I remember once when I was a preteen, we all went over to my friend's house to hang out. After we arrived, she showed us these items she had discovered in her mother's toiletries that looked like little foil-wrapped candies. On the package was all this intriguing advertising copy about "feeling refreshed"--and so we sent our friend off to ask her mother what they were.
Her (fairly unflappable) mom explained that they were little deodorant suppositories that, when placed inside a woman's vagina, melted in there and "freshened things up." She explained that sometimes the vagina could get to smelling less than fresh and that one of these would spiffy it up.
Well, oh my!…didn't we impressionable preteens all cringe at the thought of our vaginas becoming less than fresh at times and in need of deodorization?
It's now been many years since that well-meaning but misinformed encounter, and I've since learned a few things about the freshness of the vagina.
The Self-Cleaning Vagina--A Fine Balance
The truth is that the vagina normally supports the growth of a variety of healthy bacteria and it keeps this bacterial flora in a fine state of balance. And when all of these bacteria are in proper balance, they create a slightly acidic environment that in fact enables the vagina to clean itself quite efficiently and maintain a healthy state.
When this pH Balance is Lost
Problems arise only when this normal bacterial pH is disturbed, or if unwelcome organisms are introduced into the vagina. This is because, if the vagina is not acidic enough, certain bacteria will overgrow. This overgrowth of a particular organism can create a condition called bacterial vaginosis, which produces a thin discharge with a fishy odor. A deficit in the vaginal bacteria, on the other hand, can set the stage for yeast to grow in the vagina, which produces the well-known yeast infection with its thick, itchy discharge.
Some STIs are Troublesome as Well
Sexually transmitted infections can also be introduced into the vagina and cause harm. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted bacteria that produces a frothy, greenish discharge with a very fishy smell. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are bacteria that can infect the cervix and ultimately lead to severe pelvic infections. These may start with a foul yellow discharge that progresses to pelvic pain.
What Can Alter the Vaginal pH?
Any of the following things can alter the vaginal pH in such a way as to make the vagina more susceptible to infections:
Douching and vaginal inserts. These so-called "remedies" should be avoided altogether, unless your healthcare provider has instructed you to use them for a particular medical reason.
Semen. Condoms are protective against both semen and sexually transmitted infections.
Menstrual blood. If you are having trouble with infections around the time of your period, try using tampons, which are better than pads at wicking the menstrual blood away from the vaginal sidewalls. Just remember to change the tampons frequently to avoid any problems with toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Antibiotics. Any antibiotic use should be limited to what is absolutely necessary.
Stress. Stress is something that's always important to keep under control--although not always easy!
What if you really believe you need a vaginal deodorizer?
If you have vaginal odor, then you might have a vaginal infection. Vaginal odor and discharge are clues that you need to go see your healthcare provider for an evaluation. So please don't waste your time or money trying out vaginal deodorizers! A healthy vagina shouldn't need them!