You may think of words like “pH,” “acidic,” “basic,” and “microbiome” as the vocabulary of chemists, but in reality, they hit closer to home than you think. Each of these terms plays an important role in achieving and maintaining your vaginal health, and preventing infections like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections! However, sex can often throw a wrench into the works—let’s get into how to maintain a healthy vagina and a healthy sex life.
What is the vaginal microbiome?
A microbiome is any collection of microbes—bacteria, fungi, and viruses—that naturally live in and on our bodies. When you’re healthy, these microbes live in balance and perform important roles in your body’s various day-to-day functions. Different body parts host different types of microbes that assist your health and well-being. You may have heard about the gut microbiome in recent years—science is learning more and more about the huge role the microbes in your gut may play in fitness, mental health, and, of course, digestion and nutrition. The same goes for your vagina! Not only does the vaginal microbiome help keep the reproductive system healthy and functioning as it should, but since the vagina is an opening to the outside world, the microbiome must also help your immune system defend against infections. This is where pH comes in.
What is vaginal pH?
First, a quick review of pH: many of us haven’t thought about pH since high school (or college, for you STEM majors out there). “pH” is a scale from 0.0-14.0 that measures how acidic a solution is—fluids with a pH below 7.0 are considered acidic, while anything above 7.0 is considered basic (7.0 is perfectly neutral). For reference, drinking water has a pH between 6.5-8.5. A healthy vagina typically sits between 3.8 and 4.5—this moderate acidity is the result of helpful microbes in your vagina that help fend off infection! Acidity limits harmful bacteria’s ability to grow. Changes in environment, lifestyle, or medication have a big influence on your pH, so a new sexual partner, body wash, or antibiotic can easily interfere with your microbiome and cause problems. When this occurs, it’s much easier for infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections to take hold.
Fun Fact: Semen has a pH between 7.2 and 7.8 to help sperm survive the journey through the vagina’s acidic environment. The more you know! 🌈
How do I know if my pH is disrupted?
If you’ve ever dealt with a vaginal infection, you know how uncomfortable those symptoms can be. Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in the US, with symptoms including unusual odor, gray-greenish discharge, and pain. Yeast infections are the second most common infections and typically involve vaginal itching and white, chunky discharge. Testing at the doctor to confirm an infection and testing your vaginal microbiome with an at-home test like Evvy will help you understand the specific types of bacteria or fungi associated with bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. The best treatment for acute symptoms is prescription medication (prescription antibiotics for BV and prescription antifungals to treat yeast) to return the vaginal microbiome to balance. Once your acute symptoms are under control, you can begin to assess your overall health and lifestyle to make sure your symptoms don’t come back. Holistic preventatives like Boric Acid and Probiotics can support your vaginal microbiome and help prevent imbalance.
What do I do if my symptoms keep coming back?
It’s extremely common for people with vaginas to experience repeat vaginal infections—about 50% of women will get repeat BV within a year and nearly 138 million women suffer from recurrent yeast infections. These recurrent infections are a sign that your vagina may need some extra help staying balanced! One great way to track your vaginal health is by using a vaginal health test that can provide you information about your vaginal microbiome. Testing regularly can let you know if you’re on the right track or if you need to make some changes to your lifestyle or treatment regimen.
How do I maintain pH balance during sex?
Sex is one of the most common activities that can trigger a change in pH and lead to BV, UTIs, and yeast infections. Think about it: it’s messy, it involves another person’s germs, and there’s often a decent amount of friction and irritation on very delicate skin. Lube is one way to ease the irritation that can be brought on by sex. It’s important to stay away from fragrances and flavors—these ingredients tend to cause irritation and many people are often allergic. Wisp’s silicone-based Harmonizing Lube skips the BS to deliver a silky smooth sexual experience (it’s waterproof too!). It’s formulated to be non-irritating and perfect for those with sensitive skin. Plus, you can never have too much—lube can increase pleasure for everyone involved.
Hygiene before and after sex also plays an important role in making sure your microbiome remains in balance. Using a non-irritating body wash (like wisp’s Balancing Wash) before sexual activity will help keep any dirt, sweat, and grime from being pushed into your vagina, and washing up afterward (and drying off) will keep harmful bacteria from thriving in a warm, moist environment.
How to stop recurrent infections
If you find yourself experiencing the same vaginal symptoms over and over again, it’s super frustrating to have to go to the doctor’s office every time, tell them about your symptoms, pick up a prescription, and rinse and repeat the next month. The best way to resolve these symptoms once and for all is to get to the root cause—these steps can help.
- Treat acute symptoms right away. Address any burning or itching with prescription treatment—but you already knew that! If you have meds you know work for you, you can order them from wisp and have them delivered to your door or pick them up from your local pharmacy same-day!
- Testing, testing. We live in the future! You can now get vaginal testing in the privacy of your own home. There are numerous home testing options that evaluate your vaginal health and offer you insight into what’s going on with your own body.
- Holistic care. Prescription meds aren’t the only science-based way to support your vaginal health. Boric Acid and Probiotics, as well as UTI supplements like D-Mannose, are well-researched and effective for many of us who struggle with chronic infections. Since every body is different, it’s important to try incorporating different things into your routine to see what might work best for you!
Your vagina is a whole ecosystem that needs care, just like the rest of your health! Understanding what’s happening in your vaginal microbiome, especially when you are experiencing symptoms, can help inform your next steps. That's why we’ve teamed up with Evvy for Sexual Health Awareness Month! Through 9/19 get $10 off your Evvy test or membership with code BORICACID. Check us out on social and let us know how you’re doing @hellowisp and @evvy.