Vagina: what is normal and what is not
Vaginal health affects more than your sex life. Learn more about common vaginal problems and ways to promote vaginal health.
Vaginal health is an important part of women’s overall health. Vaginal problems can affect fertility, sexual desire, and the ability to orgasm. Ongoing problems with vaginal health can also lead to stress or problems with the partner and affect self-confidence. Learn the signs and symptoms of vaginal problems and what you can do to protect your vaginal health.
The vagina is a closed muscular canal that extends from the vulva, the outer part of the female genital area, to the cervix. Several factors can affect the health of the vagina, including the following:
Sex. Unprotected sex can lead to a sexually transmitted infection. Strong sexual intercourse or an injury to the pelvic area can cause vaginal trauma.
Some diseases or treatments. Some disorders, such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease, may cause pain during sexual intercourse. Scars from pelvic surgery and some cancer treatments can also cause pain during sex. The use of some antibiotics increases the risk of a vaginal yeast infection.
Birth control pills and feminine hygiene products. Barrier contraceptives, such as condoms, diaphragms, and associated spermicide, can cause vaginal irritation. The use of sprays, deodorants, or douches can cause irritation or worsen an existing irritation.
Pregnancy and childbirth. If you become pregnant, you will stop menstruating until after the baby is born. During pregnancy, vaginal discharge often increases. Vaginal tears are relatively common during childbirth. In some cases, it is necessary to make an episiotomy-an incision that is made in the tissue of the vaginal opening during childbirth. A vaginal delivery can also reduce muscle tone in the vagina.
Psychological problems. Anxiety and depression can contribute to a low level of arousal and, as a result, discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse. Traumas, such as sexual abuse or a painful first sexual experience, can also cause sex-related pain.
Hormone levels. Changes in hormone levels can affect the vagina. For example, estrogen production decreases after menopause and during lactation. Lack of estrogen can lead to thinning of the vaginal lining (vaginal atrophy), which causes pain during sexual intercourse.
Be sexually responsible. Use condoms or have a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who does not have sexually transmitted infections. If you use sex toys, clean them after each use.
Get vaccinated. Vaccines can protect you from human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus associated with cervical cancer, as well as hepatitis B, a serious liver infection that can be transmitted through sexual contact.
Do the kegel exercises. Kegel exercises can help tone your pelvic floor muscles if you suffer from prolapse, loss of urine, or pelvic floor weakness.
Find out about your medications. Talk to your doctor about medication use and possible side effects for your vagina.
Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and don’t smoke. Chronic alcohol consumption can affect sexual function. Nicotine could inhibit sexual arousal. Substance abuse could also be related to poor physical and mental health, which can affect sexual function.