No two vaginas are exactly the same, and there’s no one way for a vagina to look. They will look different for each person, which means it’s not possible to make generalizations about what a “healthy” vagina looks like.
A healthy vagina is what we like to call a “Happy V.” That’s why we’ve made it our mission to educate and inform people about anatomy and symptoms or signs of vaginal health issues. Each person with a vagina should know that it’s okay to not have “perfect” anatomy—mostly because “perfect” doesn’t truly exist!
In this guide, we’ll talk about:
- The anatomy of the vagina
- Glossary terms you should know
- Symptoms of vaginal unwellness
- How to have a healthy vagina
Let’s get started.
Vaginal Anatomy 101
In society, the word “vagina” is used as an umbrella term to describe both internal and external body parts, but that’s not truly accurate. In actuality, the vagina is the muscular canal that connects the outside of the female genitalia to the end of the uterus or the cervix.
Here’s a helpful glossary of terms you’ve probably heard:
- Vulva: external female sex organs, which includes the clitoris, clitoral hood, and labia
- Labia Majora: outer folds of the vulva
- Labia Minora: inner folds of skin within the vulva
- Urethral Opening: the point of the body where urine exits the body
- Vagina: the internal tube that connects to the uterus, and the mechanism that enables menstrual blood to leave the body during your period
With these terms in mind, it’s important to emphasize that, while each vagina may contain these anatomical parts, every vagina is different.
What Can Affect Vaginal Health
When it comes to vaginal health, it’s something we don’t take into consideration like our diet, sleep or exercise routines. There are many factors that may affect the health of our vaginas and knowing what they make us more cognizant when issues pop up and feel more in control of our well being. Factors that affect our feminine well-being include:
- Sex. Having unprotected sex increases the chances of transmitting STD’s and forceful sex may cause trauma to the vulva and vagina.
- Antibiotics and other medications. Use of antibiotics and other medications that have a direct, or indirect, effect on estrogen can increase the probabilities for vaginal infections to occur such as yeast infections.
- Feminine-Hygiene Product. Products that use unnatural chemicals can be toxic to the lactobacillus in the vaginal flora or can change the natural pH to a more basic state, which is awful for the potentiation of good bacteria.
- Diet. Having an unhealthy diet can lead to nutrient deprivation that is essential for lactobacillus to thrive. Remember, lactobacillus eat prebiotics such as fibers and healthy sugars, so you must eat well to have your body functioning well.
- Staying in Damp Clothes. It doesn’t have to just be at the beach or poolside; did you recently do a Barry Bootcamp class or Orangetheory? Well, doing errands in those musky clothes can be another reason why you can’t keep your V Happy!
Signs of Vaginal Health Problems
You should always listen to your body and keep a watchful eye on any irregularities, such as bumps or irritation. Just like doing a monthly self-breast exam, you should regularly inspect your anatomy and attend regular doctor’s check-ups to make sure all is well. Here are a few symptoms that typically indicate a potential health problem:
A very itchy vagina can be a sign of a problem. According to the reports of the National Health Service (NHS), a healthy vagina shouldn’t be itchy. Itching may be a signal of an infection or an underlying issue. If you’re experiencing itchiness, scheduling an appointment with your doctor to determine the root cause is always a good idea.
Most women experience a usual vaginal odor during their menstrual cycle, after having sex, or even during normal days. The presence of a vaginal odor without any other abnormality is completely normal.
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, you need to be alert if your vagina odor goes from being odorless to something unusual. If odor persists, it’s best to visit a gynecologist and ensure all is healthy.
People get scared of vaginal discharge, but rest assured—it’s a completely normal process. There are two main reasons why vaginal discharge occurs: (1) to remove unwanted bacteria from vaginal mucous, which is designed to protect you, and (2) for lubrication. You’ll begin to understand what is normal to you and your body, particularly if you’re paying attention to your vaginal health.
If you experience a change in color, consistency of discharge, or change in odor, that’s when you should contact your doctor. This can be a sign of infection.
Sometimes your vagina may feel red, itchy and irritated. Generally, vaginal irritation can be an indicator of a health problem. Unfortunately, vaginal irritation can be highly uncomfortable.
It’s recommended that you do not use vaginal douches or soothing lotions to lessen irritation symptoms. Leaving the irritation alone as much as you can is probably best. Even better is seeing your gynecologist as quickly as you can when symptoms emerge.
Vaginal Spots and Skin Irritation
A healthy vagina is usually spotless and unblemished. According to Harvard Medical School, abnormal spots, pimples, tags or rashes on the vaginal skin can be signs of an abnormality.
However, it could also be a sign of aging. Don’t stress! The best thing you can do is have it seen by a medical professional.
Pain-Free Most of the Time
A healthy vagina is not supposed to be painful while inserting tampons, cups, having intercourse, or self-play. The muscles of the vaginal walls are malleable, able to stretch and condense as needed. If you experience any pain during sex or when you insert a tampon, you should contact your gynecologist to figure out what’s causing the pain.
At Women’s Health Mag, they cite that specific or general pain in the vagina at any time of the month should be considered abnormal.
Pain in your vagina (not period cramps, which you can usually identify as mild and which tend to subside)may be a sign of any pelvic inflammatory disease or infection.
Sometimes people also experience unusual vaginal pain during intercourse and penetration. Pain during intercourse or penetration could be a sign of an underlying problem. Ask your doctor about infection, vaginosis, and endometriosis, which are sometimes preceded by symptoms of vaginal pain.
How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy
Awareness of your body and its symptoms is super helpful, especially when you can tell your doctor when your last period presented, what pain or irritation you’ve had, and what solutions have worked for you in the past. If you keep the signs above in mind, you’ll recognize when you’re dealing with an unhealthy symptom. Maintenance of a healthy vagina is extremely important for overall bodily health.
Here are some tips and tricks that you can use to keep your vagina perfectly healthy and happy:
- Avoid using douches, deodorants, and lotions. A vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Using these substances can cause irritation and itchiness. Such substances should only be used if your doctor recommends them for medical purposes.
- Always use protection during sex. This will protect against transmitting and or experiencing sexually transmitted infections, especially if you have more than one sexual partner.
- Wear cotton lingerie. Experts at Women’s Health Mag believe that wearing cotton underwear allows more breathability compared with nylon, acetate or other synthetic material, which may cause rash or irritation.
- Know your medications. It is extremely important to know what kind of medications you are taking and their side effects in detail. For example, antibiotics can significantly affect your vaginal health. You must consult your doctor about such medications before taking them in order to avoid future problems.
- Clean well after using the washroom. Good vaginal health is highly dependent on how clean you keep your vagina. Take regular showers and change underwear after exercising, traveling, or doing any strenuous activity.
- Frequently change sanitary pads and tampons. When it comes to vaginal health, it is highly important to frequently change your sanitary pad or tampon while having periods. Long use of a single pad or tampon may not only cause irritation but may also result in infections, which can have long-term health effects.
- Avoid scratching and unnecessary touching. Your vagina may feel very irritated if you continuously scratch and touch it unnecessarily. The vaginal skin is very sensitive and scratching it may cause rashes, burning, or even skin infections if your hands aren’t clean and sanitized.
So what does a healthy vagina look like, after all? Well, it depends. Don’t compare your vaginal health to a friend or family member. Everyone is different. Don’t forget—you are an expert on your body. If you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms of an unhealthy vagina, you’re probably in good shape.
But knowing yourself, your habits, and how your body reacts to sex, stress, or medications can be critically important in maintaining vaginal wellness. Always consult a doctor if you experience concern for your vaginal health.