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Do you know what I wish someone had taught me?
How to clean my vulva.
This episode is for everyone out there who has a vulva or is responsible for a cleaning one and needs guidance on best practices. Every body is different but generally these are the dos and don'ts of vulva hygiene. If you're concerned they don't suit your body, please consult a medical provider.


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You know what would have been helpful to learn? How to clean my genitals! I'm Dr. Lindsey Doe, clinical sexologist and host of this sex curious show, Sexplanations. Today's instructional video on how to clean the vulva and vagina is sponsored by adamandeve.com, a sexual health toy store.

[intro]

Between my legs there's a vulva that looks kind of like this, and internally a vagina that looks like this. Using this model I'm going to show you how to clean them both.

Here's what you'll need: hand, water. Extras might include: mild soap, wash cloth, cotton swab, mineral oil, scissors, maybe a razor.

Let's start with the vulva and work our way in. All bodies are different, but most medical professionals will advise everyone to not use anything scented or harsh. The labia or lips of the vulva are kind of like the eyebrows and eyelids to the vagina, so I just let slightly soapy water, like the run-off from shampooing my hair, rinse over them rather than scrubbing them with a bar of soap and a towel.

Vulvalovelovely.com sells a soap with the description: "Formulated specifically for people with high sensitivity to soap additives." It's vegan, all natural, and "now you can wash off and it won't leave you smelling like a chemical splash with a side order of allergic reaction." You're looking for a soap with a lower pH, that is fragrance free, so that you don't irritate the area and cause an infection. And preferably you go for a bar instead of a body wash, because it'll have less alcohol in it that could dry out your soft lips.

To get the water in between all the folds, I rub my wet hand around in the shower, like I'm masturbating. I visually inspect to make sure that I get any toilet paper clumps or crusty discharge out. It happens, it's normal, I just need to take care of it. Then I gently stretch the foreskin of my clitoris up to clean out any smegma. Smegma is a white, cheese-like substance that naturally builds up under the clit hood from body oil and dead skin cells. Wipe it off, a little soapy water, and then a final non-soapy water rinse.

After finishing my shower, I pat dry or air dry everything so that the extra moisture doesn't lead to bacteria overgrowth. Then I put on breathable underwear, preferably white to avoid irritating dyes, or I go without underwear and make it a skirt day. That's my daily routine.

A more advanced version might include removing or trimming pubic hair: the scissors can make it shorter, the razor can remove it completely. On the upside, there's less hair to catch urine and other outgoing fluids. On the downside, there's less hair to stop incoming pathogens and a higher risk of infected hair follicles. This is where you get to decide the best hairstyle for your body. Bald? Buzz cut? Side burns? Bangs? Mohawk? Dreadlocks? Fro? You decide, and then change it if it doesn't work for you.

Using a washcloth is a better way to get soapy water onto the vulva than, say, splashing it around with your hand. Just make sure to wipe front to back, cleaning the butthole last. Then don't use the towel again on your vulva until it's been washed.

Mineral oil on a cotton swab is one way to get under the foreskin or clitoral hood and clean, but if it hurts, stop. The clitoris is really sensitive and, especially if you haven't been taught to clean under the hood that covers it before, things might be stuck together and painful to move around. This is called clitoral adhesion. Work over time with warm water and gently stretching it to separate the skin and the clit, then maintain hygiene.

What we eat, wear, and do affect affect our crotches, so part of keeping up pussy cleanliness involves:
  • A good diet: sugars can increase uncomfortable yeast growth;
  • Exercise: toning those pubococcygeus muscles,
  • Peeing before and after sexual activity;
  • Wearing loose breathable materials; and
  • Changing out of wet or sweaty clothes as soon as possible.
Try to keep the vulva cool and dry. Dry-ish. You don't want to wick away all the moisture, so don't use talcum powder or paper towels. At all, actually. Just don't leave it all clammy in tight clothing for hours.

Quick note on anus hygiene: it's okay to look at your brown star in a mirror and make sure that you've cleaned out all the clumps of toilet paper and feces that can get wadded up there. Some people use baby wipes after every poop, others clean themselves with a bidet set up, there's trimming or shaving the anus pubes, and/or a simple soap and water wash in the shower.

Feces on or in the vulva can lead to urinary tract infections and vaginal infections, so keep the butt clean and don't wipe the butt toward the vulva. Instead, take the toilet paper, wipe the vulva from the front of the body backward, then fold the toilet paper so there's a clean spot and reach around the back to wipe backward on the anus.

Now for the vagina, the internal mucus membrane. How do you clean it? It's fairly simple. The vagina is a self-cleansing organ like the eyes so whenever possible you leave it alone to do its thing. If something gets stuck in there or you're worried about an irritation then it's reasonable to flush things out, preferably with medical guidance.

Otherwise, number one hygiene tip: do not douche. There are lots of so-called feminine hygiene products designed to freshen up, spiff up, tighten up, clean up your vagina, but they're all marketing to the belief that vaginas aren't supposed to smell or taste like vaginas, and that isn't true. Your body may respond differently, but everyone I've talked with who has a vagina and/or treats them medically has explained that sprays, perfumes, and douches meant to clean the vagina actually end up causing infection.

The vagina has positive bacteria which produce proteins called bacteriocins to keep the harmful bacteria in check – meaning best hygiene practices for a vagina entail letting the vagina do its thing and paying attention. If you sense that things might be off, like there's an abnormal discharge or smell, remember that it could be what you're eating, wearing, and/or what you're putting inside. Again, soaps and sprays and so-called hygiene products – but also, semen can throw off your pH and give your vagina a real funky odor. So can leaving a tampon in too long, not changing your underwear, and sitting in a wet bathing suit or sweaty workout clothes all day. Yeah, avoid all that.

Be thoughtful about what you put inside: sex toys, fingers, contraception, condoms, lube, menstrual products, pervertibles (household items you convert into playthings). The vagina can clean itself, and if you think it's not cleaning itself, ask for professional help.

Alright, all this should help to get you started. Ask in the comments if you have questions. Experiment with what does and doesn't work best for your body. Still avoid douching. And stay curious.



As you may have guessed, this vulva model is from AdamandEve.com (minus the (?~5:31) that we added). There are others that can be used for education, pleasure, or office decor, and you can get your very own and hundreds of other sexual health accessories at their website, adamandeve.com. And if you use the discount code DOE when you check out, one eligible item in your shopping cart will be 50% off and it will hook you up with free shipping on your whole package. Mmmm, whole packages.