Let’s talk about your vaginal pH, because what could be more fun? I’m not being sarcastic: The vagina is amazing. It is its own tiny ecosystem, capable of balancing itself. It’s often called a self-cleaning oven because it literally cleans itself, with no need for outside help. It is a bonafide wonder.
So, what’s all the pH stuff about? The vagina has a natural pH of 3.8 to 4.5. It is filled with these little bacteria called lactobacilli, which helps keep a healthy acidic pH. When the vagina is healthy it maintains a balance between vaginal yeast and bacteria.
The only problem with the vaginal ecosystem is that sometimes things can go awry. There can be an overgrowth of candida, leading to yeast infections. Or an overgrowth of bacteria, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis. Don’t worry. These types of infections are super common. In fact, 3 in 4 vulva-owners will get a yeast infection at some point in their lifetimes.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to keep your vagina happy and healthy.
Wear breathable underwear
Stick to underwear that allows your vulva and vagina to breathe. This will not only help with maintaining a balanced pH, but will help with any stale or unpleasant smells. When you suffocate your vulva in fabrics that don’t breathe, it can get really pissed off.
Choose 100 percent cotton or breathable satin for your underwear choices. Protect yourself even more by sleeping naked, in a nightgown, or in a sleeping shirt. This will give your vulva and vagina a chance to air out. Some experts don’t believe these tactics help with vaginal pH, but they’ve been tried and tested by many a vulva-owner.
Take a probiotic
Probiotics are amazing for balancing bacteria in your body. Dr. Jolene Brighten explains in her book, Beyond The Pill, that you want to look for a probiotic that has at least five different strains of lactobacilli. This way your body is sure to get enough different types of bacteria to have a healthy gut and vaginal pH.
Taking probiotics regularly is especially helpful if you’re on antibiotics. Antibiotics can wipe out not just the bad bacteria that is making you sick, but also the good bacteria that is supporting your vaginal pH. Taking a probiotic helps you replenish these stores so that you avoid getting a yeast infection.
Always pee after sex
When the bacteria in the vagina is imbalanced, its close proximity to the urethra can lead to UTIs. This most often happens with intercourse, but it can happen during oral, hand-sex, and play with toys. Once you’re finished playing and have had a few minutes for post-sex cuddle time (if that’s your thing), pop to the bathroom and pee. This helps to push any accumulated bacteria out of the urethra.
Change tampons regularly
When you’re on your period, change your tampon every four to six hours. If a tampon is forgotten up there, bacteria can breed and cause foul smells and even an infection. Be sure you’re changing it regularly.
If possible, choose organic, paraben-free tampons. Your vagina is one of the most absorbent places on the body. You don’t want to be sticking toxic chemicals up there.
This one might seem obvious, but be sure you’re always wiping front to back. If fecal matter finds its way into the vagina, you could wind up with a raging infection. If you use wipes, be sure they are organic, paraben-free, and scent-free.
Infections can also happen during sex if you switch from anal to vaginal in the same sex session. Never ever do that. If you have a partner who tries to do this, politely stop them and explain that this is poor sexual hygiene. Spread the word.
Try a cranberry supplement
Cranberry juice has long been heralded as a good treatment for pH balance and urinary tract infections, but the science is slightly dubious. Drinking buttloads of cranberry juice definitely will NOT effectively treat a UTI, but some experts believe it can be helpful as a preventative measure. The active compounds in cranberry juice aren’t destroyed by the naturally occuring bacteria in the gut, allowing it to fight infections.
You can take it in supplement form or you can drink it. If you decide to drink it, make sure it’s 100 percent cranberry juice and not cranberry juice cocktail. While there isn’t enough research-backed data to conclusively say if this trick works or not, it couldn’t hurt to try it. If you’re someone who’s prone to UTIs, you should take whatever trick you can get.
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and writer living in Chicago.