You might love basking in the summer heat and spending hours in a swimsuit. But your vagina? Not so much. Some common warm-weather habits can lead to irritation or wreak havoc on your precious vaginal flora, which is the delicate balance of bacteria and other microbes that keep your vagina healthy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Disturbing that balance can increase the chances of developing a fungal or bacterial infection.Moisture, which is plentiful in the summer, is one of the most common things that can alter vaginal flora, Erin Higgins, MD, an ob-gyn at the Independence Family Health Center in Independence, Ohio, tells SELF. “Warmer days can cause you to sweat more and that moist climate can result in the overgrowth of certain yeasts and bacteria,” Dr. Higgins says.Summer is too fleeting to let crotch woes hold you back from thoroughly enjoying beach days. Here’s how you can keep your vagina healthy during these super sweaty months.1. Change out of wet or damp clothing.“Staying in a wet swimsuit is probably the most common bad practice around swimsuits,” Dr. Higgins says. Moisture from pool water or the ocean coupled with sweat creates the perfect breeding ground for potentially harmful pathogens, she says.Changing into clean, loose-fitting clothing after you’re done swimming is a good habit to adopt, Rebecca Scarseth, DO, an ob-gyn at the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, tells SELF. So throw some breathable, cotton underwear and loose-fitting shorts into your beach bag for a wardrobe change to help keep things dry. (You can also change into a clean, dry swimsuit if you prefer.)If you don’t have access to a restroom or changing room, Dr. Scarseth recommends changing as soon as you can—the key is to reduce your time in wet bottoms, especially if you already have a history of vaginal infections. You should also try to follow the same practice after working up a sweat in workout shorts or pants, Dr. Scarseth says.2. Avoid re-wearing an unwashed bathing suit.Both Dr. Scarseth and Dr. Higgins say bathing suits are one-use-only items—regardless of whether they touch any water. Even if your suit looks clean, the material comes into contact with bacteria from your vagina and backside after just one use. More bacteria accumulates the next time you put it on, which may increase your risk of infection or even just general irritation down there, Dr. Scarseth says.She recommends washing swimwear using unscented laundry detergent because fragrances can dry and irritate the skin. If you have dry or sensitive skin, then it’s best to look for products labeled as hypoallergenic, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Health experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend washing underwear and other bottoms like bathing suits using the hot water setting on your machine, which research1 shows may help reduce any microbes lingering on your suit. Some swimwear care labels may recommend hand washing the item, which Dr. Scarseth and Dr. Higgins say is probably just fine—as long as you clean your garment thoroughly and rinse out all the soap.3. Don’t share swimwear if you’re prone to vaginal infections.You may be tempted to borrow a friend’s one-piece when the pool is calling and your bathing suit sits at home. But borrowing your bestie’s swimwear (even if it’s clean) may not be worth it if you’re prone to infections. “It’s best to avoid sharing swimsuits. Even if washed, swimsuit bottoms can still harbor bacteria that could lead to an infection,” Dr. Scarseth says.
It could be nothing, but abdominal pain could also be a sign of ovarian cysts (fluid-filled sacs that develop on or in an ovary), uterine fibroids (typically benign growths that develop within the uterus), endometriosis (when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body), or an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg attaches to and grows outside of the main portion of the uterus)—“all things that need medical attention,” Dr. Wider says.And don’t wait to call: While you may think it makes sense to wait to see how your pain progresses throughout the day, calling your ob-gyn’s office at 5 p.m. when you’re in severe pain pretty much guarantees you’ll be told to go to the E.R. “But if you call in the morning, we can do an ultrasound,” says Dr. Streicher.3. A less-than-pleasant vaginal odorIf you notice a funky smell down south that doesn’t go away or get better, call your gynecologist. Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and women’s health expert at California’s Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells SELF that a forgotten tampon is the most common cause of this—and that can increase your risk of infection or the extremely rare toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening complication of certain bacterial infections. A strong vaginal odor can also be a sign of a vaginal infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (or BV, which is often the culprit behind a fishy smell). Basically, you’ll want to get that checked out ASAP to be on the safe side.4. Discharge that looks kind of weirdIf you just notice your discharge is a little different for one or two days, it’s likely nothing to worry about—it’s common for your discharge to change throughout your menstrual cycle due to hormonal fluctuations that happen during ovulation. Everyone has their own version of “normal” when it comes to discharge, but in general, it’s usually clear to white in color, can range from thin to thick consistency, and can have a slight smell but be pretty much odorless most of the time, per the ACOG.In addition to odor, if your discharge suddenly changes color or consistency, you should see your ob-gyn. It should not be a striking shade of green or look oddly clumpy. This, again, could be the result of a forgotten tampon, but it could also be a sign of infection, such as BV, a yeast infection, or an STD, per the Cleveland Clinic. It might also be a sign that something just isn’t agreeing with your vaginal area and causing irritation or an allergic reaction.5. Repeat pain during sexSex shouldn’t be painful, but sometimes the occasional lack of lube can make it a little uncomfortable, whether you physically didn’t apply any or you didn’t spend enough time on foreplay. However, if you regularly feel pain during sex or you have a sore vagina after sex, it could be a sign of an infection, hormonal issues, uterine fibroids, or vaginal dryness, among other issues, all of which your doctor can help you address, Dr. Wider says.6. Painful periodsWhile you may have the occasional achiness and cramps during that time of the month, your period shouldn’t be unbearably painful. Meaning, if you need to call out of work or bow out of plans because you’re feeling that much discomfort during your period, you need to tell your gynecologist about it. Painful periods that impact your quality of life can be a symptom of endometriosis, scarring from infections, or uterine fibroids, among other issues, Dr. Minkin says, so it’s crucial to get to the bottom of it. Once your doctor figures out what’s going on, they can help identify a treatment that may help reduce your pain—because you shouldn’t have to just put up with it.7. New vaginal bumps“There are so many different causes for vaginal bumps,” Dr. Greves says. That includes infected hair follicles, harmless cysts, and sexually transmitted infections. It’s also entirely possible to have a pimple or skin tag down there, so don’t automatically panic if you happen to spot or feel a bump near your vagina. But don’t write it off if it sticks around or causes discomfort, either, especially if you have a swollen vulva. “We need to look at it to see what it could be,” Dr. Greves says. Once your doctor identifies what it is, they can help you figure out the best way to get rid of it, if needed.8. Low libidoThere’s no set threshold for what clinically defines a “low libido,” but you’ll definitely be able to tell if your sex drive has plummeted recently. Dr. Minkin says this can be linked to so many factors, from dealing with relationship issues to hormonal fluctuations to side effects from certain medications, including antidepressants and birth control pills.