being a human with a vagina 101 - the do's and don'ts
Sex & Pleasure
7th July 2021
First things first, I solemnly pledge to not use any euphemisms for vagina or vulva in this article. Topping the list of my pet-peeves is articles about vaginas, sex, or periods, in which the authors are afraid to use the words vagina, sex, or period. Neither will I use phrases like va-va-voom, which, like, should go without saying but such euphemisms crop up disturbingly often in articles about vaginas and vulvas. I can’t even stand euphemisms in sexual situations – if you use the word ‘pussy’ I will clamp my legs together so fast you’ll lose an arm – let alone in supposedly informative articles. If I ever see a grown woman refer to her ‘lady flower’ again, I will lose my mind. The first step in this guide to being a human with a vagina? Call it by it’s name. So here’s my promise to you: I’m gonna use the word vagina so many times in this article that it almost (almost) makes up for the existence of the word ‘minge’. And without further ado, my fave vagina-having humans, here are our top tips for having and caring for your vulva.
Pee after sex
Look, I know you’re busy bathing in the sex afterglow, collapsing onto the pillow to catch your breath, or trying to get your hookup out of the door before they start treating your place like a B&B, but this one’s a pretty big deal. Put simply, it can help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). This is because it helps to clean bacteria from the urethra – which can come from your partner’s bod, sex toys, and even your own bum, given the proximity of the vagina and the anus.
Unless you’re prone to UTI’s – in which case, making a beeline to the bathroom is highly recommended – no one’s expecting you to leap up, still in the throes of an orgasm, to go pee. But it is important to keep it in mind. There’s not really any agreed-upon time period (isn’t having a vagina in a world which doesn’t deem vaginas worthy of much scientific or medical study fun!) so I’m just going to tell you that I like to aim for within 15 minutes and hope that’s good enough.
While people with penises don’t have to worry about this much (reason #28704 why I’m mad at mother nature) this goes for everyone with a vagina, regardless of the gender or genitalia of the person you’re having sex with. It’s also a pretty good thing to do if you’re going it alone, especially if you’re using a vibrator or dildo.
Don’t wash your vagina with soap
The vagina is self cleaning! I write this, say this, or think this everyday in response to some dumb comment about vaginas being gross, which is misogynistic and wrong, or seeing the phrase ‘feminine hygiene’, which is white-noise-shrieking-inducing. While you can use unscented soap on your vulva, please don’t go lathering up your vagina. She’s a sensitive soul full of good bacteria working in perfect harmony to keep infections at bay. This good bacteria works to outnumber any harmful bacteria that may enter your vagina, keeps the pH balance low, and produces a substance that prevents bacteria sticking to the vaginal walls and invading the tissue. Washing the vagina disturbs this balance, which can lead to infection and inflammation. Warm water and clean hands is more than enough (the majority of loofahs and sponges are way too rough for the sensitive skin on your vulva and in your vagina, okay babe?) because the vagina, again, literally cleans itself – that’s what discharge is. So, I’ll finish on this: absolutely NO douching!
Go for your smear test, STI check-ups, and doc appointments
Do I need to tell you why you should be getting STI checks? Even if you’re using barrier protection such as condoms, female condoms, or dental dams, it’s always a good idea to get checked between partners or every few months if you’re sleeping with more than one person. And always make sure to ask your sexual partner(s) to get checked too.
Smear tests and the like are never going to be a fun day at the park, but they are necessary and usually way less time consuming, painful, or embarrassing than you think they’ll be. For those of you worried, Sarah has written a handy how-to guide for going for your first smear test.
Similarly, if you notice any unusual changes in your discharge (e.g. if it’s yellow, green, unusually thick in consistency, or smells pretty bad) if your vulva feels itchy or uncomfortable, or you’re experiencing pain during sex, go visit your GP. Maybe you need antibiotics, maybe you catch something more serious early on, or maybe you just need to change your laundry detergent – either way, it’s better to be on the safe side. And remember: doctors have seen it all before. Do the little things now for your health that you’ll thank yourself for in the long run.
