One of the interesting/challenging side effects of having Sexplainer is spam. Last week that meant an email promoting Healthy Hoohoo. That’s right – available in a wipe, foamer or wash. It’s gluten-free (!) and apparently removes hoohoo odour causing bacteria.
Healthy Hoohoo hogwash, I say.
Women struggle to have healthy relationships with their Hoohoos and a wipe, foamer or wash isn’t going to substantially change that. What will engender a healthy relationship is understanding and respecting our Hoohoos. That, and not wipes, foamers or washes, is what we need to talk to our daughters about.
To begin, while I’m prone to sometimes use slang (I heart my honeypot), we all need to be comfy using the scientific words. Vagina and vulva are no more clinical than shin or leg. So, use them (too).
Here are my tips for talking about keeping a vulva clean:
1) Smelling ‘daisy fresh’ is absurd. What does that even mean? Vulvas can have a smell – that smell may change depending on a person’s menstrual cycle. Maybe, like an armpit, it will have no smell for an hour or two following bathing but after that, usually, there is a smell. Doesn’t mean it’s strong, bad or unpleasant.
2) Vaginas are self-cleaning kinda like a stove but you don’t even need to hit a start button. The pH is generally well maintained all by itself. Wipes, foamer or wash can mess with that pH and can cause a vagina uprising! Inflammation and irritation can result and may be your vaginas way of telling you to back off.
3) Bodily fluids cause odour. Sweat, urine and/or menstrual and vaginal fluid laying about on a person’s vulva can leave a person feeling less clean much like working out or a stressful day in a big city can leave you on the smelly side. I’ve always taught my kids that if an elbow or kneecap doesn’t get washed every time, it’s not a big deal. But if clean is the goal, the must wash spots are the armpits, genitals and feet. I call them the ‘hot spots’. These are parts of the body that are prone to get warm and sweaty rather quickly. So, if the smell shifts from benign to, well, no longer benign, take a washcloth to the area, or bathe or shower. Where genitals are concerned, warm water will substantially take care of things. A little soap applied externally (on the mons pubis – that’s where pubic hair might be – and inner thighs) will otherwise suffice. Putting soap in the vagina can really mess with that pH. See point 2 above.
4) Breathing Bits. Young women may get pulled into the Victoria Secret world of undies. Help them understand that cotton is their friend. Vulvas can be irritated by gitch that is made of polyester or other non-breathable materials.
5) Pay a little attention to the smells of your body. Notice the changes. For instance, some people claim their sweat smells different depending on their diet. I’m not talking about smelling like broccoli but I buy the claim that a person’s smell might be impacted by, let’s say, a vegetarian versus meat-eating diet. Female-bodied people can take cues from their genitals. Not just ‘time for a shower’ cues but ‘hmmm, that’s not a smell I’ve ever smelled before’. Combine that with noticing vaginal fluid and a person can identify times when a visit to a doctor may be instructive. A person who chronically ‘manages’ vaginal health with a wipe, wash or foam may be removing signs that would be better addressed by physician care. I’m not just talking about sexually transmitted infections like gonnorehea or chlamydia but about any vaginitis (inflammation), yeast or other flora imbalances that can occur whether a person is sexually active or not.
6) Pee before, pee after. Speaking of sexual activity, women can often spare themselves discomfort (read: infection) if they pee before and after being vaginally penetrated. Urinary tract infections can happen when germs in the vagina are pushed into the urethra so part of staying bacteria-free can be as easy as a pee. If (and there are) germs already on the vulva, on the penis, hand or a toy that is going into a vagina, urinating can help wash away the offending stuff. No wash, wipe or form is as easy as that.
7) Wipe right. Front to back is the way to do it. It may be a more awkward way to swipe but wiping from anus across vulva may bring unwanted bacteria to the area. If your kid learns how to wipe by watching you, it may be time to switch it up.
How do you talk to your female-bodied young people about keeping their genitals healthy, clean and confortable?
Public Service Announcement: please say no to wipes, foames and washes.