Health And Wellness

8 Signs Your Vagina Is Unhealthy (& What To Do About It)

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woman realizing she may have a dirty vagina

An unhealthy or dirty vagina is a vagina that isn't given the attention it deserves. The vagina needs to be given the same hygienic attention as any other part of your body.

"Between urine, sweat, and being so close to the anus, cleaning the vagina regularly is critical to prevent dirty bacterial buildup and to avoid the offensive odors that develop throughout the day... Debris build-up in the labia grooves from not washing the vagina well can be called 'smegma.' The point is, women, get it as easily as men," says Sheryl A. Ross, M.D.

"An unhealthy vagina does not visit the gynecologist to get the appropriate check-up yearly or have sexually transmitted infection testing between partners. An unhealthy vagina does not get the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active or a pap smear when turning 21 years old."

Some things that cause an unhealthy vagina include sexually transmitted diseases, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, a vaginal yeast infection, an unbalanced PH, or irritation from deodorants or douches.

How do you know if your vagina is dirty?

You can actually perform your own vaginal self-exam if you want to just check up on your vulva and vagina. All you need is a handheld mirror, flashlight, and towel, and if you aren't sure what to be looking for, a diagram of the female genitalia may help.

Make sure your hands are clean and carefully examine your parts of your vulva, clitoris, inner and outer labia, and your vagina opening. You might need to spread the labia minora lips apart and angle the mirror and light to see into your vagina.

The walls should be pink in color and if you place your finger inside it should feel like the inside of a mouth along the vaginal wall.

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During your menstrual cycle, you can develop a thick white discharge known as leukorrhea which is totally normal. Over the days leading up to your ovulation period, the discharge may become thinner and then during ovulation become thick or more mucus-like.

If you're always wet down there and smelly, it might be a sign that your vagina is unhealthy. Your vagina sometimes releases cervical fluid, which is normal — however, if your fluids are green, unusually smelly, or look like a cottage cheese texture, then that could be a sign of infection and an unhealthy vagina.

Sexologist Dr. Jess, Ph.D. says if you notice a change in the color or odor of your regular discharge, see sores or blisters on your vulva, experience pain or itchiness in your pelvic region, or penetration is painful even with adequate arousal and lubrication, you should absolutely see a doctor.

So ladies, if you're experiencing any of these problems, you may have an unhealthy or dirty vagina and should seek medical attention.

1. Vaginal dryness or irritation

Vaginal dryness and irritation can be a sign of unhealthy vagina hygiene due to menopause, says gynecologist Ronald D. Blatt, M.D.

Menopause can create these symptoms, both inside and outside of the vagina, which may involve skin flaking and irritation associated with mature skin. This can lead to uncomfortable intercourse as well.

2. A fishy odor

A healthy vagina will have its own fragrance, but how can you tell if the smell is healthy or not?

"A fishy odor with extra clear discharge can be a sign of BV, bacterial vaginosis, that is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and an imbalance of the pH balance of the vagina.

BV is very common and easily treatable with antibiotics from your gynecologist.

Natural remedies include apple cider vinegar douche and changes in diet. A strong odor with green discharge can be signs of an STD, trichomoniasis, so you should get tested immediately," says Psalm Isadora, a sex and relationship expert.

3. Itching or irregular discharge

If you have discharge that looks like cottage cheese and has a yellow or white consistency, you may have a yeast infection.

"This is caused by a fungal infection and overgrowth of yeast, and can be caused by taking antibiotics, unbalanced pH, wearing tight non-breathable underwear or clothing, douching, or an unhealthy diet too high in sugars.

You can get over-the-counter creams, pills, and suppositories, but recurring yeast infections mean you will have to make changes in your diet and cut back on sugars and alcohol," says Isadora.

Drinking water and eating yogurt are natural remedies to help prevent and treat yeast infections.

4. Burning sensations when urinating

This can be a sign of a UTI (urinary tract infection) and is often caused by sex. These are also readily treatable with antibiotics.

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5. Inability to insert tampons

"Painful sex is usually a psychological issue, but in rare cases, it's an imperforate hymen — women born with extra tissue around the opening of the vagina," says Isadora.

This can be diagnosed by a gynecologist and treated with surgery.

6. Painful blisters

This may be a sign you have a sexually transmitted infection, such as herpes. You should immediately get tested.

7. You have irregular bleeding

Bleeding or spotting that occurs when you're not menstruating can be a hormonal imbalance often caused by birth control methods or stress, says Isadora. It can also be a sign of pregnancy.

Bleeding after sex can be a sign of cervical cancer, and you should see your gynecologist right away.

8. Continual vaginal infections

If your vagina seems angry and you're getting frequent yeast infections, bacterial infections, or UTIs, you might need to give your vagina a break.

"Sometimes she is trying to tell you that she is unhappy with the way you are treating her. Maybe you are in an unhealthy relationship, or your partner might be having other partners and bringing problems back to you. Take a pause and give her a break; try and eat healthily and have less stress," says Isadora.

Your vagina will get back in balance in no time and will thank you for it.

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Aly Walansky is a lifestyle journalist and pop culture expert with two decades of experience covering food, travel, and sexuality.