It’s not just our face, hands, and hair that undergo signs of aging. Each decade brings noticeable changes in the vulva (your external sex organ) and vagina (the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the vulva). If you use birth control pills, you may notice a little vaginal dryness when you hit your 30s. If you’re pregnant or have given birth, the physical changes are more noticeable, like changes in the color of your vulva.
But each woman is different, and your vaginal changes depend on whether you’ve given birth, your lifestyle, and overall health. Whatever your lady parts have gone through, it’s time to update your knowledge on vaginal care now that you’re in your 30s.
1. Don’t skip your yearly OB-GYN appointment.
In your 20s, you were taught to start seeing an OB-GYN to detect early stages of cervical cancer. In your 30s, you should know that a pap smear must be done yearly together with your annual exam. Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or have multiple sex partners, whether you have children or never bore a child, and whether you’re sexually active or not, you must see your OB-GYN yearly to detect any infections or potential medical issues.
2. Do not over-clean your vagina.
The vagina is an organ that self-cleans with the help of natural secretions (a.k.a. discharge). “The vulva does not require a lot of maintenance,” said Maria Esperanza D. Arabia, MD, Obstetrician-Gynecologist. While hygiene is important, women are sometimes misled into thinking that they need to aggressively clean their genitalia. “[Over-cleaning] leads to an imbalance in the normal vulvovaginal environment,” warned Dr. Arabia. “It can potentially dry up the canal.” Do not go to great lengths to clean your vulvas with hot water, alcohol, or vinegar because it will alter your vagina’s normal pH balance.
The proper way to clean yourself down there is to just wash the vulvar area with mild soap and water. “Make sure that the area is dry at all times by simply patting it dry,” Dr. Arabia added. “Avoid perfumed feminine products because this can irritate your skin. Do not steam your vulva as it can damage the very thin vulvar skin and even lead to second-degree burns.”
3. Pay attention to your lady parts.
Keep tabs on your menstrual cycle, especially the dates of the start and end of your monthly period. While vaginal discharge varies throughout your menstrual cycle, it’s best to observe your flow and the kind of discharge you have. If you spot an unusual color, irritating itch, pain, foul scent, or rashes, see your doctor immediately.
4. Explore alternatives to sanitary napkins.
Still think that napkins and tampons are the only options for your period? Every year, over 45 billion feminine hygiene products are disposed around the world. According to a Harvard study, feminine hygiene waste—especially those made with plastic or wrapped in plastic upon disposal—can take centuries to biodegrade. Most of them end up clogging landfills and the ocean.
To reduce your carbon footprint, shift to biodegradable tampons or reusable menstrual products, like menstrual cups, period panties, and washable cloths. When entrepreneur Audrey Tangonan first introduced menstrual cups to the Philippine market back in 2014, her goal was to empower Filipina women. “I was determined to convince Filipinas to switch to menstrual cups one way or another,” she said. Sinaya, her menstrual cup company, now has a growing interest from environmentalist Pinays who lead active lifestyles.
“Personally, I think the menstrual cup is a good alternative, provided you are not allergic to silicon or rubber,” said Dr. Arabia. These cups can last up to 12 hours, or the equivalent of 3-4 tampons. It can contain about 30ml of liquid. “Considering that an average woman menstruates approximately 80ml for the whole cycle, it is a lot,” added Dr. Arabia.
5. Use the right underwear.
There’s no shame in loving lacy, sexy satin underwear, but for the sake of your vag’s health, go for breathable cotton undies to make sure air circulates in that area. “Your underwear traps a lot of moisture. When combined with heat, it can encourage bacterial or fungal growth,” said Dr. Arabia. Good news for girls who love to go commando in the bedroom: It may actually help avoid bacterial growth for a time period.
When washing your underwear, avoid using strong detergents. Instead of pantyliners, change your undies at least twice a day. Bad news about your favorite thongs: They can encourage bacterial growth because of how it’s designed. “Enteric bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, can be transferred to the urogenital area and result in urinary tract infections,” said Dr. Arabia.
6. Ditch the taboos once and for all.
One of the biggest taboos Filipina women continue to believe and tell other women is that inserting a tampon or a protractor during a pap smear will de-virginize you. “This taboo inhibits a lot of women from undergoing a pap smear, which is unfortunate,” said Dr. Arabia. “A woman loses her virginity only when she has sexual intercourse, not when she undergoes a pap smear or uses a tampon,” she clarified.
Audrey admits that whenever she talks to Filipina women about menstrual cups, her biggest struggle is breaking the misconceptions about virginity. “A lot of women do not realize that virginity is an arbitrary concept which is loosely defined by society as a punctured hymen,” she said. “Perpetuating the concept of a non-bleeding vagina during first intercourse as non-purity is downright oppressive.”
Other taboos you should stop falling for: a.) When you see an OB-GYN, it means you’re sexually active or pregnant. In reality, whether you’ve had sexual intercourse or not, you should start seeing an OB-GYN and undergo a yearly pap smear when you turn 21. b.) Stop douching (see #2), which can do more harm than good. 3.) Menstrual blood is not dirty blood; it’s blood that comes out of a woman’s body, a normal physiological process when she does not conceive during that month.
7. Shave and wax with caution.
While it’s all about Brazilian waxes these days, you actually need your pubic hair as a mechanical barricade for infections. Aside from the potential skin injuries that come with hair-removal methods, going completely hair-free all the time could increase your vagina’s risk for infections. Gynecologists suggest trimming and keeping a decent amount of hair down there.
8. Watch what you eat.
Here’s another reason to cut down on carbs and sugar: The food you eat can affect the vaginal floral growth. If you’re diabetic or enjoy a high carbohydrate diet, this can encourage bacterial and fungal growth in the vulvovaginal area. According to Dr. Arabia, having a high sugar level makes it readily available for microorganisms to grow down there. Female patients who have uncontrolled sugar levels are at increased risk for recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. Aside from cutting down on processed sugars, eating probiotics can help boost lactobacilli, thus decreasing your risk for bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection.