Vaginas and vulvas. We think they're pretty amazing (in fact, we know they are) - they give pleasure, cause pain, and literally give life. So, if you're a human with a vagina, familiarising yourself with... yourself, and giving your most intimate parts the love and attention they deserve can help you avoid uncomfortable issues that may be easily preventable. No two vaginas or vulvas are the same, so knowing your unique anatomy and unique sensitivities can not only help you stay healthy, it can also help you become more comfortable in your own skin by learning what your body wants and needs, and therefore be more confident in asking a partner what you want when it comes to sex.
Ready for our vagina 101? Dive in and read about our top tips for having and caring for your vagina and vulva...
Your vulva is not your vagina
First things first, a quick anatomy lesson before we get stuck in: the vagina is sometimes used as a term for the whole pelvic area, but it’s technically only the muscular canal that runs from the cervix to the outside of the body – the outer parts that you can see, including the labia, urethra, clitoris, and vaginal opening, form the vulva.
And when it comes to talking about your vagina or vulva, don’t be afraid to use the correct terminology. Even in 2020, there’s still some shame in discussing sexual health and pleasure, and even shame in using the correct names. So as of now, use this as an opportunity to pledge that you will practise calling these beautiful body parts by their actual names. 'Lady flower' or 'minge' is no longer allowed.
Knowledge is power when it comes to your body
How often do you look at yours? Once a month? Once a year? Have you ever looked at your vagina and vulva?
There’s all sorts of shame associated with taking a serious look at our bodies, especially if it involves vaginas and vulvas. The long history of disempowering humans with vaginas depends on us being cut off from our bodies, being unaware of how they work so that they can be dominated. We’ve been taught that we should be ashamed of exploring our bodies. So feel free to see looking at your vagina and vulva as a political act, if you’re into that kind of thing...
Where do I start, you may be asking? Grab a mirror and stand with one foot on the floor and the other propped up (e.g. on the lip of your bath or end of your bed). From this angle you should get the very best view so you can see what's going on down there and get to know what's 'normal' for you. Not only should you know what your body looks, feels, and even smells like, because, well, it's yours, but it will also help keep you safe if there are any changes that might be of concern. Granted, knowing what's 'normal' for you may take a little time, because while there are average lengths, shapes, hues, and variations in symmetry when it comes to the vulva, the truth is there really is no 'normal,'. After a little time of becoming your vulva's bff, you'll be able to see what's 'normal' for you and you'll be prepared to spot if any changes occur.
Be gentle when cleaning you vagina and vulva
We know, we've said it already, but vaginas really are amazing. They have their own tiny ecosystem, capable of balancing themselves. Vaginas are often called a self-cleaning oven because they literally clean themselves, with no need for outside help. They're full of good bacteria working in perfect harmony to: outnumber any harmful bacteria that may enter your vagina, keep the pH balance low, and produce a substance that prevents bacteria sticking to the vaginal walls and invading the tissue. Washing your vagina disturbs this balance, which can lead to infection and inflammation (so absolutely no douching, okay?)
Your vagina might be self-cleaning but your vulva (the external part) does need to be washed. Hopefully this is something you're already doing on the regular, but chances are you're washing your vulva incorrectly. Just 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. If you do prefer to use an intimate wash, steer clear of any bogus products that promise to make you smell like a bed of roses – no one’s vulva should smell like a bed of roses. Organic and unscented is the way forward. And that goes for period products too.
Pee after sex to prevent UTIs
This one's a pretty big deal for vagina owners. Sex doesn’t exactly happen on sterile playing grounds - the cleanliness of hands, sheets, sex toys, and even your own bum, is not always the first concern when things are getting hot between you and yourself, or you and a partner. Because of this, we expose ourselves to all kinds of germy gifts that can keep on giving, which can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs).
UTIs are caused when bacteria makes its way into the urethra and to the bladder. This can often occur when the clitoris is touched - because let’s be honest: the clit is where it’s at when it comes to sex for most of us vagina owners (hello 8,000 nerve endings!). The clitoris is right above the opening of the urethra, and while there is a whole lot of good stuff happening in that zone, there are also a lot of fluids, making it easy for bacteria to travel. But peeing after sex will flush the bacteria from the urethra before it travels to the bladder. And we don't just mean peeing after penetrative sex; solo, oral, anal, and non-penetrative sex count too. Unless you're prone to UTI's, it's fine to take some time to bathe in that post-sex glow before heading for the bathroom to pee.
