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Vaginal Health - What's Normal, What Isn't?

Vaginal Health - What's Normal, What Isn't?

Vaginal health is an essential part of your overall health. Ongoing vaginal problems can cause stress or relationship problems and damage your self-confidence, as well as impact your sex drive, your ability to have children, and your ability to reach orgasm.

There are a number of things that can affect your vaginal health, including:

  • Engaging in unprotected sex. When you forego protection, you leave yourself vulnerable to contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Some chronic health conditions. Some conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune disorders, can lead to vaginal dryness.
  • Medications and feminine-hygiene products. Antihistamines can cause dryness, and antibiotics can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections. Tampons left inside the vagina can cause vaginitis, but may also lead to other, more serious medical problems.
  • Birth control. Anything can cause vaginal irritation in certain situations, even condoms! However, there is no definitive cause and effect as everyone’s body is different. Please consult with your AOA provider if you are having any odd vaginal symptoms.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnancy can increase vaginal discharge, and many women will experience vaginal tearing during childbirth. The healing process after a delivery can also cause swelling, itching and/or vaginal irritation.
  • Mental health problems. Anxiety and depression can impact your ability to become aroused and lead to pain or discomfort during sex. Traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, can also lead to pain during sex.
  • Aging. After menopause the change in hormone levels can cause the vaginal lining to become thinner and lose elasticity, which can lead to pain during intercourse.
  • Vaginitis. An infection or imbalance in the normal bacteria can cause symptoms that may include vaginal discharge, odor, itching and pain.
  • Weakened ligaments and connective tissue. In some cases, ligaments and connective tissue that support the uterus/vagina can weaken and cause the uterus, bladder, or rectum to slip down and into the vagina. This is known as a pelvic organ prolapse.

If you find yourself experience vaginal dryness, tearing, discharge, itching, unexpected bleeding, a mass or bulge, or if you experience a sensation of pressure or heaviness in your vagina, be sure to see your AOA physician to determine the source of the problem and get the help you need.

There are some basic steps you can take to help ensure your vaginal health, including:

  • Practicing safe sex. Limit your sex partners, use condoms, or maintain a monogamous relationship with someone who is free from infection.
  • Vaccination. If you are between 12 and 26 you can be vaccinated to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV). You should also be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, which can be spread through sexual contact.
  • Good hygiene. Don’t douche or use perfumed soaps, feminine sprays, or scented tampons. If you use sex toys, be sure to wash them after every use.
  • Kegel exercises. Practice tightening your pelvic floor muscles daily to keep strong.
  • Be aware of your medications. Talk with your AOA doctor about any medications you are taking and their potential side effects.
  • Limit alcohol and don’t smoke or abuse drugs. Alcohol and drugs can cause sexual dysfunction, or may lead you to take sexual risks. Nicotine can inhibit sexual arousal.

Maintaining your vaginal health is a critical component of your overall wellbeing. If you are experiencing problems, do not let embarrassment or uncertainty keep you from sharing your symptoms with your AOA physician, who can help determine the cause of your condition and recommend treatment.

Learn more about your vaginal health: