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Vaginal health: 11 questions you may be too embarrassed to ask your ob-gyn

Your vaginal health is essential to your overall reproductive health. But the care and keeping of a healthy vagina need not be complicated. Here we answer some of your most pressing questions, covering everything from underwear and douching to pubic hair and labia. (And for the record, it’s completely OK to ask your ob-gyn about any of them!) Let’s get started.

1. What type of underwear should I consider to help reduce yeast infections?

According to Cleveland Clinic, wearing cotton underwear and clothes that aren’t too tight may reduce the risk of a yeast infection.1 Also, it’s OK to wear thongs! A 2018 Obstetrics & Gynecology study showed that thong use is not associated with higher instances of urinary tract infections or vaginal infections.2

2. What should I do instead of douching?

One of the amazing things about your vagina is that it naturally makes its own mucus to keep itself clean.3 So, instead of douching, trust that your vagina does a great job of cleaning itself!3 A healthy vagina relies on a balance of bacteria, and douching can kill “good” bacteria, allowing too much “bad” bacteria to grow.3

If you notice an odor you don’t like, talk to your healthcare provider.3 Douching only covers up odors — it doesn’t eliminate them — and an odor can signify a vaginal infection or sexually transmitted infection (STI).3 Also, you might notice a subtle odor coming from your vagina from time to time that sometimes grows a bit stronger with physical activity.3 The Office on Women’s Health describes this scent as musky.3 That can be perfectly normal for a healthy vagina! You can wash your external genitalia with warm water.3 You may be able to use a mild soap, or you may find you are sensitive to it.3 Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best type of soap to use.

3. Can I lose my virginity by using a tampon?

No, you can’t lose your virginity by using a tampon.4 According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “the presence or absence of a hymen does not indicate ‘virginity.’”4 This myth persists because some people believe the hymen, “a thin membrane that partially covers the entrance to the vagina,”4 can only be torn after having sex for the first time. But your hymen can also stretch or tear when you use a tampon or when you go through a medical procedure.4

4. How many tampons per day is normal?

The number of tampons people use per day can vary greatly. Instead of paying attention to the total number of tampons or pads you go through per day, keep an eye on the signs that you may be changing them too often. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs of heavy menstrual bleeding include “[soaking] through one or more pads or tampons every hour for several hours in a row” and/or needing to change tampons during the night.5 If you experience this, talk to your healthcare provider.

5. How do I safely groom my pubic hair?

The American Academy of Dermatology Association offers these tips if you choose to groom your pubic hair:6

  • It’s best to trim your pubic hair yourself.
  • Don’t share your hair removal tools.
  • Stand up while you trim to avoid injury — most shaving injuries occur when lying down.
  • When shaving, use a clean razor and moisturize the shaved area after.
  • If you use an aesthetician for waxing, make sure they don’t reuse the same stick with each dip into the hot wax.
  • Talk to a dermatologist before opting for laser hair removal.

Why all the fuss? Even just a small nick in the genital area can increase your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).6

6. Why does my vagina hurt when I have sex?

If your vagina hurts when you have sex, it may be due to an infection or underlying medical condition, such as vaginismus (spasming of vaginal muscles due to a fear of being hurt or prior trauma), endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.7 That’s why it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.7 Painful intercourse is also called dyspareunia and can sometimes be felt on the vulva or in the vagina, pelvis or uterus.7

Pain during sex can cause emotional and mental strain in addition to physical discomfort.7 Talking to a healthcare professional can help you find the root cause.7 If you’re feeling shy about bringing this up during an appointment, know that you won’t be the first and you certainly won’t be the last — 10 to 20% of people in the U.S. experience this type of pain at some point in their lives.7

7. Why does my vagina sometimes make weird noises?

According to Cleveland Clinic, that noise is likely vaginal gas (also known as vaginal flatulence or queefing).8 It may be embarrassing, but it’s simply the noise of trapped air exiting your vagina — and it’s completely normal.8 Air can become trapped for all sorts of reasons: having sex, using a tampon, having weak pelvic floor muscles undergoing a pelvic exam or exercising.8

If it happens frequently, pelvic floor exercises may help.8 If it’s happening enough to affect your lifestyle, talk to your healthcare provider.8

