Hygiene Down Under

-Written by Dr. Anjali Mediboina, House Surgeon, ASRAM

“...par koi kholke baati nahi karna chaahata! Aakhar intimate area ke baat hai na?

(But no one openly talks about these things! It’s about intimate areas, after all, na?)

These are lines that a popular actress says in an ad for “an intimate area wash” (name withheld to avoid being sued, lol). If you’re not familiar, these washes are “expert hygiene washes with (insert skin care chemicals here) that maintain your vaginal pH at an ideal 3.5” (words from an ad, not mine).

There have been a lot of “intimate area” products in the market in the past few years. Washes, serums, whitening creams… but how useful are these?

For Vulvas and Vaginas

(A quick refresher: the vulva is the outside part, basically skin. The vagina is the inside part)

First of all, vaginal pH ranges from 3.8-4.5. And vaginas are self-cleaning; you don’t need any product to “help maintain” it! If you look at any “intimate wash” instructions, it’ll tell you to apply the wash to the external surface, i.e. the vulvar area (which has no need for pH balancing)

Using any kind of product inside your vagina will cause dryness and infections. So, as long as you use a good neutral soap and plain old water outside the vagina, i.e. on the vulva, you’re good to go.There are some factors that can cause irritation and dryness in your vulva, such as using heavily perfumed soaps, or repeated cleaning/douching. Also, make sure your vulvar area and underwear is nice and dry; dampness can also lead to infections.

Discharge that is white/transparent-ish and non-smelling is also normal. In fact, it’s a sign that your vagina is doing its job and cleaning itself regularly!

As for whitening creams, the area around your genitals are naturally darker in color. It’s just how it is. Whether these products work or not, it is perfectly natural, and there is no need to be ashamed of it. 

For Penises

Unfortunately, penises are not self-cleaning and need to be treated with care. The most important thing is to avoid buildup of smegma, which is a whitish, foul smelling, oily substance that builds up underneath the foreskin. Smegma buildup can lead to inflammation, and even extreme conditions called balanitis. This can also happen in circumcised penises, so make sure you wash regularly, replace the foreskin back over the head of the penis and pat it dry. It’s also important to do the same with the scrotal area.

Now, there are “intimate area products” for men as well, and while I cannot find any information that discourages one to use them, they also don’t seem overly necessary. I think the point is to avoid harsh, heavily perfumed products and to make sure that you keep your genitals dry and clean. 

Pubic Hair

Hair is completely normal. Don’t feel pressured to groom your pubic hair in a certain way. In fact pubic hair has a purpose, too: it helps prevent friction (and ultimately, irritation) and also prevents infections. But, if you do prefer removing hair, make sure you do it in a safe and hygienic way.

There are different methods of pubic hair removal, waxing, shaving and trimming being the most common. (Apparently, threading your pubic hair is also a thing, but WHO DOES THAT AND WHY?)

While it depends on your pain tolerance, shaving or trimming is actually recommended over waxing; repeated waxing can be harsh on the skin, and also cause micro-cuts, making you more prone to infections. 

When shaving, it is recommended to use a different blade each time, or at least have a separate razor/scissor for your pubic area. 

To conclude, your genitals aren’t as high maintenance as you think, just make sure you keep them dry, clean and happy… and you’ll be just as happy too 🙂

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