What Women in Their 20s Need to Know About Vaginal Health

Written by Dr. Betsy Greenleaf 

Our bodies are constantly changing as we age, and with each decade of our lives comes new concerns for our feminine health. For women in their 20s, it can be especially difficult to know what is normal for your body, what questions you should be asking your doctor, and what signs you should be watching out for. Unfortunately, due to the many stigmas surrounding vaginal health, women are often afraid to ask questions or admit to experiencing symptoms that should be talked about. 
Some of the top concerns women in their 20s have are regarding the appearance of their vulva, how not to get pregnant, how to stop vaginal odor, how to stop itching/burning and how to stop irritation from shaving. If you have ever found yourself concerned about one of more of these issues, then here is what you need to know about your vaginal health. 

Vulva

Vulvas are like snowflakes – each one looks different. Unfortunately, women often feel self-conscious about their vulvas when compared to what they see on the internet and in pornography. However, just as models are photoshopped in magazines, the images we see online are also photoshopped to portray a certain look. It is no secret that workers within the adult entertainment industry are also made to bleach their genital areas which undoubtedly create unrealistic expectations surrounding the appearance of women’s vulvas. Because of this, so many women are turning to cosmetic surgery.
While there are only a few conditions in which a labiaplasty (surgery on the labia) is recommended, I highly encourage women to embrace their differences because surgery and procedures to change their vulva can lead to scar tissue, chemical burns from bleaching, painful sex and lifelong crippling pain.

Birth Control

Gone are the days when reliable birth control options were limited to condoms and pills. In fact, the great thing about modern day birth control is the wide array of options from spermicidal creams, sponges, diaphragms, patches and shots to devices in the arm that contain hormones, IUDs, hormone free acidic gel and even a birth control app on your phone. In order for birth control to be most effective, it takes commitment on the patient’s part to remember to take their pills or follow up on their shots. It is easier than ever for a woman to decide how involved she wants to be with her birth control when it comes to managing pregnancy.  

Odor

Women have always felt self-conscious when it comes to odor, but 20-somethings seem to be especially concerned. In effort to remedy this, many women feel compelled to purchase soaps, sprays and deodorants to cover up vaginal odor which inevitably does more harm than good. These products can be very irritating to delicate vulva vaginal tissue and can actually throw off the body’s natural balance leading to vaginal infections, irritation and pain. 
It’s important for women to understand that the body will make its own natural odor, but “offensive” odors are usually due to bacteria in the body. Odors that smell fishy or like bread are usually indicative of a vaginal infection. The best options for managing odor is to clean with water only and and if needed, using boric acid suppositories

Itching/Burning

There are many causes of itching and burning, most of which are caused by everyday items that women put on their vulva or in their vaginas. Soaps and body washes contain chemicals that can be very harsh to the delicate tissue and detergents strip away natural protective oils. Laundry detergent remains on clothing and can contain chemicals that irritate the vulva. Some toilet paper, tampons, and pads contain bleach that causes irritation for those who are sensitive to it. In addition to everyday items, underwear and other non-breathable fabrics can increase irritation from sweat. It’s a good idea to look closely at what products you select and the ingredients they contain. 

Shaving 

Just like the hair on our head, there are just as many hairstyles that people like to do down below. However, shaving can often cause problems with ingrown hairs. Ingrown hairs are caused when the hair mistakenly grows back into the skin causing pain, inflammation and infection.
Fortunately, preventing ingrown hairs is quite simple. Whether you are using a manual or electric shaver, it’s important to shave in the direction of the hair growth. While this method will not leave you with as close of a shave as you would typically get going against the hair, it is still an effective way to prevent ingrown hairs.
To get the safest and most effective shave, soak or expose the area to warm water first to soften and dilate the skin. Prior to shaving, exfoliate the dead skin and use a shaving cream for less irritation to the skin. Use a new, sharp razor as dull razors tend to be more irritating for the skin. Cleaning your razor with rubbing alcohol is a great way to decrease the risk of infection. After you’ve finished shaving, look for a specialized skin moisturizer or balm to help soothe the skin. Over the counter products containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid and/or vitamin A can also prevent irritation afterwards.
Although it can be difficult for women to speak up about their concerns, these conversations are necessary in order for women to take control of their vaginal health. Understanding one’s body, sexual health, physical/medical needs and overall hygiene can help equip women with the information needed to lead healthier lives and establish healthier habits that will aid them as their bodies continue to change. 
Photo: Pexels @Monstera