Good hygiene is important for anyone, but it's especially crucial when you're sexually active. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections can be passed around during sexual activity, so it's important to know how to stay healthy when you’re having fun ;) . What should you do before and after having sex? How often should you go to the doctor? And what about douching? I'll do my best to walk you through these questions and hopefully you'll feel more confident in your hygiene routine!
There's an old-school belief that douches are a good hygiene option. This isn't more than a marketing gag to get more sales out of people's insecurities with their bodies. You should avoid douching because it flushes out the natural flora from your body, leaving you unguarded against bad bacteria. The vagina is self-cleaning, so there's no need to use any kind of soap or perfumed products internally when showering. Skin normally sweats and pubic hair can do its job and gather impurities, if you feel like something other than water is needed (i.e. if you work out or if you just had sex) go ahead and use a gentle soap on your vulva, but remember: never put it inside your vagina!
Don't use scented products such as lotions, baby oil or powders inside your vagina. Being freshly showered before sex is always a plus, but there's no reason why you should smell like peach, vanilla or any other artificial scent. Vaginas are sensitive to changes in pH which means they can easily be irritated if something feels harsh, learn to embrace your natural self and stay away from cosmetics that are not meant for intimate hygiene! As an alternative, you can try out flavored lubes or condoms that are designed specifically to be safe during sex.
While having to stop a heavy petting session when it's escalating can feel like a waste of time, washing before sex is essential to prevent any unpleasant surprise like toilet paper/sweat residues or irritation from hand to genitals cross contamination (can you imagine having to stop in a panic altogether because you were chopping chilis and forgot to clean your hands? Ouch!!!)
If you’re able, before getting down to business; wash yourself thoroughly, cut your nails, brush your teeth, and overall make sure there's nothing on your skin (like lotion or cologne) that could harm you or your partner.
Also, it's important to pee and wash up as soon as possible after sex. Doing so can help flush out bacteria from the urethra, reducing your risk of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which occurs when bacteria make their way up to the bladder through your urethra. The female urethra is more exposed than the male one, so it's specially important to follow this tip!
When you're menstruating, it might be tempting to wait longer between changes but it's essential to switch tampons/pads/cups etc. for a fresh one within the recommended time range to avoid infections.
It can be difficult to remember when you last changed your tampon or pad, especially if you have a busy day, but putting this first is a must to prevent bigger issues down the road. A good way of keeping track is by using a menstrual tracker app on your phone, setting alarms or asking someone to check in with you so that you always know when it’s time for another trip to the bathroom. Some popular apps to use include: Flo, Clue, Eve. They all track your cycle with helpful facts and tips along the way!
If you're worried about the environmental impact of using tampons and pads, you can easily switch to a menstrual cup, which is reusable and will last for years. A big bonus is that you can still have sexy times (by yourself or with a partner) while you're using your cup!
Condoms, dental dams and other forms of barrier protection are a big help for sexual safety and health, especially if you're starting out with a new partner and have yet to get tested. Keep in mind that while they are not 100 percent effective at preventing the spread of STIs, they are the best way to protect yourself from getting one. Using them effectively can also reduce clean up afterward, which is always a plus in my book!
They can be purchased at most drug stores or grocery stores that carry personal care products. If you don't see them on display near you or you'd prefer more privacy, there's a number of online stores like through Doordash, or CVS that can ship directly to your place!
If you have a sex toy that you share with your partner, such as a vibrator or dildo, make sure that both of you use different condoms on the toy or wash it before passing it around to others. This will help prevent any unwanted exchange of bodily fluids.
Remember to clean your toys after each session by washing them in warm water (not boiling hot) and soap or a sex-safe anti-bacterial cleaner. You should also cover all electrical items before washing them so they don't get damaged by getting wet inside (that’s your job)!
The bottom line is that your sexual hygiene is important and it’s not something to skimp on.
Pro-tip: Your healthcare provider can help you learn about your body and how it works. They’ll also be able to assess the risks you may have for STIs, infections, or other health issues depending on your habits and pre-existing conditions. If you have questions about your sexual health, bring them up at a check-up to get the answers you need!