Genital hygiene is very important for preventing infections from developing and spreading.
Many women take the issue of genital hygiene very seriously even to the extreme of becoming obsessed in cleanliness and aroma. Over cleaning of the vagina can in fact be harmful.
The inside of the vagina rarely needs cleaning with the use of soap. It has a natural balance of substances that can become disturbed by washing causing any bacteria that enter to have the potential of developing into an infection.
The external part of the vagina, the labia, should only need cleaning once a day using a mild soap and water. The area should also be cleaned following sexual intercourse.
Washing should be performed using a singular front to back motion to avoid bacteria around the anus from coming into contact with the vagina or urethra (the external opening to the bladder).
The anus should be the last part to be cleaned so the bath water or flannel does not become contaminated with bacteria that would be spread to other parts of the body.
Wash cloths and towels should be individual and washed after use.
Particular attention should be paid in the incidence of thrush and cystitis. All items should be single use and washed immediately, not left in the laundry basket.
There is no need to increase washing frequency whilst menstruating, as long as appropriate sanitary wear is being used. The use of stockings instead of tights and cotton underwear with good coverage rather than thongs, can help reduce the likelihood of perspiration and the transfer of bacteria from the anal region being introduced to the genital area. Perfumes and deodorants should not be directly applied to the genital region.
The penis, scrotal area and anus, should only need cleaning once a day. No attempt should be made to try and clean the inside of the urethra; this can cause serious damage. Special care should be taken by uncircumcised men to make sure the head of the penis is cleaned. This can be done by allowing the warm water to act as a lubricant and the foreskin should be gently pulled back. Failure to clean this area properly will result in smegma collection, causing bad odours and an increased risk of infection. It is important to remember to return the foreskin to its natural position after cleansing and drying. This practice is not to be performed on boys whose foreskin is not able to be retracted. Trying to force it back can result in serious damage. The penis should be cleaned on the outside only.
The area should be cleaned after sex, even if wearing a condom, to prevent bacterial build-up and unpleasant smells arising. Wearing loose fitting cotton underwear can reduce the chance of perspiration build up and subsequent aromas. Do not apply aftershaves or deodorants directly to the genital area.
If either partner has a known infection, they should tell the other person so adequate provisions can be made such as the use of condoms.
If during intercourse, sex toys are implemented, these too should be cleaned straight after as per manufacturer’s requirements. Many manufacturers provide cleansing wipes or equipment to aid this process.
Hand washing should be a part of genital hygiene as hands should be washed after using the toilet, and should be taught to children to become part of everyday routine.