As we get older, we’re told to keep fit to stay young, and the same applies to your lady parts. After years of childbearing and the menopause, things downstairs aren’t quite what they once were. But what exactly should we be doing to keep down below in tip top shape? Reality TV star Khloe Kardashian recently published her complex routine for keeping her lady bits in order, but it was full of all sorts of weird and wonderful commandments, as well as a vajacial (yes, that’s a facial for your vagina!) – all out of reach for us normal folk. So we spoke to experts to find out the three simple steps to keep things healthy down below.
Step 1: Never, ever wash your vagina
The vagina (the internal parts of your genitals) is actually entirely self-cleaning – it contains good bacteria called lactobacilli. These bacteria make the vagina acidic so that bugs can’t grow, and produce substances that are toxic to viruses. In fact, the discharge you might see in your knickers is your body’s tool for sweeping away bacteria and dead skin cells.
"You do need to wash your vulva (the outer area of your genitals, made up of the labia and clitoris) though," explains Alison Bourne, a Specialist Women’s Health Physiotherapist. "This area can become contaminated with urine or faeces, which can cause an infection if it makes its way into your vagina. Warm water once a day is enough to keep things clean."
If you want to wash with something more than water, go for a gentle, fragrance-free glycerin soap or an emollient cream, and don’t get drawn in by fancy products that claim to be pH balanced. Make sure you use your shower head from a front-to-back direction so that any bad bacteria from your bum doesn’t get flushed forward into the vagina.
"If your pH is abnormal, it’s because your lactobacilli are abnormal," explains gynaecologist Dr Jennifer Gunter. "So there’s no way you can put a product in your vagina to change your pH — nor should you."
Step 2: Groom with caution
In recent years, the trend for having minimal pubic hair has been on the up, with 84% of women grooming in some way. But over-groom and you could be doing yourself harm. "Trimming in a sensible way is best," says Alison. "Shaving and waxing can result in ingrown hairs, which can be itchy and upset the delicate balance on the skin in the area," says Alison. "It can also create tiny fissures in the skin, which could allow infection in."
Plus, it’s important to remember your pubic hair is there for a reason. "Hair is there to keep things moisturised, protected and happy," explains Alison. "It helps maintain natural lubrication and acts as a barrier to protect your vulva." There’s nothing wrong with keeping things neat, but Alison recommends leaving a little bit of hair, particularly on the labia, to keep things healthy.
Step 3: Work that pelvic floor
You probably know that keeping your pelvic floor (the sling- shaped set of muscles that hold yours uterus, bladder, vagina and bowels in place) strong is important for avoiding any embarrassing accidents and prolapses, but did you realise it’s important for a good sex life too? "Regular pelvic floor exercises improve the blood flow to the area, making the sensations greater and increase the lubrication to the area, meaning sex is more enjoyable and less painful," says Alison. "Tightening the muscles pulls all the skin around your clitoris and labia tighter, and for some women that can make it easier for them to climax during sex."
"Tie your exercises into specific things during the day," advises Alison. "Do them when you check your emails, when you get your purse out, or when you pop the kettle on. That way, the trigger will serve as a little reminder."
Pelvic floor exercises
Aim to repeat these exercises 2-4 times a day.
1. Slow contractions
Slowly lift and tighten your pelvic muscles inwards and upwards (try squeezing your muscles as if you are trying to stop the flow of a wee and grip in a tampon at the same time).
? Try to hold for at least four seconds, then release slowly.
? Complete 10 repetitions, making sure you always have some of the squeeze left to release slowly at the end of the exercise.
? If you can’t hold the clench for long enough, gradually increase the time you can hold it for.
Tighten your pelvic floor in one quick contraction, pausing for a beat before releasing.
? Relax for a moment, before repeating the contraction with as much strength as the first clench.
? Repeat three bursts of ten contractions.