Your vagina didn’t exactly come with an owner’s manual, but after a couple of decades of getting your period, seeing a gynecologist, having sex, and birthing kids, you pretty much know how to take care of it.
You know the basic rules: no douching, don’t leave tampons in too long, and get regular Pap tests. But as you get older and especially as you approach perimenopause and menopause you may have new vaginal symptoms such as vaginal chafing syndrome or hormonal issues you’re not as prepared to deal with.
And seemingly harmless habits including using talcum vaginal powder regularly can have a serious impact on everything from your sex life to your risk of cancer.
According to the Mayo Clinic, different factors can affect the health of your vagina, including:
- Sex: While unprotected sex can result in a serious sexually transmitted infection that can cause infertility, forceful or harsh sex may also result in serious vaginal injury.
- Certain health conditions or treatments: Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can cause sex to be painful. Antibiotic usage can cause yeast infections that make the vagina inflamed, swollen, and itchy.
- Birth control and feminine-hygiene products: Vaginal irritation can be caused by condoms, diaphragms, and spermicides. Leaving a tampon in the vagina for more than eight hours can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening bacterial infection that needs immediate medical attention.
- Pregnancy and childbirth: Vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy. Tears or incisions in the vagina and loss of vaginal muscle tone are common during childbirth.
- Psychological issues: Chronic stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression can result in pain or discomfort during sex.
- Changes in hormone levels: The decline in estrogen production after menopause and during breast-feeding causes the vaginal lining to become thinner, resulting in painful sex.
Along with factors that change the health of the vagina, many women of all ages deal with uncomfortable vaginal odor and vaginal yeast infections, some of which are serious and some not so serious. Common causes of abnormal vaginal odor include:
- A forgotten tampon
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Poor hygiene
Vaginal yeast infection symptoms include:
- A burning or stinging sensation while urinating
- Inflamed tissues at the vaginal opening (vulva)
- Itching and burning in the vagina
- Redness, inflammation, tenderness, and swelling of the vulva
- Thick, white vaginal discharge
- Vaginal rash and soreness
- Watery vaginal discharge
While many things can happen to your vagina that you cannot control, here top ob-gyns share nine tips on how to take better care of your lady parts for women age 40 and older.
- See Your Doctor for Heavy Periods and Abnormal Bleeding.
- Don’t Treat the Wrong Vaginal Infection.
- Avoid Using Talc Vaginal Powder.
- Do Kegel Exercises to Prevent Urinary Incontinence.
- Stay on Birth Control to Avoid Getting Pregnant.
- Use Barrier Contraceptives to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections.
- Have Regular Sex to Keep Your Vagina Healthy.
- Wearing a Panty Liner May Cause Vaginal Chafing.
- Continue to See Your Doctor Annually.