The No-No’s and How-To’s When Cleaning Your Vulva

Keeping your vulva healthy, happy and clean is one of those things I was never taught as a teenager yet I worried SO much about — and still do. Seeing ads plastered everywhere for scented or “ultra fresh” pads and odor-eliminating douches made me constantly paranoid about how I smelled down under and contributed to a lot of insecurity in the bedroom. It kept my partners from going down on me for the longest time because I thought I smelled horribly and worried they’d run for the hills at the first whiff.

Regardless of how it smells down there, getting into the habit of cleaning your vulva is a hygiene necessity. My friend Elizabeth wrote about this “odor shame” and sensitivity in “Does My Vagina Smell Normal?” (check it out!). I’m going to pick up where she left off and discuss how to clean your vulva.

Stigma around your natural odor leads to a whole bunch of misconceptions about the best way to take care for your vulva. Things like douches, scented wipes and odor-neutralizing period products can do more harm than good when it comes to keeping your vulva healthy, happy, and clean! The simple truth is that the best way to clean your vulva is with plain water. None of that lavender fresh scented cr*p — just good ole reliable water. One of the best (and easiest!) ways to wash your vulva is with the WaterSlyde.

I spoke with Maureen Pollack, the inventor of the WaterSlyde, to hear more about her intentions behind the Slyde’s dual-purpose as an aquatic stimulator AND a hands-free cleaning tool.

When Maureen was in the process of inventing the WaterSlyde, she conducted a mini study with the help of her OB-GYN and polled over a hundred women on how they learned about feminine hygiene and how they kept themselves fresh. The results were shocking: the overwhelming majority of women polled were never taught about proper feminine hygiene. As a result, they revealed some truly bizarre (and even potentially dangerous) ways that women were keeping themselves clean.

Here are some of the “No-no’s” that Maureen and her OBGYN discovered in their research:

PLEASE DO NOT:

  1. Stick an entire bar of soap up your vagina
  2. Take an empty shampoo bottle and fill it with soap and squirt it in
  3. Spray your vulva with perfume
  4. Put scented lotions on your vulva (and especially not inside your vagina)

To be frank, I myself have definitely tried some of these in the days before I learned more about vulva and vagina health. I tried a number of different store-bought and even some homeopathic remedies to address what I had thought wrong with vagina. I’ve done tea tree oil baths (even bought a mini bath specifically for soaking my vulva that sits on the toilet bowl almost like a kids training potty), douches, scented lotions that burned like a motherf*cker, and medicated wipes to “fix” what I thought was an abnormal odor. Using all these products to fix what I thought was a “fishy” smell ended up leading to a nasty yeast infection (so thanks but no thanks). 

Maureen said something while we were talking that really stuck with me: “A rose smells like a rose, a peach smells like a peach and a vagina smells like a vagina”. And newsflash vulva-owners, PEOPLE LIKE THE SMELL OF PUSSY!!!!! There’s even vending machines in Japan that sell used underwear because there are pheromones in your vaginal smell that attract a mate.

If you genuinely think there’s something wrong with your smell then do go to your doctor or your OBGYN and ask about it, but let’s start embracing the smell (because let’s be real, your vagina smells and tastes a whole heck of a lot better than you might give it credit for). 

How To’s For Cleaning Your Vulva:

  1. First, an important distinction should be made between the vagina and the vulva. The vagina is the internal part while the vulva is everything you see on the outside. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ; the vulva is not, and that’s what you need to clean. 
  2. All your vulva needs is some clean, lukewarm or warm water. You don’t need to use soap. If you choose to use anything, use a gentle cleanser so as not to irritate your vulva’s sensitive skin. Don’t scrub or use harsh cleansers, and avoid scented cleansers or talcum powder, which can cause irritation. If you’re looking for something for when you’re on the go and don’t have access to water, then wipes are a great alternative.  Try to find ones that are pH balanced, , like Quickies Towelettes, with all natural ingredients, infused with soothing aloe, and free of parabens, phthalates, sulfates, fragrances, alcohol, gluten, and glycerin. Did I mention they’re compostable so you can keep fresh and be an eco-friendly queen? 
  3. Make sure that you wash off the sides of your labia and around your vulva so you can get rid of any excess bacteria or smegma. This is the bacteria that emits a cheesy like odor and can potentially cause irritation and harm if allowed to build up over time. 

For me, cleaning my vulva has been made so much easier by (and this may come as a surprise) the WaterSlyde. I love the WaterSlyde not just because of its potential for pleasure, but also because of how truly easy it has made cleaning my vulva. Let’s take a look at the benefits of the WaterSlyde when it comes to washing and cleaning your vulva.

WaterSlyde Cleaning Perks:

  1. The WaterSlyde is hands-free, which makes it perfect for both abled-bodied and disabled individuals. Maureen actually invented the WaterSlyde with a friend of hers in mind who has stunted hand growth and is unable to reach her vulva to clean. Before using the WaterSlyde, her friend would soak a washcloth with soap and water, lay it on the side of the tub and gyrate on it, which was not only incredibly uncomfortable but also way too aggressive. Now she’s able to turn the faucet on with her feet and lay back as the WaterSlyde does the work for her!
  2. Maureen has also gotten positive feedback from parents who have purchased the WaterSlyde for their daughters on the spectrum and suffering from sensory issues. Similarly, people who have experienced trauma and feel uncomfortable touching themselves find that the WaterSlyde relieves some of the pressure and pain associated with their genitals.
  3. The WaterSlyde can be incredibly useful to those who have transitioned and are having to learn about their new vulvas. Just the other week, Maureen was spotted at her local grocery store by a woman who had recently transitioned and didn’t know how to clean her new vulva. As a result, she got atrophy where the walls of her vagina and her labia started fusing together almost to the point of no repair. She got the WaterSlyde and it has made a HUGE difference in her vulva’s health, and now credits Maureen with saving her vulva. 

It’s difficult to find clear and consistent information on how to clean your vulva. Constant advertisements for douches and scented products lure women into a malicious cycle of attempting to “control” or “fix” their vaginal smell, leading to more discomfort and irritation. The solution is simple: to best clean your vulva, stick with good ol’ reliable water.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A senior double Anthropology and Women’s & Gender Studies Major at Kenyon College in Ohio, Liza Brilliant (@brill.ant on Insta) is devoted to destigmatizing conversations around sexuality and promoting healthy, sex-positive femininity. Liza hopes to one day work in law and public policy, specifically around destigmatizing and decriminalizing sex work. She firmly believes that sex-positivity has the power to influence broader political and social norms, changing the world one orgasm at a time. 

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