8. Is it normal for my labia to look like that?

Your labia are unique to you.9 They might be a shade of pink, purple, brown or black, and might not match the rest of your skin’s color.9The size of your labia also may change with age.9 You may notice that your outer or inner labia are longer, or that your labia are asymmetrical — these traits are normal, too.9

What’s not normal? A bright red color and inflammation.9 If you experience these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

9. Can I visit my ob-gyn if I’m on my period?

Yes! There are actually benefits to being on your period during the appointment. It can make the insertion of an IUD easier, and it can be an ideal time to start a new birth control method because you know you’re not pregnant.10

In years past doctors’ offices often required patients to reschedule their appointment if they were due to have a Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer. However, Pap test technology has changed, and in most cases, rescheduling is no longer necessary.10 We know, you’re probably thinking: How exactly will this work? Just tell the nurse you’re on your period when you’re called back for your appointment. They will put a disposable covering on the exam table before the procedure.10 (Try not to feel embarrassed — they likely deal with this every day.) One caveat: If you are experiencing heavy bleeding, call ahead and ask if rescheduling is necessary.10

10. I keep getting UTIs — am I cleaning my vagina well enough?

According to the Office on Women’s Health, typically urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria (and in some cases yeast) that makes its way into your urinary tract.11 If you’re experiencing recurring UTIs, talk to your healthcare provider. In the meantime, here are some tips from the Office on Women’s Health on how to keep your vagina and surrounding areas as clean as possible:

  • To avoid infection, wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom.
  • Thoroughly wash the outer lips of your genitals and anus every day.
  • Don’t douche.
  • Pee when you have to — don’t hold it.
  • Pee before and after sex.
  • Wear cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch.
  • Don’t stay in damp swimsuits or sweaty clothing — change out of them as soon as possible.
  • Opt for showers over baths or keep baths to 30 minutes or less.11

11. What are some signs that my vagina is unhealthy?

You should contact your healthcare provider if you experience vaginal bleeding in between your periods, or if you see a change in how much vaginal discharge you’re having, an unpleasant or unfamiliar odor or a color you’re not used to.12 This advice also applies if you notice redness, itching or a protrusion in your vagina or the surrounding area.12

Repeat after us: Your vagina is nothing to be embarrassed about! If you have any questions, talk to your doctor. Feeling nervous? Just remember that they’ve heard it all — and there is no shame in seeking care and education.

Related Articles


  1. Cleveland Clinic. Vaginal yeast infection. Updated September 2, 2022. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5019-vaginal-yeast-infection
  2. Hamlin A, Sheeder J, Muffly T. Brief vs thong hygiene in obstetrics and gynecology (b-thong): a survey study. Obstet. Gynecol. 2018;131:108S. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000533466.62923.69. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2018/05001/Brief_vs_Thong_Hygiene_in_Obstetrics_and.375.aspx
  3. Office on Women’s Health. Douching. Updated December 29, 2022. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/douching
  4. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Vulvovaginal health. Updated January 2022. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/vulvovaginal-health
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heavy menstrual bleeding. Updated June 23, 2023. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 7 ways to prevent injuries while trimming pubic hair. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/hair/trimming-pubic-hair
  7. Cleveland Clinic. Dyspareunia (painful intercourse). Updated October 14, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12325-dyspareunia-painful-intercourse
  8. Cleveland Clinic. Vaginal gas. Updated September 20, 2022. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24185-vaginal-gas
  9. Cleveland Clinic. Is my vagina normal? Updated May 7, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-my-vagina-normal/
  10. Cleveland Clinic. Can you go to a gynecologist appointment when you’re on your period? Updated June 29, 2023. Accessed July 1, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-you-go-to-a-gynecologist-appointment-when-youre-on-your-period/
  11. Office on Women’s Health. Urinary tract infections. Updated February 22, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-tract-infections
  12. MayoClinic. Vagina: what’s typical, what’s not. Updated December 6, 2022. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/vagina/art-20046562

7 questions about your period you’ve never dared to ask

Chances are that you learned the basics about your period sometime ago but not what you really want to know. And what you really want to know, you may be too embarrassed to ask.
Rest assured, you’re not the only one and we've got answers to seven (perfectly normal) period-related questions.