Try to switch to organic for products that go in or around your vagina
Here we go, I know you’re thinking, time for the plug. Sure, we are referring to making the switch to organic tampons, but we’re also talking about all the other things you put in or around your vagina that have the potential to be equally as harmful. Think: condoms, lube, and even your undies. According to organic condom brand, HANX, mainstream condoms contain Nitrosamine, Glycerin, Spermicides, Casein, and Benzocaine. On top of the fact that you probably don’t want these ingredients getting up close and personal with your vagina’s super-sensitive skin, mainstream condoms usually aren’t vegan, in case any of you, like me, were totally flummoxed by the ‘vegan dolphin condoms’ story line in Bridget Jones’s Baby and had no idea condoms even could be non-vegan.
Even organic cotton pants are better for your general vaginal well-being too. Because the material is breathable, it helps to prevent the growth of yeast and bacteria in your vagina and absorbs sweat, preventing it from sticking to your body. But make sure it’s organic cotton, or you’ll be getting cotton that’s been bleached, dyed, and “wrinkled-protected”, and grown using unsustainable, ‘dirty’ methods. Speaking of organic cotton: stay TF away from non-organic cotton tampons (you know why).
Do your kegels
This is one of those things your mum probably tells you about or you read every now and then and promptly forget about. I, too, have been routinely ignoring any suggestion that kegels could be good for me, until I actually looked into it. Put simply, kegel exercises are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor, and they feel a little bit like you’re trying to stop a pee mid-stream, or pull your vaginal walls together tightly, on repeat. It’s almost entirely unnoticeable, so you can do them anywhere.
Primarily, the benefit of Kegel exercises is to help prevent incontinence and strengthen the pelvic floor, which supports your uterus, bladder, rectum, and small intestine (particularly useful during pregnancy and childbirth which puts a lot of strain on these muscles). But, far more excitingly, there’s also some evidence to suggest they can help you have better sex and orgasms. How? It has to do with a muscle called pubococcygeus, which is the muscle that contracts when you orgasm. Strengthening and toning this muscle can apparently make it easier to reach climax and heighten the intensity of that sensation once you do.
As a general rule, do 10 reps of clenches, holding each clench for about 3-5 seconds, and do the whole lot 3 times a day. But really, whatever you can remember to do is better than nothing.
Don’t put random things up there. Here’s looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow
Our motto at ohne HQ is if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth, don’t put it in your vagina. Sure, we’re usually referring to the toxins and chemicals in mainstream period products, but it goes for other things too. (Hopefully this goes without saying but: just because you would put something in your mouth, doesn’t mean you should put it in you vagina…)
Firstly, jade eggs (á la the haven of rich-ladies-in-white-linen-shawls, Goop) are rich people nonsense. They’re porous, making them super hard to clean and sterilise between uses; bacteria could be transferred back into the vagina, potentially leading to infections such as bacterial vaginosis or even TSS.
Don’t put non-sex toys in there in the name of sexual pleasure. Sure, the lists of things A&E doctors have had to pull out of people’s vaginas after they got stuck makes for pretty funny reading, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to become one of them. You can get some great sex toys at pretty low cost (it’s always advisable to do your research first) if you’re tiring of your own hand.
And, finally: prioritise your pleasure
I’m throwing this one in because it’s just as bloody important in my book as all the (somewhat less exciting) stuff above. You deserve pleasure and you deserve pleasure from whoever you’re choosing to get naked with, so learn to ask for it. Masturbate a lot, buy a vibrator, tell your partner(s) how to make you come. If you don’t quite know yet how to come with a partner, experiment. And if your partner isn’t interested or willing to figure out how to get you off, I am begging you to picture me outside your window, Say Anything-style, with a boombox blaring DUMP THEM DUMP THEM DUMP THEM over and over. No more unsatisfying hookups, consenting to sexual activities that don’t do anything for you, or thinking of sex as over when your partner comes. And for the love of god, no more faking orgasms, deal? And, look, I don’t wanna pick on you cis-het women out there, but this one is mainly for you, because word on the street has it y’all are coming only 65% of the time, compared to a whole 95% percent of your cis-het male partners. Why go through all the bullshit of being a human with a vagina and not enjoy what’s so bloody brilliant about having a vagina? Having sex and not getting off? In this economy? With this many nerve endings? No thank you.
Image cred @joanna Spicer
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