Why It’s Important to Familiarise Yourself With Your Body and Your Intimate Health

When you truly sit and think about everything we can do as women, it’s wondrous. We are mothers, sisters, friends, daughters, wives, partners, CEOs, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists, educators, and more. Our bodies are built to nurture, deliver empathy to others, give life and change as we change.  

This is especially true for our vaginas. That intimate area where we first develop from girls into women, where we receive pleasure, bring life into the world, hold our uniqueness and our power. What a wonderful place to know, intimately.  

Here are just some of the reasons I want you to know your own body and intimate health:  

Your vagina is nothing to be ashamed of / Not all vulvas are built the same

The term ‘vagina’ is often thrown around to mean the genital area. Anatomically, the vagina is the long muscular canal that runs from your cervix to the outside of the body. The other stuff, including the urethra, clitoris, labia minora and majora, and vaginal opening, are actually called the ‘vulva’.  

The vulva is the part we see the most — in pornography, in media, or in the gym bathrooms — and sometimes it can cause concern when you see one that doesn’t look like yours. Well trust me, not all vulvas are built the same and yours is nothing to be ashamed of.  

Some labia (the ‘lips’) are a little longer than others, some more pink or brown, some with straight hair, curly hair, or no hair at all. For some women, the labia minora (‘inner lips’) hang longer than the labia majora (‘outer lips’). Whatever your vulva looks like — it is fine, it is normal, it is yours. 

There’s a line in Celeste Ng’s book ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by the character, Mia, who asks Elena’s book club: ‘Have you ever really looked at your own? How can we see ourselves if we’re afraid to look at who we are?’  

I encourage you to grab a hand mirror, throw your leg up on the bathroom sink, and look at your vulva. Take in all elements of your intimate area and know what they feel like, what they look like, and yes, even what they smell like. The more you get to know your own vulva and vaginal area, the less shame and stigma attached to it. 

Understanding what’s ‘normal’ will help identify any health concerns

Having a good idea about what your own genitals look, feel and smell like will help you notice any changes in the area. The general area should be similar with each menstrual cycle, only changing in discharge/bleed and colour every four weeks. Outside of that, the vulva should remain similar month-to-month.  

If you notice any itching, tenderness, change in colour, discharge, change in smells, lumps or bumps, have a closer look with that hand mirror and seek an opinion from your pharmacist or GP. When it comes to your own women’s health, you can never be too careful. 

How to tell if your discharge is ‘normal’

Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence but it can also be an indicator of infection. Your discharge can change colour and consistency, depending on what is going on in your vagina. These include:

  • White: White discharge is usually common at the beginning or the end of your menstrual cycle. If you’re experiencing white discharge that is a thick consistency, accompanied by itching, it could be a yeast infection.
  • Clear and watery: This is completely normal and can happen at any time during the month. It might be a little more common after exercise.
  • Clear and stretchy: When the discharge is colourless but has a mucous-like texture, this is an indicator that you’re ovulating.
  • Brown or red: Brown or bloody red coloured discharge is pretty normal, especially around your menstrual cycle. You can also experience a bloody discharge between your cycles, which is called spotting.
  • Green or yellow: If you’re experiencing discharge that is yellow or green in colour and thick or chunky in texture, it could be the sign of an infection. Head promptly to your GP for treatment.

Your vagina is self-cleaning

The pH balance of your vagina is designed to ward off other hostile bacteria. It really doesn’t like being messed with, and so that’s why you should put down the douches, the body washes and the oils. The vagina is self-cleaning, and use of any of these products can lead to thrush or infection. A little warm water in the shower, dried with a clean towel, will work just fine.  

If you have any specific questions about your genitals, speak to your doctor about a referral to the gynaecologist. They are more than happy to inform and educate you about the area and discuss any concerns you may have.