It’s true what they say: our vaginas—and vulvas—are self-cleaning ovens. What that means is that they can regulate invaders, keeping things clean and operational all on their own, but that level of wellness hinges on allowing our good bacteria to thrive and not allowing bad bacteria to take over. It requires diligent awareness of materials and chemicals that grace our nether regions.
Dr. Zaher Merhi, board-certified OB-GYN and fertility expert at New Hope Fertility Center in New York, knows this intimate balance, well, intimately. “The pH of the vulva/vagina is on the acidic spectrum (low pH). The acidity of the vulva/vagina is naturally protective against abnormal bacteria and infections such as yeast.” Yeast has well earned a bad reputation in the land of all things vagina. This is where our situational awareness comes into play.
Dr. Merhi suggests avoiding tight clothing for too long, because a bit of normal airflow around the area keeps the good bacteria happy and doesn’t allow things to become overly acidic, or too basic.
In case you missed it (we did not know this), Dr. Merhi let us know that semen is very alkaline, aka a high pH. Unless you’re trying to conceive, try barrier contraception to keep a balanced pH.
Use antibiotics wisely
“Avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics, because they not only kill the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria that are needed to maintain a more acidic vaginal pH level.” We heard it from a doctor, so we know it’s true.
And no, we aren’t talking about hooking up with your ex (but maybe avoid that, too). “Avoid unnecessary douching, because it can increase the vaginal pH level, but also encourages the growth of harmful bacteria overall.” Like we mentioned earlier, the balanced pH of the vagina keeps things fresh naturally, so douching is not only unnecessary but also counter-productive.
Keep tampons on deck
Obviously, toxic shock syndrome is a major concern if you don’t change your tampons regularly, but Dr. Merhi also explains that “menstrual blood is a basic and can change the pH in the vagina.” Don’t let it just linger there. Because also, ew.
Obviously, not killing good bacteria was a crucial step in not destroying the beautiful balance, but feeding those goodies is also important, so take a trusted probiotic. Eating yogurt can help because it is a source of bacteria that are important for maintaining a normal pH. Some studies even suggest making a homeopathic cream from yogurt if afflicted by yeast.
Wipe like momma taught ya.
OK, this one is obvious, but somehow we still manage to fudge it up from time to time. No pun intended. Front to back, always. Prevent any bacteria that does not belong around the vulva from entering the vagina, and you’ll avoid any major wars (aka infections) down yonder.
One disclaimer Dr. Merhi mentions is that “natural menopause means less estrogen in the blood, which is important to have normal pH.” For those of us who may be entering that phase in life, our pH could be all over the place. We and Dr. Merhi urge you to ask your OB-GYN about ways to treat that, if necessary.