Vagina talk can seem awkward and uncomfortable, but it need not feel that way. (Trust us, it is our job!) But because some women have a tough time asking their most personal questions without cringing, many myths and misconceptions about the female nether regions continue to float around.
Allow us to debunk a few right here and right now. And please never be embarrassed to ask your doctor anything, as we’ve likely seen and heard it all!
‘Vagina’ is an all-encompassing term.
For starters, let’s revisit our high school health class and focus on the correct terminology. Many think that the “vagina” covers it all when it comes to a female’s private parts, but that’s technically not so. The term “vagina” actually refers to the muscular tube that runs from the lower part of the uterus known as the cervix down to the vulva (encompassing the external genitalia including the labia, clitoris, urethra and vaginal opening). Vaginal depth can vary, averaging anywhere from three to six inches long, though it can lengthen a bit during intercourse or childbirth.
Childbirth stretches out the vagina, making it ‘loose.’
Your vaginal canal is elastic with the capacity to expand and snap back much like a rubber band, so they can stretch a great deal to accommodate vaginal childbirth, no matter the size of your new bundle of joy. While your vagina and vulva may feel looser, dry, painful, sore and swollen in the days following labor and delivery, your vagina should return to its pre-birth shape within about six months postpartum. The same goes for intercourse – sex cannot make your vaginal canal “loose,” though aging can cause some changes. You can keep your vaginal muscles toned and healthy by practicing Kegels and other regular pelvic floor exercises. (Baptist Health offers periodic pelvic fitness classes — click here for more information.)
All lady parts look pretty much the same.
Vaginas (and the aforementioned vulva) come in all shapes and sizes — there is no one-size-fits-all appearance. Your labia (a.k.a. vaginal lips) may be asymmetrical with varying thickness and length — in fact, labia aren’t considered abnormal unless they cause chafing, infection or difficulty during intercourse. In addition, healthy, perfectly “normal” labia can come in a variety of shades including brown, red, pink or purplish. Pigment changes can even happen over time due to hormonal changes related to pregnancy and childbirth. But any unusual spots, bumps or discoloration should be brought up to your doctor.
It’s important to thoroughly clean your vagina.
Your vagina is essentially like a self-cleaning machine — it cleans itself naturally, so douching is unnecessary and can even cause harm by stripping away natural, healthy bacteria. When this happens, it leaves you susceptible to vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis or an unhealthy buildup of yeast. Simply wash your vulva gently with a mild, unscented soap, and consider the job done!
Vaginas should not smell.
Some odor down there is completely normal and totally unique to you. The smell can even vary based on your menstrual cycle, your diet or how much water you’ve consumed. There’s no need to mask it with scented body washes or perfumes, which in fact, can prove harmful to your vaginal pH. But if you notice a new odor that seems odd or pungent, definitely speak to your doctor.
You can lose a tampon inside your vagina.
That aforementioned vaginal tube that travels to your cervix (a.k.a. the bottom portion of your uterus)? It only dilates during childbirth — the remainder of the time it stays closed. So you can’t really get anything totally lost or stuck in there, from tampons to condoms, though you can accidentally forget about a tampon for days or even weeks. In this case, it’s safest to see a doctor to make sure it’s entirely extracted.
Have additional questions for our doctors? Contact Beaches OBGYN at (904) 241-9775 for more information or to schedule an appointment.