Do your vagina exercises
You can't forget these. Even if you've never been a fan of going to the gym, you won't need much convincing to give your vagina a workout. Exercising and strengthening your vaginal muscles, aka your pelvic floor muscles, not only gives every one of us the confidence to laugh, run, jump and sneeze without the fear of leaking, it also sets the stage for more intense orgasms and better sex too. How? It has to do with one of the pelvic floor muscles called the pubococcygeus, which is the muscle that contracts when you orgasm. Toning this muscle can apparently make it easier to reach climax and heighten the intensity of that sensation once you do.
So, how do I do vagina exercises, you may be asking? Kegel exercises are the primary way to workout your vagina. To do kegels, tighten your vaginal muscles together like you're trying to stop a pee mid-flow for 3-5 seconds, release them, and then repeat until you've done 10. As you get stronger, you can hold them for longer. To make it more fun and challenging, you can use a smart kegel exerciser like the Elvie Pelvic Floor Trainer, which connects to an app on your phone that shows you how to do different exercises and keeps track of your progress. By letting you move a dot around on the screen with your squeezes, it essentially gamifies kegels. Sounds fun, right? You can read more about the Elvie here. Another option is to do some vaginal weight-lifting. Yes, it's a thing, and no, it's not as hard as it sounds. Vaginal weights, like our Lelo Luna Pleasure Beads, are made up of two pairs of interchangeable weighted beads. When placed inside your vagina, the beads deliver subtle movements which cause your muscles to involuntarily contract. The result? An easy and very pleasurable workout.
Go for your smear tests, STI checkups and doctors appointments
We all know that getting our smear test, PAP test, or cervical screening is not a fun social event but an important and potentially life-protecting one that's usually way less time consuming, painful, or embarrassing than we think they’ll be. And do we even 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 still a good idea to get checked between partners or every few months if you’re sleeping with more than one person. Similarly, if you notice any changes to your discharge (e.g. if the colour, consistency or smell is very different to your 'normal') or if your vulva looks different (e.g. raised and thickened patches of different coloured skin, a lump, an open sore, or a mole on the area that changes shape or colour) or it feels itchy or uncomfortable, or you’re experiencing pain during sex, go visit your GP.
Remember, nurses and doctors look at peoples' most intimate body parts all day long and honestly don’t care what shape your vulva is, whether your legs are shaved, what sort of underwear you have on - they really have seen it all before.
Prioritise your pleasure
We're throwing this one in because it's just as important as all the, somewhat less exciting, things we've mentioned above. When it comes to sexual pleasure, word on the street is humans with vaginas are really missing out because what we have on our hands is a pleasure gap situation. We don't want to name names, but this one's mainly for the heterosexual-identifying cis women out there - just 65% of you report that you usually or always achieve orgasm with a partner, compared with 95% of heterosexual cis men. But you deserve pleasure just as much as anyone else.
While some cis-het women (less than 20%) can have orgasms from penetration alone, most humans with vaginas will need some or a lot of clitoral stimulation, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. Masturbate a lot to learn what you like, use your hands during penetrative sex, ask for oral, introduce some sex toys like a bullet vibrator, or even a hands-free couple’s vibrator (yes, there really is such a thing, she's called the Eva II). All too often, heterosexual couples focus on penis-in-vagina sex and forget all about the clitoris. And when the clitoris contains all those nerve endings (the highest concentration of nerve endings anywhere in the human body – for anyone of any gender), it’s a red-hot pleasure button waiting to be explored. So, no more unsatisfying hookups or faking orgasms, and instead start communicating with your partners about what will bring you the most pleasure. Deal?
Being a human with a vagina overview:
There you have it, the vagina deets every human with a vagina should know! To sum it up:
Get to know your vagina and vulva
Discover what your 'normal' is
Pee after sex
Do your Kegels
Go for regular smear tests, STI check ups, docs appointments
Prioritise your pleasure
Be afraid to say the words vagina and vulva
Buy the fancy intimate washes or soaps
Ignore pain, itchiness, or other signs something might be up