This month I wish to share with you a book that every woman should have in their library, as it carries a mission near and dear to me – The V Book by Dr. Elizabeth Gunther Stewart. Can you guess the topic? You got it…our lady parts. Dr. Stewart provides an owner’s manual, of sorts, teaching women about their vulva and vagina. Page 1 of the book says it all, “Your private parts shouldn’t be private to you.” She is very clear that this is not a “cocktail party conversation,” but a topic you should feel very comfortable to explore and communicate. You should be able to talk about your vulva and vagina just as you freely speak about your blood pressure and heart rate. It is no argument that our culture, family dynamics and life experiences do certainly dictate the relationship we have, or lack thereof, with our body. As a female, we all know each of us have a vulva and a vagina but history and evolving cultures have either photo shopped it out or sent it mainstream. There seems to be no happy medium. I, join Dr. Stewart’s mission and goal, to empower women to know their bodies, to be informed and to speak the language of our intricate anatomy with utmost certainty and confidence. The vulva and vagina have a topographic landscape just as any map. It is vital that one learns the changes that take place with each stage of life, the appropriate vulvovaginal care and when and how to communicate any concerns, needs or uncertainties. The vulva and vagina are very important to our overall health and wellness. So listen up my Sisters…
First let’s talk about anatomy. Do you know your vestibule from your fourchette or your labia majora from your minora? The vulva and vagina are complex organs, with orchestrated form and function. This V-organ and its individual components function as a living biosphere, swirling with hormones, functional glands and transitory passengers of various bacteria and yeast. The interplay of this community is certainly influenced by one’s age and stage in life, just as we are influenced by the time of year and our weather pattern. It is a dynamic environment and must be monitored. This is no different than the way we currently promote self-breast awareness and performing our own breast exams. I challenge you to go to the mirror and practice your V-awareness. Learn what your vulva looks like, as no two vulvae are created alike. As you transition through each life stage, be aware of the changes that occur. The vulva and vagina are very different when compared across puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Take heed of each life stage, its needs and that which keeps the vulvovaginal environment in balance. Appropriate daily V-care depends on this knowledge to promote vulvovaginal health.
I receive numerous calls daily regarding discharge, pain and irritation. Depending on your age as well as style of V-care, the etiology can vary widely. Many women perceive vaginal discharge as abnormal. Unless it is malodorous or causing irritation, it can be entirely normal with respect to age, day of the menstrual cycle or even pregnancy status. Bottom line, no matter the condition, the treatment varies and not always easily treated over the counter, over the phone or without a pelvic exam. When it comes to the vulva and vagina, when she is angry, she stalks. When she is ignored, she persists. We all know that she will NOT be ignored! Pain or irritation can be a warning sign of infection or even cancer. If symptoms persist or do not improve with initial treatment, please seek medical evaluation to determine the source of your symptoms.
No matter your age or life circumstance, it is important to know how to best care for your vulva and vagina. This is a buzzing industry, whether it be at the drug store, on-line or provided by aesthetic services. You can spend a small fortune. Although the pleasant scents, frills and treatments seem like a perfectly relaxing way to indulge, the regret comes in the aftermath! The vulva and vagina thrive with specific requirements. There is a balance of tissue integrity, environmental demands, and hormones, bacteria and yeast. Depending on the treatment, this balance may be upset and sends such symbiotic relationships into raging conflict. This conflict brings about opportunistic infection, irritation and pain. Daily V-care can be as simple as using water, wearing cotton, avoiding perfumes, dyes or soaps and listening to the changing needs of your vulva and vagina.
I challenge you to consider your vulvovaginal health. It is a matter of good health, wellness and ensuring a danger sign does not go unnoticed. Please seek out the references I have offered below. As always, you are welcome to come see me as your Vulvovaginal Healthcare Advocate!
“The V Book “– A Doctor’s Guide To Complete Vulvovaginal Health. Elizabeth Gunther Stewart, M.D. and Paula Spencer.
Vulvovaginal Health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.