The Importance of Vaginal Health

Sexual Medicine shows high-intensity female cyclists have a greater risk of contracting more urinary tract infections than a control group. As with running, taking a shower or having a wash as soon as you’ve finished your ride will reduce your risk of infection. Unfortunately, female cyclists are also more likely to experience swelling of the labia, as the pressure exerted on your genital area while in the saddle prevents lymph fluid from draining in the normal way. Padded shorts can help, but if the problem persists, try changing your saddle tor a more ergonomic/women-specitic model. It you experience numbness, Phil Burt, author of Bike Fit (Bloomsbury Sport, £18.99) suggests experimenting with tipping your ‘High-intensity female cyclists have a greater risk of urinary tract infections, saddle very slightly forwards until you find a more comfortable position.

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WARNING SIGNS

If you notice any of the following, make an appointment to see your GP

Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after menopause

Persistent vaginal itching/redness

Pain during sex

A change in the colour, smell or amount of vaginal discharge

A lump in your vagina

Clots in your menstrual flow

A burning sensation when you

Don’t douche.

Like your gut, your vagina consists of millions of microorganisms mostly bacteria, but also fungi and viruses. Known collectively as the vaginal microbiome, these tiny bugs help protect your body from invading germs that can cause yeast infections, sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis (a vaginal infection that increases your risk of chlamydia).

The most well-known vaginal bacteria – lactobacilli – also keep you healthy by producing lactic acid to maintain a healthy pH in your vagina (3.5-4.5). It’s a delicate system, so avoid disrupting it by douching or using other vaginal cleaning products. Your vagina is self cleansing, so simply wash the vulva (external part) with warm water, and take probiotics after a course of antibiotics, to help repopulate your vagina with healthy bacteria.

Rethink shaving.

It may be all the rage, especially it you’re in your 20s, but is going hairless down below really in your best interests? Some experts think not. A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found shaving your pubes can lead to rashes, skin irritation and abrasions, inflamed hair follicles, vulva or vaginal irritation or infection and, potentially, increase the spread of STIs. Keeping your pubic hair, on the other hand, stops potentially uncomfortable friction and acts as a cushion during sex which helps men maintain their erection as it keeps the genitals warm, according to Dr Lauren Streicher, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Have a smear test.

Around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, making it the most common cancer among women under 35, yet the number of women attending screenings is at an all-time low. Unusual menstrual bleeding, pain during sex or unexplained back or pelvic pain could point to cervical cancer, so see your GP, and always attend cervical cancer screenings – every three years it you’re 25 to 49 and every five it you’re 50 and over. Reduce your risk by using condoms to help prevent contracting the human papilloma virus, linked to cervical cancer.

Love your periods. It’s generally not a good idea to interfere with your monthly flow – the practice of inserting fresh parsley into your vagina to bring on menstruation resulted in the death of one woman last year. Instead, treat your body with the sensitivity you would a newborn, using skin-friendly products. Around 50 per cent of women in the UK/ Europe have sensitive skin, made worse in the genital area by non-breathable sanitary pads and panty liners. Change your pad every three to tour hours, even if your flow is light, and consider organic cotton sanitary products. Check out Time of the Month (totm.com) for one-off or subscription tampons, pads and liners or invest in a reusable menstrual cup (£19.99).

Reach for the lube. Nothing says happy vagina more than a satisfying sex life, but sometimes your lady bits aren’t quite as ready tor between-the-sheet action as you are. Vaginal dryness doesn’t just affect older women, it’s common after pregnancy and also a side effect of antihistamines and antidepressants. Ease any discomfort with a tube of lube. Avoid those containing glycerin (as sugar can contribute to bacterial growth) as well as products containing petroleum, as this interferes with your vagina’s pH levels. Go natural with YES WB: natural, water-based lubricants (£5.99 tor 50ml; yesyesyes.org). Having a pee after sex also helps reduce your risk of UTIs.

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