Vaginal Health Overview

Vaginal health is not just related to your sex life. Keep reading to learn about the most frequently occurring vaginal problems and methods to improve vaginal health.

A healthy vagina is crucial for maintaining overall health. Vaginal disorders have profound effects, including problems with sexual desire, the ability to reach orgasm, and fertility. Moreover, they can have a negative impact on one’s self-confidence and lead to stress and problems in relationships. Become aware of the common signs of vaginal problems and ways to protect your vaginal health.

What Factors Impact Vaginal Health?

The vagina is a muscular tube extending from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) to the vulva (female external genital area). Some of the factors affecting vaginal health are:

  • Sex: Sex without using protection may lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Vaginal trauma may result from rough/forceful sex or pelvic injury.
  • Female sanitary products and birth control: Certain forms of birth control, including barrier contraceptives (condoms, diaphragms, etc.) and spermicides, can be irritating to the vagina. This irritation is exacerbated by using deodorants, douches, and sprays.
  • Pre-existing health problems and treatments: Pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis are some of the commonest diseases resulting in painful sex. Certain treatments may also result in painful sex such as cancer treatment or pelvic surgery (which results in scarring). The vagina may also become predisposed to vaginal yeast infection due to antibiotic usage.
  • Pregnancy and parturition: Vaginal discharge tends to increase during pregnancy, and tears may occur in the lining of the vagina during childbirth. During vaginal delivery, the vaginal muscle tone may decrease, and an episiotomy incision may be made in the vagina during childbirth to enlarge the passage for the baby.
  • Hormonal disturbances: The vaginal lining is strongly affected by hormonal changes. For example, when estrogen levels decline during lactation and menopause, the lining becomes thin, resulting in painful intercourse.
  • Psychological problems: Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, may result in low arousal and painful sex. Traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse and a history of painful sex, may also result in pain associated with intercourse.

What are the Most Frequently Occurring Vaginal Health Issues?

Some common conditions that may impact the vagina are:

  • Sexual disorders: These may include dyspareunia (recurrent/persistent pain before, during, or after sex) and vaginismus (vaginal muscle spasms resulting in painful penetration). Tensing of the muscles of the pelvic floor and dryness of the vagina (usually after menopause) may result in chronic painful intercourse.
  • Vaginitis: It refers to vaginal inflammation that results when the balance of the normal flora of the vagina is disturbed or when an infection occurs. Vaginitis usually occurs due to trichomoniasis, yeast infections, or bacterial infections. It manifests as pain, itching, vaginal odor, and discharge.
  • Relaxation of the pelvic floor: A prolapse of the pelvic organs (the bladder, uterus, and rectum) may occur if the connective tissue and ligaments that support the pelvic walls weaken. Common symptoms of prolapse include involuntary leakage of urine when one coughs or sneezes and a bulge in the vagina.
  • Some rare conditions: These include vaginal cysts and vaginal cancer. The former causes difficulty inserting tampons and painful intercourse, while the latter usually first causes bleeding after sex or menopause.

What are some common signs and symptoms of vaginal disorders?

The following are some common signs of vaginal problems:

  • Painful intercourse
  • A swelling/mass in the vagina
  • Itching and redness of the vagina
  • Abnormal amount, color, or odor of vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding after menopause, after sex, or between periods

You should consult a doctor if any of these problems occur. If you have previously been diagnosed with vaginal yeast infection and are experiencing similar signs and symptoms, you may not need to talk to a healthcare provider; you can try using over-the-counter medication and consult a doctor if your symptoms do not improve.

How Can I Improve My Vaginal Health?

There are many different ways you can keep your vagina healthy. These include:

  • Getting your vaccinations: Vaccinations are effective against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer, and hepatitis B, a liver infection that can be transmitted sexually
  • Being sexually responsible: Keep a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative for STIs or use condoms. Ensure that sex toys, if you use any, are clean.
  • Performing Kegel exercises: These exercises improve the tone of the pelvic floor in case of urinary incontinence, prolapse, and weakness of the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Being aware of your medications: Ask your healthcare provider about the likely vaginal side effects of any medication you take.
  • Avoiding smoking and reducing alcohol intake: Both nicotine and alcohol can negatively impact sexual function. Moreover, excessive smoking or alcoholism may impact mental health, impairing sexual function.

Although all vaginal problems can not be prevented, a rapid diagnosis during regular checkups can help improve the effectiveness of the treatment. Don’t let any stigma associated with vaginal problems prevent you from discussing vaginal health with your healthcare provider.