Although most vaginas tend to take care of themselves, there are certain lifestyle and health considerations you can make to help keep it healthy.
Discover how you can tell if your vagina is healthy or unhealthy, plus 16 healthy vagina tips in this article.
6 signs that you have a healthy vagina
If your vagina is healthy, you probably won’t even think about it.
It’s only usually when the vagina starts to become unhealthy that we start paying attention.
However, a healthy and happy vagina will usually show the following signs:
No abnormal pain during or after sex
Clear, neutral-smelling discharge
An ‘elastic’ feeling inside – not a tight or uncomfortable feeling
Smooth and un-lumpy labia (the part of your vagina on the outside)
No irritation or obvious spots
How do you tell if something is wrong down there?
If your vagina is unhealthy, it will usually give you a few signs, some of which we have detailed below.
5 signs that you don’t have a healthy vagina
Your pH balance is off
One indicator that your vagina is not healthy is a disturbed bacteria balance, which can lead to inflammation and infection.
Bacteria called lactobacilli help to keep the vagina’s pH balance at a normal low level – less than pH 4.5 – which helps to prevent other organisms from growing down there.
If this pH level rises and becomes more acidic, levels of lactobacilli can fall and harmful bacteria can start to multiply.
How do I know if my pH balance is off?
The most common infections caused by an unbalanced pH level are bacterial vaginosis (BV) or thrush, both of which can cause symptoms like irritation, itching and abnormal discharge.
How do I fix my pH balance?
If you have an infection, you must go to see your GP to get properly diagnosed and treated – try not to be embarrassed as it happens to a lot of us and your GP will not be phased by it!
To help stave off further pH imbalances, make sure to wash regularly, change underwear when it’s wet, and avoid perfumed hygiene products.
Every vagina has its own unique scent, and there’s certainly not a ‘smell fits all’, and they don’t usually smell like flowers or perfume.
The only odours you should be wary about are strong and unpleasant ones, especially if accompanied by unusual discharge.
Always consult your GP if these smells develop as they could be a sign of infection.
Itching and irritation
Healthy vaginas aren’t supposed to be itchy and is usually a problematic sign. Itching can be a sign of thrush or other vaginal infection, but it could also be caused by a general skin condition like eczema.
You should pay a visit to your GP if the itchiness and irritation persist.1
If you are bleeding when not on your period, it could be hormone-induced spotting.
However, if it is accompanied by an itching or burning sensation, it could be caused by a tear or an infection – definitely get it checked out.
If you get any sort of pain down there when you have sex, after sex, when inserting tampons or just in general, this is usually a sign of bad health.
Speak to your GP or another health professional to get to the root of the problem.
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How can I make down there healthy?
16 Healthy vagina tips
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Simple everyday things you do to maintain good health, like exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet are some of the most important aspects for looking after your vagina.
Dr Suzy Elneil, a consultant in urogynaecology at University College Hospital, London explains:2
“Generally, good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you’re in good general health. This includes a healthy diet and exercise.
Normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function, like walking and running help the pelvic floor to tone up and ensure good general health.”
Be careful when washing
The perfume in some soaps and shower gels can irritate the vagina and even affect the healthy balance of pH levels and bacteria inside.
If you want to use soap, choose a plain and unperfumed one to wash around the outside of the vagina every day (never inside!).
You can also just use plain water if you want to avoid irritation altogether.
Washing becomes even more important during your period when washing more than once a day may be helpful.
It is worth noting that the vagina cleans itself, and this is why you may get some discharge.3
Keep your pubic hair
Pubic hair exists to help protect the vagina from bacteria and also counteracts friction and sweating.
So, instead of removing all of your pubic hair, try to stick to a bit of trimming and removing hair from the bikini line – if you want to remove any at all, that is!
Ditch the douche
A douche is a device that clears out vaginal secretions by flushing water up inside the vagina. They are widely condemned as they can disrupt normal, balanced vaginal bacteria.
You may have heard that they can help protect you from STIs and vaginal infections, but there is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, they may even increase the risk of both.
