We’ve all heard reference to women’s pussies smelling like fish. It’s something men crack callous jokes about while women live in fear of being dubbed “dirty” every time a man goes down on them, as they think to themselves, “I hope I smell ok.”
It’s a topic that can be uncomfortable to talk about because of the stigma surrounding hygiene, especially in regard to a woman’s purity or lack thereof when it comes to sex. But the truth is, smelling fishy down there has more to do with the poisons green-lit by the medical establishment (processed foods, medications, etc.) that disrupt our microbiomes and fuck up our vaginal pHs than by the way a woman chooses to live her life.
Vaginitis is the umbrella term used to describe an inflammation of the vagina that can result in discharge, itching, and pain. Typically vaginitis is caused by a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria. Vaginitis includes but is not limited to bacterial vaginosis (aka BV — the medical condition responsible for fishy smelling vaginas), vaginal candidiasis (aka yeast infections), and trichomoniasis.
In modern society, 75% of women experience some type of vaginitis at least once in their life. The normal pH for women of childbearing age ranges between 3.8-5.0, but the vagina is a delicate garden whose composition and pH can be altered by a number of factors, such as vaginal infections, aging, sexual activity, and douching. See the chart below for more information on the three most common types of vaginitis:
After conversing with my roommate about how she keeps getting yeast infections and being prescribed antibiotics to treat them, I felt compelled to write this holistic guide to vaginal pH. America, in particular, is infamous for the degree to which it overprescribes antibiotics and I’m beyond infuriated by a medical system that thinks the solution to remedying issues such as yeast overgrowth and bacterial vaginosis is antibiotics.
Sure, antibiotics will kill off the bad bacteria (see chart above) and act as a band-aid of sorts, alleviating your symptoms for a short period of time. But they also kill off all the good bacteria! And just as a quick aside, “bad bacteria” isn’t even actually bad, it’s really only a problem when the bad bacteria outnumber the good kind. Much like yin and yang, good and bad bacteria are equally necessary to make a complete, vaginal microbiome.
Due to the overuse of antibiotics in combination with the heavily processed diet of modern times, women’s vaginal microbiomes are far less diverse than they once were and, as a result, it’s way easier for shit to get out of wack through bad bacteria-inciting activities — someone who has Gardnerella vaginalis as part of their oral microbiome going down on you; staying in a wet bathing suit for too long; forgetting to clean your vibrator before using it — than it would have been in the olden days.
Below is the checklist I turn to when I feel my vaginal pH start to get a little out of wack, whether it’s from too many hot yoga classes or dick appointments in a row, or simply a result of changes in my menstrual cycle. My body is very sensitive to triggers like these, but luckily I’m in tune enough to notice when something is up and take action before it spirals into a serious infection that requires medical intervention.
Let Her Breathe
The sacred yoni is meant to breathe, not be trapped for hours at a time in synthetic athleisure wear or lacy thongs. I know, I know — wearing ass-accentuating leggings and sexy underwear is fun. But you know what’s not fun? Fucking up your vaginal pH and having to abstain from sex for a week while you get that shit under lock and key. Honestly, I used to opt for cotton granny panties only when I felt like I needed to, but I’ve stopped giving all fucks and started embracing them as a way of life.
They are so much more comfortable than the Victoria’s Secret getups I used to wear to make myself look like a present for men to unwrap. Sure, I still have some lingerie for special occasions but I’m not out here dressing for men the way I used to. I dress for myself and if a man has an issue with it, I don’t want him anyways. In the summer, I rock flowy dresses and go full-on commando — a method my Brazilian wax specialist declares to be the ultimate life hack for your vaginal health. And let’s be real, what’s sexier than going au natural?
Nourish Your Body
Processed foods — refined sugars in particular — are proven to upset not only the vaginal microbiome but the gut and oral microbiomes as well. I’ve personally noticed that my vaginal pH imbalance flareups are nearly always correlated to periods when I’m binge-eating chocolate to cope with my emotions. In the world we live in, it’s hard to entirely avoid processed foods but minimizing inflammation-causing foods like gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar in times when your body is a bit out of sorts (whether it’s a herpes or acne breakout, cold, or vaginitis) will serve you well!
