Your nether regions can tell you a lot about your health. Listen while they whisper, so you don’t have to hear them scream.
The vagina is simultaneously robust and delicate—able to spring back from childbirth, yet sensitive to soap. When it comes to caring for it, a lot comes down to correctly interpreting the sights, the smells, and the consistencies.
The human body has trillions of resident microorganisms that play important roles in various processes, such as digestion and immune system function. The vaginal flora consists primarily of lactobacilli, known to inhibit in vitro growth of harmful pathogens. Lactobacilli also produce lactic acid, which contributes to the acidity of the vagina.
Other than treating your body to an overall healthy diet, you can boost your vaginal flora by eating foods rich in probiotics, such as yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, apple cider vinegar, kombucha and miso. Probiotics also have a range of other benefits, including improved digestion and a stronger immune system.
In the interest of maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiome, it’s important to be mindful of your vaginal pH during your daily hygiene routine. This means rinsing with water, or using a mild wash that is meant for your private parts (there should be a mention of the pH level on the bottle)—no soap, and no douches, as these products are too harsh. Clean all parts on the outside of your body, and the outside only. The inside will take care of itself.
Be sure to address possible buildup in any nooks and crannies. You’ll need to know yourself well for this. It may feel odd to explore such a private area, but knowing what is normal for you is important for comparison—there may be a time when knowing what has changed is paramount in determining if anything is wrong. Sitting down for half an hour with a mirror could teach you a lot about what everything looks like down there.
Vaginal discharge (or cervical fluid) is made by glands in the vagina and cervix, and is part of the self-cleaning function of the female reproductive system. Normal everyday discharge ranges from clear and watery or stretchy to thick and milky white. The colour, consistency, amount and smell is dependent on factors such as whether or not you are ovulating, pregnant, or aroused, how much you exercise, and how healthy your vaginal flora is.
If you pay attention, you can observe these changes throughout the month. When your body produces more estrogen, your discharge is clear and slippery. More progesterone makes whiter, thicker discharge. When levels of both hormones are low (like right after your period), you may have little to no discharge at all. If you are taking hormonal contraceptives, you may not experience these cyclical changes, and have whitish discharge fairly consistently.
Your body produces most estrogen right before ovulation, which might cause you to feel more social and flirtatious. This is because it’s the best time to conceive. The clear, slippery fluid is best suited to facilitate a sperm’s journey to an egg cell—the same kind of fluid you get upon arousal.
During your period, your uterine lining and some blood is added to the mix. You may have noticed that it’s not the same kind of red throughout—most women experience a gradually changing spectrum of menstrual colours.
You might see brown at the very beginning of your period. This means the blood is a little older and that your “flow” is a little slow. As it speeds up, it may transition to a dark red or dark purple, and then to bright red—this is new, fresh blood, which you are likely to see when your period is at its most intense. As it draws to a close, you’ll see these same colour transitions in reverse.
Light red or pink fluid may be a small amount of blood mixed with cervical fluid. Some women experience this with “spotting”, which is any bleeding which happens outside of your period. A lighter colour may also indicate low estrogen levels—if it’s consistent, you may want to visit your doctor.
Grey period blood may indicate a miscarriage if you are pregnant, especially if accompanied by chunks of tissue. If you see this, visit your doctor immediately.
If your vaginal flora isn’t feeling that good, your discharge will reflect that. Common symptoms of infection are a bad smell and colour or consistency that seems a bit off.
Thick, clumpy white discharge with swelling around the vulva, burning or itching sensations, and pain during intercourse are symptoms of yeast infection.
Yellow or green discharge can have different causes. If it’s cloudy, and you experience a burning sensation when you pee, it may indicate chlamydia or gonorrhea. If it’s frothy, smells bad and is accompanied by pain and itching, it could be caused by trichomoniasis.
Bacterial vaginosis can also cause white, gray or yellow discharge with a particularly foul smell. Some describe it as “fishy”.
Bloody or brown discharge outside of your menstrual cycle, as well as watery discharge with a foul smell may indicate cervical cancer, the main cause of which is HPV.
You can preemptively protect yourself from infections by getting tested regularly, practicing safe sex, educating and taking care of yourself. A happy vagina makes for a happier life.
You can track your period and symptoms using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now: