Vaginal health - What is normal and what is not

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

The vagina is a tube of about 8 centimeters in length. It begins at the cervix at the base of the uterus and opens out into the vulva between the legs.
It is an elastic organ that can stretch enough to allow the penis in during intercourse and the baby to come out during childbirth.

All vaginas vary in size, shape and color. No two vaginas are same. The only thing that matters is that the vagina functions normally. Due to this, it is important to understand that what is normal in one woman may or may not be normal for you.

Vaginal health can be affected by several things:

  1. Unprotected sex can cause infections that harm the vaginal wall.
  2. Improper hygiene like not cleaning up after each visit to the toilet can cause germs to breed and cause foul discharges, itching and foul odors.
  3. Aggressive sex can injure the delicate skin of the vagina.
  4. Products like condoms, spermicidal jellies, perfumes, powders can act as irritants to the vagina.
  5. Sanitary pads and tampons if left in place for too long can lead to toxic shock syndrome.
  6. Systemic diseases like diabetes can cause vaginal dryness.
  7. Pregnancy and Childbirth - Pregnancy can cause an increase in the number of vaginal infections. Childbirth leads to loss of muscle tone in the vagina.
  8. Psychological issues - Fear of sex, anxiety, childhood trauma can make it difficult and painful while having sex, a condition called as Dyspareunia.
  9. Old age - With old age and menopause, the vagina loses its normal elasticity and becomes more stiff and dry leading to itching, redness and pain.

Follow these steps to keep your vagina in good health:

  1. Wash and dry well after every visit to the toilet.
  2. Be sexually responsible. Always use a condom and stay faithful to your partner.
  3. Get vaccinated against HPV virus as well as Hepatitis B.
  4. Practice Kegel’s exercises to maintain good tone of the muscles.
  5. Avoid using harsh chemical containing perfumes and douches.
  6. Know the side-effects of any medications you may be taking.
  7. Reduce the amount of alcohol you consume. Avoid smoking and consuming drugs.

When to see your doctor:

When you notice any or all of these symptoms, make an appointment with your gynecologist at the earliest:

  1. Foul smelling discharges
  2. Itching
  3. Painful sex
  4. Bleeding other than your periods
  5. A sensation of pressure in the vagina
  6. A protruding mass in the vagina