If eliminating pizza from your diet is out of the question, then you can at least try adding some healthy things in, namely probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to increase the amount of good bacteria in the body, whereas prebiotics are high-fiber foods that nourish these good bacteria.
Kefir, yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut are all loaded with probiotics, and bananas, greens, onions, and garlic are great sources of prebiotics. I myself am a big fan of Coconut Cult, a dairy-free yogurt available at Whole Foods, as well as RenewLife Women’s Care Probiotics — a supplement designed specifically with vaginal health in mind and which my gynecologist swears by.
Clean With Care
Like with underwear, a less-is-more approach to vaginal cleaning is advised for keeping the yoni goddesses happy. Douches are a no-no and if you’re like me and have the compulsive need to over-clean every part of your body multiple times a day, make sure you are using something very gentle down under. There are tons of natural, pH-balancing feminine washes out there and I can personally attest to the improved vaginal health I’ve experienced since making the switch from normal soap and water to a wash specifically designed for cleaning around the vagina (never directly inside!).
While the vagina itself is self-cleaning, there are measures you can take to give a bacterial overgrowth a real run for its money if a fishy odor or itchiness starts to manifest. While many of the holistic vagina whisperers I follow are not the biggest fans of boric acid suppositories, I’ve found them to be a godsend when the aforementioned measures don’t seem to be cutting it. Especially in my sex work days, when I would be counting on a dick appointment to pay my rent, I couldn’t afford to just wait around for things to resolve on their own.
So, I would pop a boric acid suppository up there, and voila, everything would be gucci. While the directions on the bottle advise using the suppositories for 7 days in a row, I’ve found that using them for a 2 or 3-day spot treatment usually takes care of business just fine. Even now, if I’m planning a beach trip where know I’m going to be in a wet bathing suit all day, I make sure to pop one in at the end of the day (it’s recommended to take at night as it creates a discharge), so as to avoid getting a yeast infection.
I used to be afraid of a guy catching on to the fact that there was something creating an unnatural amount of discharge. But boric acid has no smell whatsoever (if anything it neutralizes the smell caused by a bacterial overgrowth) and just makes you super wet — a feat that does wonders for the male ego. I’ve literally used the line, “Wow you’re making me so wet,” knowing full well it was really just the suppository working its magic. The guy was non the wiser and happy as a clam.
Practice Conscious Sex
It’s a sad reality but sometimes your microbiome (genital and / or oral) simply doesn’t jive with your partner’s microbiome. There was one lover I had who seemed to trigger vaginal pH imbalances way more than I’d ever experienced before — regardless of whether or not we were using condoms. As one friend put it, “It’s a sign from the universe y’all aren’t meant to be together.” Now I’m not saying you should dump your soulmate if you keep getting yeast infections, but I am saying it’s worth paying attention to.
Also, as much of a proud hoe as I am, I have noticed that when I’m having multiple sexual partners, I’m more prone to having things get out of balance down there. I think it just creates this bacteria rave situation that can be confusing and overwhelming to the yoni’s sensitive homeostasis. Again, I’m not telling anyone to make drastic life changes like becoming a nun — it’s just something to be mindful of. If you keep getting BV over and over again, for instance, maybe the best course of action would be laying off the orgies for a hot sec.
My final piece of advice centers around the BV-causing Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria, which is typically spread from mouth to vagina. While a person can’t fully eliminate this type of bacteria in their mouth (at least not without making and sticking to some serious lifestyle changes), having your partner brush their teeth and using mouthwash before going down on you will help reduce the number of Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria in their mouth and reduce your risk of infection.
Similarly, if you are having unprotected sex with a male partner and you give him a blowjob before letting him insert his penis inside of you without a condom, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to brush those pearly whites of yours and gargle some Listerine. It might kill the spontaneity vibe a bit, but let’s be real — yummy tasting / smelling mouths make all forms of intimacy better.
I hope this blog post gave you some useful insights on how to manage your vaginal pH. I know what it’s like to feel ashamed from having a vaginal infection. It can be isolating and confusing but just know, you’re not alone. Now go forth into the world with your newfound knowledge and spread the word — self-healing the yoni is not only possible but quite easy to achieve with just a few minor lifestyle changes.