10 Female Hygiene Questions: Stuff Your Mama Never Taught You
This blog was written for AwesomeWoman.com
“I was seriously 30 years old before I learned that douching is bad and that you’re not supposed to clean ‘down there’ with soap. Which got me thinking, what else did I never learn when I was growing up?” - Jennie C.
Jennie’s not alone. For many women, our understanding of our own bodies is strongly tied to how we were raised. How our mothers, sisters, and grandmothers talked about female anatomy and what they chose to teach us (or not) can impact our hygiene habits and even our comfort level with our own bodies—long into adulthood.
So, in an effort to bring us all up to speed, here’s Female Hygiene 101, Awesome Woman edition.
1. We grew up poor and had to make everything last, including pads and tampons. How often should I actually be changing them?
Before we set our clocks for the timing of each product, let’s start with a tad bit of policy insight—tampons and pads are taxed as “luxury items.” Yep, luxury. Other “luxury” items on this tax lists include private jets and fine jewelry AKA actual luxury. So why is something that is a basic hygiene item, that every person with female sex organs must use monthly for a large part of their life, on this list? Good question—such a bloody mess. Awesome Woman and many other organizations are working to end the Tampon Tax because no one should have to make their products last longer, which could result in all sorts of funky smells and infections.
Here is a basic rule of thumb for changing out menstruation products:
Tampons: Every 4-8 hours, depending on how heavy your flow is for the day.
Pads: Every 3-4 hours. If needed, wear heavier night time pads for sleeping and change out as soon as you wake up.
Menstrual Cups: You can leave it in for up to 12 hours.
Period-Proof Underwear: It depends on the product and your flow, but some people can wear one pair for up to 24 hours.
We are lucky to live in a time of options! If you have a super heavy flow, wearing period-proof underwear combined with a tampon can give you the no-leak confidence you want for that big work presentation or 10K race. Mix, match, and find what works for you—no matter what awesome things you are doing each day.
2. My mom always said, “You’re not supposed to douche until you get married,” but never explained why. What’s that all about?
Ahh, this advice is probably two-fold: old beliefs about douching after sex to “keep it fresh” and your mom’s hope that you’d remain a virgin until marriage. To set it straight, douching after sex is not necessary neither is telling anyone sex statistics—unless you want.
Just to be super clear, douching is never ever necessary or even safe to do. Same goes for “all-natural” water and vinegar douching. It is just an damaging to your pH balance and can cause irritations that lead to all sorts of infections and danky odors—which was your reason she told you to douching in the first place. Ditch the douche! Your vagina is self-cleaning. Flushing the vagina with any kind of liquid removes the healthy, friendly bacteria that fight off infection and keep it naturally “fresh.”
To promote vaginal balance, we suggest taking a daily probiotic, drinking plenty of water, and airing it all out when you are home. Take off the tight underwear and feel the freedom! Keep reading for more happy vagina practices.
3. Does shaving really make leg hair grow back quicker?
No, it is a pervasive myth that billions believe around the world! If it was true, then balding would become obsolete. This is what is actually happening: your razer removes the thinner part of the hair shaft, leaving the thicker base to pop up in the very near future. Since this part is thicker, it can feel more stubby and look darker. Over time, each hair naturally thins at the top, it gets shaved, and then the whole cycle continues. Now you got a leg up on body hair edu!
4. Do you really NOT need to wash down there at all?
Hell yeah, you gotta wash your vulva just as often as you do the rest of your body. Just make sure you only use warm water and mild, fragrance-free soap. Your vagina is a self-cleaning machine. If you find discharge that isn’t smelly, that means the vagina is just doing its job. You go girl!
5. Female anatomy basics: what’s actually “down there”?
In everyday conversation, most people use the term “vagina” to represent everything down under, but there is much more going on that wants to feel seen. Let’s dive and learn about what the vagina and vulva actually do for us.
Vagina: Is on the inside. It’s the canal where things like penises, dildos, menstrual cups, fingers, and tampons can go. The vagina cleans itself like a boss—don’t mess up the system.
Vulva: Is on the outside. It includes pubic hair, inner and outer labia (lips), the clitoris (a magical part that is solely just for making you feel good), and the opening of the vagina. As for cleaning, since the vulva is often trapped in sweaty undies, dealing with discharge, and everything else she does for you, give her a cleaning every time you shower. Just water and gentle soap will do.
And now is it time for the interactive part of this short and sweet anatomy workshop: find a mirror and get curious!
6. My grandma always said it’s best to sleep without panties. My mom said that was nonsense. Who was right?
Grandma’s wisdom wins—commando you go! And not just sleeping, it is best to let it breathe whenever possible. Tight underwear and clothes trap discharge, sweat, and dead skin, leading to infections and odors. Be free and feel the breeze!
7. My mom said you’re never supposed to shave your pubic hair. Is this true?
We aren’t saying to get lost in a bush; you need to shave your own empowered and educated path. You do you. Also, just like your leg hair, shaving your pubic hair doesn’t make it grow back thicker.
Shaving can lead to upsetting the sensitive skin in this area resulting in an increase of infections, feeling itchy, cuts, pimples, redness, and other uncomfortable ways your skin might retaliate. If you do prefer to shave, here are a few tricks to keep the peace:
If your hair is long, trim it with fresh scissors before shaving.
Make sure your skin is wet and soft. Usually, shaving a few minutes into a bath or shower will get you there.
Use a sharp razor and slowly go in the direction your hair grows.
Rinse the skin with warm water and pat dry.
Tell your vulva and vagina a few positive affirmations. They go through a lot for you and need support!
8. Does everything come out of one hole?
You have two holes. One for pee to flow out of, which is called the urethra. It is a tiny opening just above your vagina, and it acts as the opening to your bladder. The other is your vagina, where period blood drips out. Therefore, a tampon won't block the flow of urine.
9. My friend said I should always pee after sex? Why? I don’t want to interrupt cuddle time.
A lot passes through as two people make love—emotional connections, feel-goods, sweat, and sometimes sperm. While all this bliss is brewing, bacteria can be passing from your genitals to the urethra—often resulting in a urinary tract infection. UTIs are easily curable with medication, but they are painful and make you feel like you have to pee 27/4. Ain't no one got time for that.
To stop a UTI literally in its tracks, just pee out the bacteria after sex—the sooner, the better. Give pee a chance. Then jump right back in for snuggles and whatever else you like to do in these euphoric moments. Other ways to prevent UTIs are ditching the douche, peeing at least once every 3 hours during the day, taking a daily probiotic, and avoiding staying in a wet swimsuit or sweaty yoga pants for too long.
10. Wiping wisdom
Sharing is not caring. After pooping and peeing in one sitting, wipe your vulva with one tissue and your butt with another. If you don't, it can cross-contaminate both areas and lead to UTIs.
When wiping off wee, make sure to always wipe front to back. Wipe everything away from the vagina so that infectious bacterial vaginitis can't make its way inside.
Bonus: What does "feminine hygiene" actually mean? Nothing more than a marketing ploy. It is rooted in misogynistic values to make women ashamed of their "dirty" genitals; how they smell, feel, and look. Products that say "feminine hygiene or "pH balancing" can actually be damaging to the whole system. You don't and shouldn't smell like roses, and your vagina self manages its pH levels. Don't throw it off. A better term would be vulvar/vaginal hygiene because gender expression and energies have nothing to do with anatomy.