Vaginal pH imbalance is a slippery slope
By: Jacquetta Szathmari
Why is vaginal pH important and how to keep it pHresh down there?
Maintaining the natural pH balance within the vagina is essential for optimum sexual health and wellness.
You probably recognize the phrase “ph Balanced” from ads for your favorite skin care products, but may not know what pH is or why balanced pH is important for your health.
Let’s start with the basics (—and acids!).
pH is a measure of the acidity or alkaline nature of a water-based solution (What is alkaline, you ask? A commonly used synonym for basic, the opposite of acidic, used by people who wear lab coats.) The “p” in pH stands for power or potential of, the “H” stands for the chemical element Hydrogen. So, yes- pH is shorthand for “by the Power of Hydrogen”!
The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. Seven, which is the pH of pure water, is neutral. Aqueous (water-based) solutions with a pH of less than seven are acidic and those with a pH above the median are basic or alkaline. The scale is more dramatic and nuanced than it seems. A full whole number move up or down the scale represents a tenfold increase or decrease in acidity from the previous level. Is this taking you back to middle school chemistry?
Health class is about to start.
The pH in the vagina should be low, hovering around 4.5. This level of acidity allows all the naturally occurring, helpful bacteria to thrive and do their job of protecting the vagina from evil, harmful bacteria that can leave it prone to discomfort and infection. Vaginal pH levels can vary depending on physiology, lifestyle, and the time of the month. Levels are also affected by foreign substances introduced into the vagina including semen, a notorious alkaline, and bacteria from poor sexual hygiene practices such as using less than clean sex toys. Commercial douches, (literally so basic it hurts), vaginal wipes, and menstrual products, (like tampons), made with artificial dyes and perfumes can seriously mess with your pH levels, as well. Antibiotics, which attack bacteria indiscriminately, can also decimate good vaginal bacteria, along with the bad, and leave you an easy target for infections, such as vaginosis. Even prolonged exposure to your own perfectly healthy menstrual blood can throw the vaginal ecosystem off balance. So, change those tampons early and often, or find another solution that works to reduce pH disruption. Period.
Don’t be basic, stay balanced.
As always it is good to remember how amazing vaginas are with their self-cleaning and self-care abilities, but you can lend a gentle assist by taking measures to ensure a balanced pH.
Get to know yourself. Observe your vagina at its healthiest so that you will be able to notice if anything is amiss. Signs of high pH include cloudy discharge, a marine life odor, irritation, and painful urination. If this is you, you should your doctor and explain the symptoms.
Limit your vagina’s exposure to semen. In order to help sperm make it to an egg, the vagina blazes an elevated pH trail to help it along. This changes the balance leaving it open to infection, which is why many health professionals advocate taking a quick trip to the toilet after sex to get that sperm out. You could also try something like the Dripstick from Askward Essentials for internal clean-up, if you need an alternative to a quick Kegel squeeze.
Practice good intimate hygiene for your vulva, (that’s the outside part of your lady bits), using gentle, soap-free products free from chemical dyes, harsh perfumes, and preservatives. You can read more about this in our blog on this very subject!
Don’t douche or allow intimate wipes or sprays to come into contact with the vagina, (that’s the inside part of your lady bits). The vagina doesn’t need to be cleaned like that, and cleansers are a speedy way to evict the good bacteria and put out a welcome mat for the bad.
Eat foods that promote good bacterial growth such as yogurt, kimchi or other fermented foods containing lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is a bacteria that occurs naturally in the mouth, gut, and vagina, and keeps the pH low while fighting crime. You could also consult a medical professional about supplementing your diet with probiotics that also promote a balanced pH.
Your vagina is an amazing place but sometimes she needs a helping hand. It takes just a little effort on your part to help maintain a healthy pH environment!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jacquetta Szathmari is a New York based writer and the founder of Dernier Mile, a boutique consultancy providing last minute and last mile solutions for your content-intensive, logistically complex, and totally unique creative projects.
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