Vaginal Health Through the Ages

What you need to know

Vaginal health affects more than just your sex life, and it is an important part of a woman’s overall health. Vaginal problems can affect fertility, relationships, and can also be a sign of disease in other parts of your body.  

The vagina is a soft tissue tube that opens from the vulva, and ends at the neck of the uterus. The walls of the vagina are covered by soft folds and surrounded by muscles and other organs. In an adult it is slightly curved and ranges between 7-12cm (3″-4″) in length.

The vagina is a combintion of working parts that each have a unique function in a woman’s body

There is no such thing as a vagina that is too small or too large. It changes in response to hormones, life stage, and physical responses.

The vagina can be used for insertion of tampons, penis, fingers, and also, for insertion of medication. It is an exit tube for babies, menstrual blood, and discharge. Finally, it serves as a connection for sperm that is deposited with ejaculation that travels from the vagina, through the uterus, into the fallopian tubes.  

The vagina changes a lot in a woman’ life. It is strongly influenced by changing hormone levels throughout the body. Before puberty, is it is small, with a thin mucus lining, and as puberty approaches, it gets larger and the skin inside becomes thicker.

From puberty to menopause, the vagina undergoes many changes during a woman’s lifetime

Once puberty starts, the walls of the vagina are thickened, and blood flow increases. During pregnancy, the blood flow to the vagina is significantly higher, and it may feel swollen, with an increased amount of discharge.  

The vagina changes a lot in a woman’ life. It is strongly influenced by changing hormone levels throughout the body.

Menopause, with a decrease in hormones, will make the vaginal tissue thin, with little blood flow, causing it to be dry and irritated.

Vaginal health can be affected by many factors. Antibiotics may increase the risk of developing infections, such as yeast. The use of condoms, if one is latex sensitive, may result in a red and inflamed vagina. Unprotected intercourse with at-risk partners may increase the chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection. Forceful sex may result in trauma to the vagina.

Vaginal health can be affected by many factors…The use of condoms, if one is latex sensitive…Unprotected intercourse with at-risk partners….Forceful sex…

Vaginal tears are common during a vaginal delivery, which may lead to long-term scarring and pain. A vaginal delivery can also decrease muscle tone of the vagina, making it feel and look looser. Certain feminine hygiene products may irritate the opening to the vagina, causing itching, burning, and even painful intercourse.

Medical treatment should be given for vaginal infections, pain, or trauma. Products that irritate the delicate vaginal tissue should be avoided, and to that end, douches, vaginal washes and strong soaps should also be eliminated from any routine. The vagina is designed to be self-cleaning and changing the bacteria or pH of it will prevent the vaginal tissue from doing its job.

Keeping the vagina healthy is easy. Be sexually responsible by using condoms or maintaining a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who is free of sexually transmitted disease. Get vaccinated with the newest HPV vaccine and also, Hepatitis B. Kegel exercises help tone the pelvic floor muscles that can stretch during delivery. Discuss medication with your physician, and understand possible vaginal side effects. Seek advice with vaginal dryness at menopause, as there are options for treatment to alleviate the problem of painful intercourse.  

Don’t let embarrassment or shyness prevent an open and honest discussion with your primary care provider about any concerns about your vagina at any age.

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