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Vulvar Health Hints

February 20, 2011

by Caroline F. Pukall Ph.D., C.Psych.
Associate Professor & Director, Sex Therapy Service
Department of Psychology
Queen’s University

Listed below are some general hints for vulvar health. If you suffer from vulvodynia, this information will likely not provide a cure for, or significant relief from, your pain – but it may help prevent further irritation. Please note that you do not have to follow all of the vulvar health hints at the same time; rather, choose the ones that best suit your lifestyle and try them for a period of time. We recommend that you start with as many as possible, since many lifestyle routines may lead to vulvar irritation in those who are sensitive. Once you are using as many of these measures as is practical, you can gradually re-introduce, if necessary, the previous habits one at a time and watch for signs of irritation. Find what works best for you.

Laundry Care

  • Use dermatologically-approved detergent (e.g., Purex®, Clear®) on underwear or any other type of clothing/material that comes into contact with the vulva (e.g., pajama bottoms, exercise clothing, towels); Use 1/3 to 1/2 the suggested amount per load. Other clothing may be washed with the laundry soap of your choice.
  • Avoid using fabric softener and/or bleach on underwear or any other kind of clothing or material that comes onto contact with the vulva.
  • Avoid using dryer sheets on clothing/material that comes into contact with the vulva; hang-dry these items.
  • Double-rinse underwear and any other kind of clothing that comes into contact with the vulva.
  • If you use stain-removing products on items that come into contact with the vulva, soak and rinse them in clear water and then wash them in your regular washing cycle (given the restrictions above) in order to remove as much of the product as possible.

Clothing Choice

  • Wear white, 100% cotton underwear to allow air in and moisture out.
  • Go without underwear when possible (e.g., when sleeping).
  • Avoid thong (g-string) underwear.
  • Avoid wearing full-length pantyhose; try thigh-high or knee-high stockings instead.
  • Avoid tight fitting pants or jeans that may put pressure on the vulva.
  • Avoid spandex®, lycra® and other tight-fitting clothing during workouts, and remove wet bathing suits and exercise clothing promptly.

Hygiene Hints

  • Use soft, white, non-recycled, unscented toilet paper and 100% cotton pads or tampons.
  • Avoid using scented products such as bubble bath, feminine hygiene products (pads or tampons), creams, or soaps that come into contact with the vulvar region.
  • Avoid using feminine deodorant sprays, Vaseline®, and colored soaps in the vulvar area, and avoid douching unless recommended by your physician.
  • When you shower/bathe, do not use soap until the very end, and avoid applying it directly to the vulva. Use mild soaps such as Dove®, and avoid getting shampoo on the vulvar area.
  • Wash the vulva with cool to lukewarm water with your hand. Pat your vulvar area dry, do not rub. Do not use soap, wash cloths, or loofahs on the vulva; these can dry out and /or irritate the sensitive vulvar skin.
  • Many women wash the vulva too often which can further irritate the area ­ once a day is enough.
  • Avoid shaving the vulvar area.
  • Keeping the vulvar area dry is important; if you are chronically damp, keep an extra pair of underwear with you in a small bag and change if you become damp during the day at school/work.
  • If you suffer from repeated vaginal infections, avoid using over-the-counter creams which might irritate the sensitive vulvar skin. Instead, discuss with your doctor the option of a systemic, oral medication (e.g., Diflucan®). It is important to visit your doctor for an examination when you suspect you have an infection; self-diagnosis and treatment without confirmation may lead to misdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment that can cause more harm than benefit to your vulva.

Physical Activities

  • Avoid exercises that put direct pressure on the vulva such as bicycle riding and horseback riding. Use padded shorts/bicycle seats if you do engage in such activities.
  • Limit intense exercises that create a lot of friction in the vulvar area.
  • Use a frozen gel pack wrapped in a towel to relieve symptoms after exercise.
  • Enroll in a yoga class to learn relaxation and breathing techniques.
  • Avoid swimming in highly chlorinated pools, and avoid using hot tubs.

Pre- and Post-Sexual Intercourse Suggestions

  • Use a lubricant that is water-soluble before penetration (e.g., Liquid K-Y®, Astroglide®, Slippery Stuff®). If you find that these lubricants irritate you or dry out during intercourse, a pure vegetable oil (such as Crisco®, solid or oil) has no chemicals and is also water-soluble. Please note that Crisco® is not latex-friendly and therefore should not be used in combination with condoms.
  • A topical anesthetic (for example, Xylocaine®) may help before intercourse; discuss this with your doctor and ensure that you know how, where, and when to apply it.
  • To relieve burning and irritation after intercourse, take cool or lukewarm sitz or baking soda baths (4-5 tablespoons, 1-3 times a day for 10 minutes each).
  • Apply ice or a frozen blue gel pack wrapped in one layer of a hand towel to relieve burning after intercourse. Other ideas include a bag of frozen peas, or fill a dish-soap bottle with water and freeze it; these fit well against the vulva.
  • Urinate (to prevent infection) and rinse the vulva with cool water after sexual intercourse.
© Caroline F. Pukall Ph.D., C.Psych. – All rights reserved.
Comments or questions, contact the author
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