Good bacteria, the same types that are in your gut, are essential for sexual health too. Here’s how to keep them in sync.
They’re tiny but powerful. Bacteria help make your entire body healthy – even below the belt. The vagina has a natural microbiome similar to the gut’s. It contains good bacteria that keep everything running smoothly and bad bugs can lead to issues like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
And just like the bugs in your GI tract, certain meds and other factors can cause the vaginal microbes to fall out of balance, increasing your risk of infection or irritation. Keep your good bugs – and your vagina – healthy with these four science-backed strategies.
Don’t Be A Clean Freak
Most of us know by now that douching is not a good idea. But recently, a practice called vaginal steaming, which involves sitting over a pot of steaming water filled with medicinal herbs, has been getting attention. Fans of the treatment say it does several things, including “cleansing” the uterus and rebalancing hormone levels.
Ignore the buzz. Douching or steaming can get rid of good bacteria. If you’re worried about odor, it’s fine to occasionally use wipes after exercise or during the day, but stick to unscented ones and don’t overuse – one swipe is plenty. Stop immediately if you experience burning or irritation.
Pop A Probiotic
Choose one that contains at least two strains of lactobacillus – I like this one, which can increase healthy vaginal bacteria levels. Probiotic yogurt can also help – either eating it or, if advised by your doctor, delivering it straight to the source.
Do A Quick Change
Many of us sit in sweaty gym clothes while grabbing a bite or running errands. This isn’t good because it creates a warm, moist (ew, gross word) environment known to lead to the overgrowth of yeast. Change before you leave the gym. If you can’t, wear underwear with a cotton gusset because it’s breathable, so you’ll stay drier, giving yeast and unhealthy bacteria less opportunity to overgrow. You can also use a lightweight, organic cotton panty liner and toss it after your workout.
Pick Lubricant Wisely
Avoid any that contain glycerin. It’s a common ingredient, but it breaks down into sugars, which may encourage bacteria or yeast overgrowth. Look for glycerin-free options, such as Good Clean Love Lubricant, and never use petroleum jelly—women who did so were 2.2 times more likely to have bacterial vaginosis, the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reports.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods