Marketing campaigns and high street pharmacies will have you believing your vagina is meant to smell like banana pudding at all times, sex is meant to taste like synthetic strawberries or bubble gum, and banishing period pain with a plethora of painkillers is completely safe. Not to mention that most of us don’t even know what on earth our tampons are made of.
Ridiculously, I was fascinated by the idea of a period and couldn’t wait to get mine. To me, it meant I was grown up, just like having breasts did (toilet paper, my sock drawer and I used to have a very close relationship). My rose-tinted view of periods shattered soon after I got my first one, when I was curled up in a ball on my bedroom floor in agony because it felt like obese baby seals were doing Mayweather vs McGregor inside my womb.
Once I’d had my first yeast infection, I started researching what could negatively impact vaginal health. Most women will have at least one yeast infection in their entire life because they are very common, not related to sex and have everything to do with over cleaning and upsetting your Ph. balance and very little to do with bad hygiene (you’d have to be catastrophically unhygienic to get a yeast infection from lack of cleanliness), but what you’re washing with is probably causing them if they star reoccurring.
A doctor suggested washing my hair over the bath before I got in the shower to avoid shampoo dripping down into the wrong areas, and to switch my shower gel for a cleansing emollient.My mum was the first one to tell me that tampons weren’t really vagina friendly, and not just because they had a small risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome if left in for too long, but because they actually absorb the vagina’s natural moisture, and are full of unnatural materials. I also eventually decided to stop using tampons altogether, because the more I researched, the more I just saw them as bacteria harbouring fluffy oblongs.
Armed with my new-found knowledge, here’s what I decided to change when it came to sanitary products, sex and cleansing…
Non-disposable sanitary towel alternatives
Most sanitary pads are stuffed full of bleached rayon, cotton and plastics, all of which don’t help our intimate environments, with the exception of cotton (bar the 100% organic cotton products from either the TOTM or Cottons brand).
I recently started thinking about the amount a woman will spend on disposable sanitary products in her lifetime, and how they’d end up in landfill sites, full of materials that take years and years to break down, or just don’t at all.
My sister put me on to the Mooncup, but I just didn’t think fiddling about up there to pull a cup of blood out of yourself was very feasible when it came to being out and about, in and out of public toilets (do you just casually walk your cup of blood to the sink and start washing up in front of everyone?), so decided it wasn’t for me.
In Mooncup’s defence, I’ve never met a soul who had used one that didn’t think it was the best thing since sliced bread – it saves money, it’s comfy to wear, it’s environmentally friendly and there’s no risk of nasty things like TSS.
After a bit of Googling, I came across washable bamboo charcoal pads, intrigued by their pretty patterns and rave reviews describing them as ‘like cashmere for your vagina’. This aside, my first thought was that the whole concept was absolutely gross. Surely rewashable sanitary pads were just wholly and unequivocally unhygienic?Turns out, not at all.
Not only were they more hygienic than disposable pads because of their super absorbable nature, they are devoid of the harsh materials reusable pads are full of. Those who use them seem to swear by them, claiming they somehow make your periods shorter, and keep you dry all day (unlike disposables that make you feel like you’re sitting in a swamp). Impulsively, I ordered a stupid amount on a whim but luckily have no complaints to date.
Once I’d gone all hippy with my sanitary pads, it got me thinking about my over reliance on painkillers around my time of the month.
I used to think of Mefenamic Acid as a miracle drug, because those magic pills were the only thing that ever banished my period pain. They also reduce bleeding for those of you who have a Moses parting the red sea situation going on every month, which is an added bonus.
That was until I discovered the drug’s frightening potential long term consequences, infertility being the one that struck me most. I knew I had to stop taking them if I wanted peace of mind.
Que Livia, a drug free FDA approved device that literally switches off period pain using a soft electric current that blocks pain signals using stickers attached to electrodes. It took me about two seconds to decide that I’d rather zap away my period pains with a vibrating sensation than drench my liver in painkillers and casually risk infertility.
On the downside, Livia’s price tag is eye watering, and a few inquisitive clever minds have pointed out that it is basically a hyped up, pink taxed TENS machine that you can get from Boots, Amazon or your local pharmacy for as little as a tenner (thank us later).
Strolling through the feminine care and sex play products section in any high street pharmacy always gets me eye rolling, because more often than not the lubricants on offer are filled with a bunch of ingredients that have no business going anywhere near a vagina.
Sex play products and cleansing
Most sexual lubricants contain glycerin, which is effectively sugar, something that feeds yeast like gasoline to a fire. Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop blog, I discovered the Sliquid brand of lubricants that are either silicone or water based and devoid of glycerin, making them super vagina friendly. Actually, their silicone based lubricants are almost too good, indestructible even, I once spilt some on my floor and have been slipping around on that floor for months, so don’t get it anywhere you don’t want it to go, it only seems to wash off skin.
You can be as natural as they come with your sex play products, but if the men (or women) you are sleeping with are using fragranced or harsh products down there, there’s a big chance these could be affecting you too. Ask them to switch to plain emollient moisturisers, like Dermol 500 or Diprobase which are also great for washing your intimate areas with too if plain water just doesn’t cut it for you.
As long as you’re not using fragranced soaps, douches or sprays on your genitals to try and make them smell like peaches (feminine washes do more harm than good, and vaginas are not meant to smell like fruit and flowers), it’s each to their own when it comes to intimate health.
But it’s about time education and honesty surrounding the topic became more prevalent, because who knew half the products marketed at us are toxic for our vaginas? While the unjustifiable tampon tax still exists, then at very least these products shouldn’t be harmful to our bodies.
Written by Rachel Mantock