Vaginal pH Balance: Understanding Intimate Health
Your vagina is a pretty amazing part of your anatomy. Not only does it bring pleasure, it also helps you create and bring life into the world. Add to that its ability to keep itself clean, and you have one extraordinary body part. The vagina cleans itself by secreting natural fluids and maintaining a healthy pH to encourage the growth of good bacteria and discourage harmful bacteria from taking up residence.
What is pH?
PH is a scale of acidity and alkalinity. The measurements range from 0 to 14: a pH lower than 7 is acidic and a pH higher than 7 is considered alkaline. A healthy vaginal pH is between 3.8 and 4.5 – so the vagina is healthiest when it has an acidic pH level.
Why is pH important to vaginal health?
A slightly acidic vagina is the perfect environment for the types of good bacteria that help keep your vagina clean and healthy – and most harmful bacteria have a hard time surviving in an acidic environment. Keeping those harmful bacteria at bay is not only important for general hygiene and comfort, but also to help avoid infection and diseases. A pH level above 4.5 can make you more susceptible to vaginitis, or inflammation of the vaginal tissue, which can be caused by infections like yeast and bacterial vaginosis (the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge) or irritation from feminine products. Some vaginal infections can even make you more susceptible to other STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
5 Things that Can Alter Your Vaginal pH and How to Avoid Them
There are many factors that can affect your vaginal pH balance – but don’t worry! There are also steps you can take to minimize those effects.
1. Douching: Some women might feel that they need to clean inside their vaginas with water or cleansers, this is not necessary since your vagina cleans itself. Even plain water has a pH of 7 – far above the acidic ideal we want – and fragrances used in some douches can irritate your vagina. Washing the external part of your vagina (the vulva) is all that’s necessary. If you notice a strong or unpleasant smell, make an appointment to see your gynecologist, you could have an infection.
2. Intercourse: The pH of semen is between 7.1 and 8, so introducing it into your vagina can trigger a change in your balance. If you experience irritation after sex, try using condoms to avoid upsetting the balance.
3. Menstruation: Blood has a pH of 7.4, so during your period your pH is elevated. Most women’s bodies can handle the difference, but some find that they are prone to infection during or after menstruation. Pay close attention to your discharge around this time for any sudden changes and if you use a cleanser – at any point in your cycle – be sure that it is pH balanced and gentle enough to help you maintain a healthy and comfortable vagina.
4. Tampons: Tampons absorb your menstrual fluid and all bacteria – good and bad. They can stop the good bacteria from keeping your pH balanced and can give the bad bacteria a surface to grow on. Try out a reusable menstrual cup instead – they collect your flow rather than absorbing it and are made of medical-grade silicone, so your natural balance is protected.
5. Breastfeeding or Menopause: Our hormones, especially estrogen, play a large part in keeping our vaginas healthy and our pH acidic. When women breastfeed or start menopause estrogen levels are low, sometimes resulting in conditions like vaginal atrophy and causing higher pH. If you’re breastfeeding or going through menopause, talk to your doctor about solutions to keep your pH in the right range. They can suggest supplements or prescribe creams to help you stay balanced.
There is also some evidence that probiotics – good bacteria like those in yogurt – can help increase the amount of good bacteria and keep your pH acidic – but not all scientists agree on the effectiveness of probiotics for prevention of infection. Paying close attention to your body is an important part of avoiding pH issues and infection – that said, remember that it’s normal for the consistency and scent of your discharge to change throughout your menstrual cycle. If you’re concerned about any symptoms you can always visit your doctor for a check-up.
Please note that advice offered by Intimina may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners.
A collective group of “lady experts” at Intimina who love sharing our personal experiences, even when they are a little too personal. We believe it’s time to start breaking down the taboos around menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, and start owning our female health.