Hello and welcome to your latest Sexhacker update, friends. Did you miss us? Hope so! In this oh so important update in the world of sex and sexual health, we’re looking at genitals and the many things we should not be allowing to get anywhere near them.
Now, while that list may include your toxic ex, that’s not the road I’d like to travel down today. Instead, I want to talk about beauty products, common ingredients and even food items that you may or may not recognise as bad news – especially for those of you who are owners of a hoo-ha.
To help inform this, I sought out the advice of Lovehoney Australia’s sexual wellbeing expert and Sexologist, Chantelle Otten. She offered some sound advice on how to properly clean your bits, and what kinds of things should stay far away from them (primarily the vulva).
First thing’s first, what’s the difference between a vulva and vagina?
If you’ve found yourself confused by these two body parts, you’re not alone. Yes, the words sound kind of similar and refer to the same general area, but they’re not interchangeable.
Otten explained over email that “The vulva, which is often referred to as the vagina (but this is incorrect), is all the external parts of your genitals including the clitoris (pleasure centre), labia minora (small flaps), labia majora (skin between your labia minora and your legs), urethra opening (pee hole) and vaginal opening”.
“The vagina is a muscular, hollow tube that extends from the vaginal opening to the uterus. The vulva comes in all shapes, colours and sizes and no one is the same, just like a snowflake, so it’s important to love and know yours so you can detect any change,” she said.
Okay, now that we’ve covered that. Let’s move on to care.
Should you clean your vagina?
Not really, no. While there are loads of products out there – and the damaging discourse to match – that like to sell people on the idea that vaginas should smell like a garden, that is plain incorrect.
Otten explained that “it’s worth remembering that your vagina is self-cleaning so it’s probably best to avoid vaginal cleaners”. And beyond that, interaction with anything from soaps and scented products to lubricants, antibiotics and even semen could potentially mess with your vagina’s “delicate PH”. So, be selective.
If you would like to wash your vulva, however, Otten shared that “the best option is warm water”.
“Try to avoid using soaps or scented / fragranced products as these have been known to cause irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you would like to use a product, look for a soap substitute or PH balancing wash (for external use) that, where possible, uses natural and organic ingredients. And remember to be gentle with the vulva skin, don’t scrub.”
What other products should you keep away from my vulva?
You may have heard this once or twice before, but bath time is a bit of a dangerous dance for the vagina. While it’s certainly not necessary for you to avoid baths altogether, it’s important to steer clear of products (like bath bombs) that may cause you issues down the line.
“If you’re prone to irritation, yeast infections, UTIs or bacterial vaginosis it may be best to avoid bath bombs, or really research the ingredients to look out for,” Otten explained.
Specifically, here’s what she said to avoid:
- Heavy fragrances or dyes. These are chemicals that often lead to irritation. On the label lookout for “fragrance”, “blue 2” or “red 4” in the ingredients list.
- Glycerin. This is a common ingredient in beauty products and breaks down into sugar. Whilst great for moisturising your dry skin elsewhere – it’s best to avoid it when it comes to your vulva.
- Glitter. As I’m sure we all know, glitter is hard to clean and get off the skin – it also has the potential to irritate or scratch the skin on your vulva or vaginal opening.
Okay, so how do I ensure bath time is safe, then?
The key thing to keep in mind is that if you’re aware of the ingredients you’re working with, you can make informed decisions that will keep your body happy and healthy.
Otten suggested bath salts as an alternative to bath bombs, and recommending “bubble bath or bath salts made from brands that offer lubricants as well as they’ve been developed with sensitive areas in mind”. One example she gave is the brand Sliquid.
What about other common products that shouldn’t go near genitals?
Listen. Just because you’ve seen a trend take off on TikTok, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Best practice here is to try and avoid messing with your downstairs area with foreign ingredients.
Otten explained that “whilst some people have used vaseline or coconut oil as lube, I wouldn’t recommend, as it stays on the vulva tissue and walls of the vagina acting as a barrier on the skin. Plus with so many affordable water and silicone lubes out there, it’s safer to use the real thing.”
Here’s a whole explainer on lube if you want to read more.
And how about penises?
Penis owners have a bit of an easier go when it comes to keeping their area happy as it’s an external organ. However, that doesn’t mean anything goes.
On this, Otten shared that you can use soap for a penis, but warm water may suffice in some cases. When choosing a soap, keep it simple and stay away from harsh ingredients and fragrance.
“When cleaning your genitals make sure to clean the head (glans) and shaft, as well as the scrotum. If you have foreskin, gently retract the skin back so you can clean the underneath and the head, and slowly pull the skin back over the head. Don’t excessively clean the area, as this removes the essential body oils that keep our skin hydrated and reduce friction,” she shared.
And finally, she highlighted that no one should be forgetting to gently dry off after “as excessive moisture may lead to irritation or bacterial infections”.
Now go forth and give your genitals the love and care they deserve.