Listen up, ladies: vaginas are FABULOUS. Not least because they play a part in orgasms and the reproductive cycle, but because they could be telling you these 7 things about your health.
1. You're cleaning it too much
We get it—you want to smell good, and your vagina is one of the key areas that has the potential to smell bad. But please, for the love of all that is lady parts, stop washing it with irritating, infection-causing, drying soaps. One of the many magical things about your vag is that it's self-cleansing, so all that expensive shower gel you're putting up there isn't just a waste of money, it can actually be doing you more harm than good. Use a fragrance-free product to wash the area around your vagina (vulva, if we're getting technical) on a daily basis, and you should feel fresh without the need for scented wipes and the like.
2. You've got an infection
Daily discharge is normal and healthy, but if you're finding that yours has changed dramatically in color, consistency, or smell, chances are your vagina's telling you something's up. Two of the most common vaginal infections are thrush, which causes thick white discharge and itching, and bacterial vaginosis, which causes thin, watery excretions and a strong smell, especially after sex. Neither condition is serious—you just need to pop to your doctor for treatment, which generally involves a short course of antibiotics and a topical cream or gel—but it's important to get checked out just in case the symptoms are actually signalling something that requires more attention, especially if you're pregnant.
3. You've got an STD
Discharge playing up, but not an infection? An STD could also be to blame. Chlamydia, for instance, can be symptomless, but when it does show up to the party, weird discharge is one of the most common alerts—and gonorrhea and genital herpes can present similarly, as well as causing painful blisters in the surrounding areas and unexpected bleeding to boot. You can prevent STDs by wearing a condom, obviously, but if that ship has already sailed, visit your OB-GYN for advice on the right route to recovery.
4. You're allergic to condoms
In a real "life's a bitch" moment, contraception can actually cause the same problems to forgoing it if you're one of the unlucky ladies with a latex allergy. It's surprisingly common—around 6% of the population are affected by the itching, rashes, and blistering in their most intimate areas whenever they've most recently used a condom. If you regularly have these kinds of problems after sex, try switching your usual brand for a latex-free alternative—they offer the same protection without the unpleasant side effects.
5. You're wearing the wrong underwear
Sisquo might be down with thongs, but that's probs because he doesn't run the risk of developing raging BV or other terrible conditions every time he wears one. While tiny underwear doesn't automatically invite trouble between your legs, if you're prone to developing infections, it's probably best to give them a miss. It's not just the shape of your pants that matters—choosing synthetic fibers and uncomfortable fits can quickly make a healthy vagina freak out, so stick to breathable fabrics like cotton and only wear restrictive lace or silk when you're pretty certain you're gonna be taking them off anyway.
6. You're eating too many carbs
Pizza, woo! Donuts, woo! Booze, bagels and pasta, woo! Yeast infections! Ah… boo—and the bad news is, they might be related. If you've been OD'ing on the white flour and sugar, it's not just your waistline that feels the effects—the balance of yeast (or candida) in your vagina is a delicate thing, and while experts are still debating the science, some women find that gorging on the sweet stuff tips them over into infection territory. It's thought to be a contributing factor rather than a cause and effect situation, but if you find yourself having a sudden spate of yeast infections, chilling out on the sugar front certainly won't do you any harm.
7. You're stressing out
Stress can cause a whole host of problems downstairs, from severe dryness to more discharge and higher chance of infection. The reason for the last is that when you're wound up, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which knocks your immune system down and in turn leaves you more likely to develop illnesses—the last thing you need when you're already feeling bad. Taking stress management seriously is essential for every area of your body and your mental wellbeing, too, so the fact that it can help keep your vagina healthy should just be an added bonus.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.