Some people like doing this before anal sex because they prefer feeling that their anus is totally empty. However, douching does not prevent infections. In fact, douching can hurt the skin of your anus and increase risk of infections. While it is each person’s choice to decide what makes them feel best about their body, anal douching is not always the healthiest option. You can always ask your doctor for the safest ways to do this.
You should avoid using soaps or other cleaning products on your anus, as it is very sensitive and prone to dryness and irritation. Instead, you should use warm water to clean the outside of your anus when you shower.
Body Hair Grooming
Body hair is natural and not something you should be ashamed of! Body hair is important as it helps to protect sensitive areas of the body. Some people like to keep it natural, some people like to trim it slightly shorter, and some people like to get rid of all or some of it. It’s normal to like to try different things at different times. Below are the most common ways to groom body hair if you choose to do so.
Waxing is using hot wax to stick to your body hair so it can then be ripped out. It is best to get this done by a professional that you trust to use clean, hygienic methods. It can be dangerous to attempt at home, because you can easily burn yourself.
Threading is the process of using a clean thread to pull out body hair from the root. It is considered gentler on the skin than waxing but may also be more time-consuming and more painful. It is best to get this done by a professional that you trust to use clean, hygienic methods.
Shaving is using a blade to cut the hair close to the skin. This method is easiest to do at home, but your hair will grow back more rapidly than with waxing or threading. It is best to use your own clean blade, rather than sharing, as diseases can be spread between razors when they slightly cut the skin and get in contact with your blood. Shaving can sometimes cause razor burn, which are small painful red bumps on your skin after shaving. Your doctor can recommend ideas to help this, like moisturizing creams or exfoliation.
A sexual partner should never pressure you to change your body hair in any way you don’t want to. You should keep your body hair in whatever way makes you feel most confident and physically comfortable.