How well do you know your own vagina? What should it smell like? How do you know when you have an infection? This part of our bodies can often be mystifying, so HealthCentral chatted with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of “The Complete A to Z for Your V,” to address some of the top worries and misconceptions.
HealthCentral (HC): When it comes to vaginal health, what are women’s most common concerns?
Dr. Dweck: Women have different focuses and concerns throughout their [lives]. Probably the most common thing I see day-to-day in my office are concerns about the possibility of infections. So, for example, three out of four women will experience a yeast infection in their lifetime. ... I think many women are familiar with the symptoms of yeast infections. They have been down this road before, so they stop in the feminine hygiene section at their local drug store and pick up Monistat, which relieves symptoms of a yeast infection four times faster than the leading medication [Editor’s note: Fluconazole (Diflucan) is a prescription pill that is as effective in treating yeast infections and often given in a single dose]. ... But for those women who are unfamiliar with the symptoms or are frightened about what they might be feeling down below, they should come into their gynecologist’s office, have a diagnosis confirmed, and take care of it. [Full disclosure: Dr. Dweck was sponsored by Monistat for this interview. Even if you have had a yeast infection in the past, it’s wise to call your doctor before proceeding with an over-the-counter treatment without a proper diagnosis.]
HC: What are some signs that something may be “off” with the vagina?
Dr. Dweck: Lots of women are very well aware of what their vaginal area should feel like and what is normal for them. Some signs they may want to get checked out would be abnormal cycles, any sort of discomfort or irritation, or anything they may have a concern about. They don’t have to have any reservation about visiting their gynecologist and getting checked out.
HC: True or false: Women should douche.
Dr. Dweck: Absolutely false. Women should not douche because it alters the pH balance of the vaginal area, and that within itself might lead to an imbalance, which can cause an infection. Women have to be very careful about the products they are using, and I usually advise that patients use things that are gynecologist- or dermatologist-tested.
HC: True or false: It’s OK for a woman to wash her vaginal area with soap.
Dr. Dweck: I’d say true. But vigorous rubbing is just not necessary. Gentle cleansing is just fine. You are going to have some women who are sensitive and need to use particular products, and others that really are not so sensitive and can use products based upon their individual choices.
HC: True or false: A woman’s vagina should have a certain smell.
Dr. Dweck: Difficult to answer. I would say that most women have an individual smell that they are accustomed to, and this also may vary throughout the life cycle. Women should know what’s normal for them. And if something seems awry or there is an unusual odor or foul odor, that’s something that needs to be checked out by a doctor.
Interview has been condensed and edited.