Don’t worry about natural smells
Your vagina isn’t meant to smell like vanilla or roses, and you shouldn’t seek to change the natural smell of your vagina.
It is normal to have a scent, even if you wash every day, and this odour can change throughout your menstrual cycle.
However, if your vagina starts to smell unpleasant or you’re using perfumed products to cover up the smell, please contact your GP as you may have an infection, e.g. bacterial vaginosis.4
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Use safe sex toys
If you want to invest in some sex toys, make sure they are made from safe and medical-grade materials.
Sometimes, companies online can compromise on the quality, so try and stick to well-known manufacturers you can trust.
Check your lube
Using lube during sex or some ‘alone time’ can make things feel so much better, but some lubes can be detrimental to vaginal health.
One common lube ingredient you should avoid is glycerine. It is used to keep lube ‘wet’ but can also cause harmful bacteria growth in the vagina.
Try and find a lubricant with fewer ingredients and free from substances like scents and unnatural oils.
Use the bathroom after sex
Making sure to pee after sex can help reduce the risk of UTIs (urinary tract infections), plus you can use the time in the bathroom to ‘clean up’.
Practice safe sex
Viruses and bacteria can get into the vagina while you have sex, including the bugs that cause STIs like:5
Protect your vagina from these infections by always using a condom, dental dams and other contraceptives when you have sex.
Some condoms contain spermicide that can irritate the vagina, so look for ones without it if you’re sensitive to it.
When you have a monogamous partner, who has been tested for STIs, physical contraceptives like condoms become less important if you have other forms of contraception on the go like the pill or IUD.
Unless you use them to stop a pregnancy that is!
Each time you have a new partner, you should get tested for STIs, just to be on the safe side.
Keep on top of cervical screenings
Women from the ages of 25 to 64 should be getting cervical screenings regularly to identify any abnormal changes in the cervix.
Contact your GP to get booked in if you have not received an invite.6
Ditching your PJs in bed is one easy way to help keep your vagina healthy.
The most important thing is to go without underwear so your vagina can breathe.
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Wear breathable underwear
Cotton underwear is always recommended for good vaginal health as it is breathable and wicks moisture, which can cause bacteria growth if left unchecked.
Changing out of wet clothing as soon as possible can also help, as well as changing your underwear every day.
Maintain your mental health
Both depression and anxiety can affect arousal levels, a lack of which can lead to pain and discomfort during sex.
Past traumas, like sexual abuse, can also lead to pain during sex and damage, so trying to get your mental health on track can also have positive effects on your vagina.
Train your pelvic floor
Do you pee when you sneeze or laugh?
Weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to weak bladders and even a prolapsed uterus, bladder, rectum or vagina (when it slips down).
It is especially common after pregnancy and childbirth, but there are some exercises that can help.
Here’s how to do some pelvic floor exercises:7
Empty your bladder and find a comfortable place to sit
Squeeze the area of the vagina and urethra, whilst trying not to hold your breath or tighten your bottom, stomach or thigh muscles as you do
Try holding each squeeze of the muscles for a few seconds
You should notice results after a few months, but keep doing them to maintain the strength
They can also help sex feel better and lead to stronger orgasms – win, win!
Limit alcohol consumption
Chronic alcohol abuse can cause problems with sexual arousal as well as mental health, both of which can affect sexual function and potentially damage the vagina.
That’s why you should limit your intake to safe levels or avoid it all together.
Just like alcohol, the nicotine in cigarettes can inhibit sexual arousal and cause further problems down the line.
When to see your doctor about vagina health problems
If you have any concerns about your vaginal health, the best thing to do is to go and speak to your GP or sexual health / women’s health service programme to find out how to fix it.
The final say
Vaginas tend to look after themselves, but there are things you can do to help keep it healthy
Pain, abnormal smells and itchiness can be signs that something is not quite right down there
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise is important for keeping your vagina healthy, as well as avoiding perfumed products and making sure to use water or unscented soap to wash it
Always arrange to see your GP if you are having issues with your vagina as they will be able to determine the problem and help.