By Ina Joseph
Masks, massages, exfoliating, and steaming. These are just a few of the things that come to mind when we think about self-care tools. But why is it that when we think of these tools, they’re often associated with every part of our bodies.... except our genitals?
As women, we’re taught to take diligent care of our faces and legs and even armpits, but never our vaginas. The giggles and smirks the term “yoni care” may elicit are common; that doesn't mean they should be the norm. As Sustain co-founder Meika Hollender boldly states in her growingly popular period-care campaign, “treat your vagina better than your face”: and it’s true! Just like any other part of us, we cannot take our yonis for granted. Your privates require and deserve the same amount of pampering that any other part of you would get on a “self-care Sunday”, so we are going to show you how.
Here are some tips on how to pamper your privates.
We figured we’d jump right in, full “steam” ahead. The benefits of yoni steaming, or vaginal steaming, have been fraught with debate. But as long as you practice it safely, the sensation can feel soothing at the very least. This traditional Korean practice consists of placing an herbal blend of your choosing in a steam bath, then sitting over said bath with your yoni exposed. Purported benefits can include reduction of hormone imbalances, genital pain or discomfort, and most importantly, stress. While there isn’t much scientific evidence to prove said benefits, anecdotal evidence from women who have enjoyed the experience includes the praises of doula and sex health expert Deyonna Phillips. She’s cited yoni steaming as helping resolve her menstrual cramps and hormonal breakouts. "I think it’s amazing self-care to yoni steam at home!" Phillips said in an Instagram live series on yoni-care. She even suggests ways to create your own natural yoni-steaming blends!
Vaginal exfoliation is a practice to indulge in gently and sparingly. Just like anywhere else on the body, exfoliation on the pubic mound and bikini line can help reduce ingrown hairs, genital acne, and other forms of vulvar irritation. However, nothing is good in excess. Performed with the wrong products or too frequently, over-exfoliating can cause inflammation and infection. Stanford Medical Center OB-GYN Dr. Leah Millheiser says gently exfoliating the vulva “three times per week will remove dead skin cells and help prevent ingrown hairs.”
Bath soaks in heavily fragranced, colorful bombs and bubbles may feel good to you, but they aren’t doing your yoni any good. When it comes to vaginal hygiene, stick to gentle and minimally invasive products that won’t disrupt your vaginal pH balance. This goes for anything from soaps, to baby wipes. "We're talking about the most sensitive tissue in the body, so the less perfumes and chemicals, the better," Yale School of Medicine’s Dr. Mary Jane Minkin told Buzzfeed in 2018. Also remember that the vagina is self-cleaning, so sticking to warm water will suffice when cleaning the vulva. However, if you do insist on purchasing vaginal hygiene products, here’s a list of fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and all around vag-friendly options that will do right by your yoni.
Your Kegel, or your pelvic floor, consists of the muscles underneath your uterus, bladder, and bowel. Unlike some of the suggestions in this list, the benefits of Kegel exercises are well-documented and undisputed. Incorporating a simple set of exercises into your daily routine can result in long-term benefits for both men and women, such as preventing bladder leaks or reducing lower back pain and pelvic organ prolapse.
We get it; doctor’s visits can really feel like a drag. But when it comes to checking in on your vaginal health, there’s no better form of yoni-care. Your OB-GYN, or obstetrician-gynecologist, should be one of the most important healthcare professionals in your life. Because of the gender health gap, there can be a lot of misinformation surrounding sexual and reproductive health. Your gynecologist should be your go-to resource to start filling in those blanks. Anything from how to better keep track of your menstrual cycle to whether a change in smell down there is cause for concern, your gyno is there to help.
Annual visits to your OB-GYN should start at age 21, unless you are sexually active before then. These visits can help prevent everything from HPV to HIV with the proper screenings and exams. Keep in mind OB-GYN visits might look like during a pandemic; having to re-negotiate an arrangement with your doctor shouldn’t mean neglecting your gynecologist visits altogether!
Thongs, begone! Or at least some of the time. One of the most critical and most on-going forms of yoni-care is wearing the right underwear. Try to stick to underwear with a 100% cotton lined gusset - the piece of material sewn into the crotch of your underwear. Wearing the right materials down there not only makes your yoni feel more comfortable, but can also prevent yeast infections and other forms of irritation.
The Cristal Hipster features breathable sports-grade mesh and a 100% cotton gusset
Embrace It In Its Natural State
From the scent coming out of it to the hair growing around it, there are so many things about the vulva that, while often stigmatized, are totally normal. The less you do to your yoni, the better. Avoid the waxing, bleaching, covering, and manipulating away from its natural state. Instead, we suggest you get familiar with what’s down there. Sleep in the nude to let it breath. Know the difference between its natural odor and odors to be weary of, and don’t feel ashamed of either one. Maybe even take a look every now and then, à la coming-of-age feminist awakening.
It’s important we’re familiar with every part of us not only so we can recognize when something is wrong, but also so we can recognize when we’re in need of some TLC. After all, how are we supposed to take care of something that we’re not totally familiar with?