Slattern! It is a rarely used vocabulary. It is easy to guess why: because it makes reference to bad female hygiene. Hence, it is one of those cats that remains safely tucked in the bag at conversations.
At face value bad female hygiene would mean a lady who cleans less or never cleans at all. However, what comes to mind when you hear 'unhygienic woman'? What part of 'her' body would you castigate first?
Her face – of course not. Her breasts – may be. Her armpits – highly likely. Her vagina – most likely.
Not because the vagina is inherently dirty but because it is the part of a woman's anatomy that is most sensitive to unhygienic conditions, says Lucy Muchiri, a nurse and a doula at Evesmama birth centre.
A clique of our readers has written to us, thirsty for information on vagina hygiene: how to keep it clean regularly; what to do before and after intercourse; or simply what to do with it.
Here is what the professionals say.
Before and after intimacy
How often have you cleaned the vagina (and the penis) before intercourse? If never, then you have been perpetuating infections against you and potentially against other people. At the heat of the moment all care tends to be kicked by the wayside.
According to Valentine Nyakiere, a personal hygiene specialist, spouses are supposed to clean their private parts before going between the sheets. This will prevent transmission of infections – bacterial, fungal and viral.
Both man and woman should have a towel to be used exclusively for the vagina or the penis. "The vagina alone and the penis alone and not with any other part of the body," she says, 'to avoid transmission of germs from other parts to the intimate parts where they can cause infections."
Cleaning should be done with water. For the vagina, no soap – or chemical – should be applied while cleaning. Vaginal cleansing from natural extracts may be used but in their absences clean water alone is enough.
After sex, secretions from the vaginal wall, as well as semen, create optimum conditions for germs to thrive. "Such secretions are usually sterile but mix up with bacteria when in contact with mucous membranes and the skin," Valentine says.
It therefore becomes necessary that after intercourse a woman ejects the semen out and then clean the vagina with clean water. The best method to take out semen is through kegel exercises, Valentine says.
She also adds: "Douching is not healthy at all. Nothing should be put inside the vagina to pull out the semen either." After intercourse the vagina is prone to micro cuts that make easy routes for infections to go through.
On regular days (without intercourse)
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The vagina still ought to be cleaned whether intercourse is part of a daily routine or not. Sweating for anyone above puberty is a reality.
Terry Mungai is a beauty professional and the managing director of Ashleys Beauty. Rarely do you meet someone as enthusiastic about grooming and hygiene as Terry. She will start you off at 'God created everyone beautiful'. And by the time she is done you will understand why hygiene is the only way to go – especially for women.
"We should always pay attention to our intimate parts as women," she advised women at a past Eve Sisters event.
According to Terry, the exterior of the vagina can be cleaned using organic 'non-chemical' cleansing agents. She cites herbal solutions available at local supermarket outlets.
"However," she says, "it does not mean that if you can't buy these products you won't be clean. The vagina can be kept hygienic with nothing more than clean water. Soaps too should be avoided in washing the vagina."
Terry also points out, as Valentine did, that douching of any kind is more harmful than it is helpful.
Every month a woman releases an egg from the ovaries. If the egg is fertilized then pregnancy occurs. If not the shedding of blood – menstruation – occurs.
"This is a natural mechanism of the reproductive system cleaning itself in preparation for the next cycle which could possibly end with a pregnancy," observes Lucy Muchiri.
That is how she sees it. In other words, there is nothing so unusual with menstruation that warrants 10 baths in a day or overt consciousness about hygiene.
"A woman can simply clean as usual – with clean water. Soap can be applied on the groin area but not inside the vagina," Lucy says. "There is nothing special to be done afterwards except that she has to wear a pad or a tampon. At least one shower in 24 hours is hygienic. One bath is enough but there is no harm with showering twice or thrice."
It is however important that tampons and pads are changed as soon as they are fully soaked. This is because a full sanitary towel promotes thriving of germs, "and this will lead to bad odour and infection," Lucy adds.
The good news is that there is nothing unhygienic about sex during menstruation. "It is perfectly normal and even better for lubrication. There are no health implications whatsoever," Lucy concludes.
The right underwear
The right underwear, Dr. Esther Wanjohi says, is the kind that allows the vagina to 'breath'. "Natural fabrics like cotton and silk are the best," she says. "Panties made from synthetic materials tend to trap heat and moisture; a scenario that increases flourishing of germs and hence precipitating infections."
Dr. Wanjohi, who practices at Nairobi Hospital, adds: "Panties should ideally be fitting. Anything too tight may cause impingement of nerves by cutting off circulation – which is also unhealthy."
For those with a penchant for G-strings, or thongs, you may need to consider how often you adorn such. According to Wanjohi, the string that goes through the rift between buttocks is an effective conduit for germs to move from the anus to the vagina, causing infections like urinary tract infections.
"G-strings once in a while are relatively safe but not under daily use," she says.
When nursing an already existing infection
What do you do when you notice a possible infection? Report for gynecological check-up, right!
This, according to Dr. John Ongech of KNH, a gynecologist, would be the only right course of action. "It is important that the infection is rightfully diagnosed before any treatment can commence," he says.
Even the kind and mode of cleaning will depend on the extent of the infection and if there are any open wounds visible. It would however be safe to say that washing with clean water would suffice. An active infection should however be handled by a doctor who can give proper directions afterwards.
Would be safe to have sex while an infection is active?
"No." Ongech says. "We need to avoid the spread of such an infection and monitor the patient's health first before any intercourse can happen."
Does oral sex predispose the vagina to infections?
What may seem as a harmless indulgence to calm down ravisher and cool bedroom fountains may be very dangerous.
Cunnilingus, the act of stimulating the vagina using the mouth (or parts of the mouth), is not a healthy practice according to Dr. Ben Omondi, a dentist at the Nelson Awori Centre.
Different parts of the body, he says, contain different strains and species of bacteria. What is healthy for one part of the body is not necessarily healthy for other parts of the body.
Well, as it turns out, the human body is a cornucopia of microbes. The mouth is teeming with millions.
"Bacteria from the mouth can be dangerously infective in the vagina," he says, "and vice versa."
For instance, Dr. Omondi says, a microorganism safely living in the gut can cause a serious infection in in the vagina.
But in case a couple love enjoying oral sex, Valentine says, it is better that they start with it before penetration occurs. "Penetration causes micro cuts in the vagina and hence makes it easy for germs to pass through and makes it easy for mouth bacteria to cause infection," she says.
The most transmissible infection between the mouth and the vagina, says Dr Omondi, is Candida, a fungal infection that infects the two organ systems.
Woo unto you if your partner is a HPV career in the mouth. Valentine says: "Some strains of HPV will survive in the mouth, if transmitted into the vagina, there is high potential that the virus will cause cervical cancer."
How to carry out effective kegel exercises
• Kegel exercises can be done during or even after urination; even when one is seated in a meeting
• If you are trying to locate your kegel muscles try stopping your stream of urine
• Make sure that your vaginal walls contract and relax in such a way that a vacuum is created and air is released, similar to burping out air, only that for the vagina it is the semen and other secretions that will be ejected
• When you pull the muscles in hold for at least five seconds before releasing. Strengthened vaginal floor muscles improves the strengths of orgasms.
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