The 2 yearly pap smear always provided a good opportunity to examine your vulva and vagina and ask about any symptoms that they may be experiencing. Since the introduction of the new 5 yearly cervical screening test, our Medical team at our Centre are keen to encourage individuals to still come along more frequently for a vaginal check up. Women and femme-identifying individuals are notoriously bad at ‘putting up’ with certain symptoms such as vaginal dryness, itch, soreness, bladder leakage and pain or discomfort with sexual intercourse.
This is the name given to all the external parts of the female genitals. Each vulva is different and unique, whether it be in size or appearance. The labia minora are the inner lips and hairless with the labia majora being the outer lips and covered with pubic hair. If you don’t know what your vulva looks like, use a mirror to have a look and make a note of the colour and texture of the skin. Once you recognise what is ‘normal’ for you, you may be able to recognise when things change.
Many factors may contribute to a person’s feelings of dissatisfaction with the appearance of their vulva, one being that the Australian Classification Board requires that images of vulvae (such as in pornography) must not show the labia minora and this will be airbrushed away. This gives an unrealistic expectation of what a ‘real’ vulva looks like. The following 2 links show how varied our vulvas are, don’t expect it to look a certain way, we are all different:
The vagina connects the uterus to the outside world. It is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. The vaginal pH is moderately acidic at around 4 and there are many ways in how this balance can be disrupted, some of the reasons are found later in this article.
What is ‘normal’? – We all have our own unique smell and this is due to the normal bacteria found in the vagina, our diet and our glandular secretions. It can also be influenced by underwear, hygiene and toilet habits. The vagina also secretes pheromones that trigger sexual interest. The colour of the vulva can be pink, brown, reddish or purple – much like the lips on our face and the colour will vary from person to person. Vaginal discharge is normal and helps to expel bacteria/germs. It can also vary in colour – from clear to white, yellow or cream coloured.
What is not normal? – Vaginal discharge that is grey, frothy, neon green or neon yellow is not normal. Neither is redness, itching, pain, burning, swelling, skin splitting, whitening of skin or an unpleasant smell such as rotting fish.
What are some of the causes of vaginal/vulval irritation? – Infections such as candida (thrush), bacterial vaginosis, genital herpes, dermatitis, eczema, allergies, ingrown hairs, cysts, lichen sclerosis and lichen planus (although not common, both of these conditions can lead to cancer).
How to care for our vulva/vagina – The vagina is self-cleaning and the skin of the vulva is extremely delicate. Water is the only recommendation! Soap products, feminine hygiene products, talcum powder and douches should never be used. Even pH neutral soap is pH7 so can change the natural pH of the vagina. After going to the toilet, always wipe from front to back, using unscented toilet paper.
For more information or advice on vaginal health, please speak with one of our Nurses. Our Centre recommends regular self-examination using a mirror and check-ups with a Doctor every 2 years, or more frequently if you have any symptoms or concerns.