As you age, your vagina does, too. Like the rest of your body, it's always changing. In the age of the internet, it's sometimes hard to tell fact from fiction, and it's not practical to go running to your OB/GYN every time you have a question.
That's why we're here to help with eight things you can do to prioritize your vaginal health.
1. Use a vaginal moisturizer.
Vaginal dryness during perimenopause and after menopause is more common than you may think. Women rarely talk about it, and as many as 90 percent don't seek treatment for it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if your vulva (that's the area outside your vagina) seems dry, itchy, or sensitive. Regular use of a high-quality, water-based vaginal moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid will help.
To learn more, read 7 Biggest Questions About Vaginal Dryness Answered.
2. Do Kegels.
Kegel exercises benefit women at all stages of life, from postpartum to postmenopause. They help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, including those that support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum, and they can help prevent urinary incontinence. To do a Kegel, contract your pelvic muscles as though you’re stopping the flow of your urine, hold for three seconds, relax for three seconds — repeat 10 to 12 times as often as you'd like.
3. Skip the douche.
Once a popular practice, douching does more harm than good for a vagina. It upsets the natural pH balance, increasing risk of irritation and infection. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness or sensitivity, douching is the last thing you want to do. All you need to clean your vagina is clean water — that’s it. We even advise that you skip soap.
4. Let it breathe.
Your vagina needs to breathe. Cotton underwear is better than that made of synthetic fabrics. But if you like to go commando, there's certainly no judgment here.
5. Stay frisky.
Vaginal atrophy is a real concern for many women, both before and after menopause. Vaginal dryness, itching, burning, and pain during sex are all common symptoms of vaginal atrophy, which happens as a result of declining estrogen. But regular sex can help ward off vaginal atrophy by increasing blood flow to the vagina, keeping the surrounding tissues healthy.
6. Ditch the chemicals.
As a rule, you should avoid products with long lists of ingredients that you can’t pronounce — and that’s especially true when it comes to products you use on your vagina. Sodium lauryl sulfate is one common synthetic ingredient found in body washes. Definitely skip it: It's linked to cystic acne. You should also avoid products like detergent and soaps with artificial scents that can cause skin irritation.
To learn more, read Everything You Need to Know About Common Vulvar Skin Conditions.
7. Choose the right lube.
Along those same lines: choosing the right lube. Avoid petroleum jelly, oils, or anything that isn’t intended to be used as a lubricant during sexual activity. In general, water-based lubes are ideal for anyone experiencing vaginal sensitivity or dryness. And always check a product's ingredients list for things you know you’re sensitive to.
8. Pay attention.
A sudden change in the way your vagina looks, feels, or smells could indicate a problem. Itching or burning can be signs of a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or even an STI. It’s best to see your doctor to be sure. Vaginal discharge can change depending on factors such as your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or a possible infection. Keep an eye on your vagina and see your doctor if you notice a significant change.