What is the Vagina?

Question:

What is the vagina?

Answer:

The vagina is an elastic, yet muscular canal that is approximately 9 to 10 centimeters in length. The upper part of the vagina connects to the cervix, which opens into the uterus, and the lower part opens to the outside of the body. It lies between the urethra (which connects to the bladder) and the rectum.

During sexual intercourse, the vagina lengthens, widens and engorges with blood as it prepares to accept the penis.

Additionally, the vagina serves as a passageway for cervical mucus, menstrual fluid and other secretions out of the body. During childbirth, the baby is pushed from the uterus out of the body, also through the vaginal canal.

Self-Cleaning Mechanism

It is important to know that the vagina is self-cleaning. Many women feel the need to douche or clean the vagina using sprays or deodorants. Not only is that not necessary, but it can actually harm your vaginal health.

The vagina maintains this self-cleaning property in a few ways.

It's slightly acidic environment prevents most bacteria from living in it. Douching or cleaning the vagina can alter the pH, making it more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections.

In addition, the tissue lining the vagina is thickened after puberty and until menopause, which also helps prevents bacterial colonization.

Imbalance

The bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus is normally found in the vaginal tissue, and it helps to stabilize the pH at its natural acidic level.

Anything that disturbs these bacteria (like antibiotics or high blood sugar) can also increase your risk for vaginal yeast infection.

Eating yogurt with natural cultures or taking a L. acidophilus probiotic supplement during antibiotic usage may be helpful in preventing an infection. Of course, talk to your doctor to make sure that this is appropriate for you.

Women with PCOS are prone to insulin resistance, which leads to high blood sugar and can set the stage for a vaginal yeast infection. Excess sugar in the body is excreted through urination, which can quickly feed small yeast colonies turning them into uncomfortable infections.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include itching, pain and an odorless discharge that is either clear and watery or thick, white and clumpy like cottage cheese.

Keeping your blood sugar at healthy levels and wearing panties made from a natural fiber, like cotton, in addition to taking probiotics, can help keep yeast infections at bay.

If you find yourself having recurring yeast infections, talk to your doctor to rule out other conditions, like a bacterial infection.

Dryness

At some point in every woman's life, she will experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. While vaginal dryness is most common in menopausal women, certain medications — including some fertility drugs and antihistamines — can interfere with vaginal moisture.

There are numerous treatments for vaginal dryness, including hormone treatments and moisturising suppositories. Many women find simply using a lubrication, such as KY Jelly or coconut oil, during sex can ease the pain of vaginal dryness.

Sources:

Vaginal Yeast Infection. Office on Women's Health website. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/vaginal-yeast-infections.html. Updated January 6, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2016.

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