Illustrated by: Mbithe Mutavi
In the last 15 years, one of the most searched terms on Google by Kenyans has been related to women’s health. According to data released by the tech giant in August 2021, six of the top nine most searched health issues were related to women.
Source: Google Trends
This demonstrates a possible information gap in our society that is not open about these topics. As a result, women and girls turn to the internet for answers to questions about their own bodies. The internet, on the other hand, is rife with misinformation.
Here are some facts about how to keep your vaginal health in check.
Make an appointment with your gynaecologist at least once a year for STI screening, and more frequently if you enter new relationships.
“If you’re in a new relationship, you should know each other’s health status rather than later discovering that one of you has something the other didn’t know about,” said Dr Karen Muthembwa, resident Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Nairobi, and health blogger.
Aside from testing for STIs, an annual gynaecology exam includes a breast exam to look for lumps, skin changes, or nipple discharge, a pelvic exam to look for masses, growths, or other abnormalities in your vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, rectum, and pelvis, including your ovaries, and a pap smear to check for cervical cancer.
Eat healthily and get some exercise.
“When the body is healthy, the vagina is healthy,” Dr Muthembwa explained.
This means that maintaining your overall bodily health helps to maintain your vaginal health. Consume a well-balanced diet. Avoid drinking and smoking because chronic alcohol abuse can impair sexual function and nicotine can inhibit sexual arousal. Substance abuse can also lead to poor physical and mental health, which can interfere with sexual function.
Clean from the front to the back, not from the back to the front.
Wiping with this method prevents feces from being deposited in your urethra, the opening through which urine exits the body, which can lead to urinary tract infections. If you clean from the back to the front by accident, gently rinse the urethral area with cool water. However, do not use a strong hose or shower to force microbes further up the urethra.
“Wipe yourself with a lint-free cloth or just clean running water,” Dr Muthembwa advised.
A bidet, which has a spray nozzle that releases pressurized water to clean your posterior, is another option. This may be preferable for people who find tissue paper irritating to their skin.
Have a sexual relationship that is healthy.
When having sex, use a condom to avoid getting STIs, especially if you’re not going fully exclusive with one person. “There’s nothing better than having good, healthy sex.” “You’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re safe,” Dr Muthembwa said.
Choose your partner carefully.
Because you and your sexual partner share a lot of sexual health information, their opinion should not be harmful or shameful to you in any way. Being with someone who understands the female reproductive system gives you the confidence to take charge of your own sexual health without having any doubts.
“Don’t choose someone who makes you feel bad about yourself and how you smell, or someone who tells you how your vagina should look,” Dr Muthembwa advised.
Obtain an HPV vaccination.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against the virus that causes cervical cancer in some women. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection on a global scale; so common, in fact, that most sexually active men and women will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives, and some may be reinfected.
This vaccine is most effective in young girls aged 10 to 13, because it takes effect before they have their first sexual encounters later in life. However, you should see your gynaecologist for a test. You can be given the vaccine if you are negative. Those who are already infected with the virus will not be able to receive the vaccine.
Consult your doctor if you are unsure.
Do not be afraid to talk to your doctor about your concerns or what you’ve read on the internet. Despite the fact that patient-doctor consultation times are frequently limited, you have the right to that information. Book an appointment with your general doctor or gynaecologist if you notice anything unusual about your vaginal area or general reproductive area, such as an unpleasant odor, itching, discolored discharge, more painful than usual menstrual cramps, and so on.
“This article was produced by the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with Article 19, Meedan and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).”