Genital care

Good vaginal health can protect you against some infections.

Why is this important?

Some bacteria and viruses can get into the vagina during sex. You can protect your vagina against these infections by using a condom every time you have sex.

Regular screening can help with early detection and treatment of certain cancers. All women aged from 25 to 64 are invited for cervical screening. Being screened regularly means that any abnormal changes in the cervix can be identified early on and, if necessary, treated to stop cancer developing in the future.

What does this mean for me?

Good vaginal health is maintained by making sure you’re in good general health. A healthy diet, not over-washing, and normal exercise helps maintain good vaginal function. Walking, running and high-activity sports help to strengthen your pelvic floor and to prevent incontinence problems in later life or after having a baby.

What is healthy discharge?

It’s normal to produce clear or white secretions (discharge) from your vagina. This mucus is produced naturally from the neck of the womb (the cervix). The amount and transparency may change - this can be due to hormonal changes linked to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause.

Healthy discharge does not cause itching, soreness or a strong odour. If there are any changes to your discharge that aren’t normal for you, visit a sexual health clinic or see your GP as you might have an infection.

Why does infection happen?

The vagina is designed to keep itself clean with the help of healthy discharge.

There are lots of bacteria normally inside a healthy vagina that help to protect against harmful bacteria by maintaining the natural acidic pH balance.

If the balance of micro-organisms in the vagina is disturbed, infections such as Bacterial Vaginosis (known as BV) or Candida (known as Thrush) can develop, resulting in irritation, itching, strong odour and abnormal discharge.

These conditions can be treated with antibiotics or anti-fungal medication.

How should I wash my vagina?

It’s a good idea to avoid perfumed soaps, gels, wipes, deodorants and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina, and can cause irritation.

Use water or an emollient cream to wash the area around the vagina and anus, gently.

You should avoid ‘douching’, or flushing water up into the vagina. This can disrupt the normal vaginal bacteria. There is no evidence that douching protects against STIs or vaginal infections, and it may even increase the risk.

It’s normal for the vagina to have a scent, but if you’re worried about the way your vagina smells, or if the smell is unpleasant, you should visit a sexual health clinic or your GP.

Questions?

Any cleaning product inserted into the vagina may disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina or cause irritation.

Close fitting underwear may be associated with an increased risk of Candida (thrush) infection.

Yes, as long as you are sure that this is Thrush (Candida) you can buy treatment from a pharmacy. If the treatment does not improve your symptoms then you should consult a clinician.

BV is an imbalance of the organisms in the vagina that can be associated with a heavier than normal discharge with an unpleasant smelling odour. It is not a sexually transmitted infection. If you think you have BV, you should visit a sexual health clinic or your GP.

BV is treated with antibiotics either taken by mouth or in a cream that is inserted into the vagina.

Avoid washing inside the vagina, avoid perfumed soaps or shower gels, and wash with plain water.