Most of us have gone one way or another during lockdown. We have either become fitness fanatics flaunting our 10k times on Strava or sofa slouchers watching all 18 series of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Some of us have enjoyed a sexual renaissance, whilst others have joined the celibate crowd. Plenty of us have turned to wine to pass the time, whilst others have been teetotal troopers for four months.
We’ve called on Gynaecologist Anne Henderson (on behalf of intimate health brand Canesten) to run us through the different lockdown tribes and the impact it could well have had on your vaginal health.
The tribe: Fitness Fanatics
Symptom: BV (Bacterial Vaginosis)
Reports have shown that many of us are taking up new exercising habits. According to Sport England, 62% of us believe being active is more important than ever. However, for women living in leggings, you need to make sure you’re washing them gently as to not upset your vaginal balance.
As Anne explains: “Sweating and working out in itself is not harmful, nor is it likely to cause BV. However, it is the habits that women engage in as a result of this, that may make them more susceptible to BV.
“If women feel they are sweating more regularly, they may be showering more and using strong soaps and shower gels. Further to this, women may be using stronger detergents when washing their exercising clothing or underwear.
“Stronger detergents often have alkaline irritants in them, which can transfer to clothing. Therefore, when it comes to wearing knickers and trousers that are of course positioned close to the genitals, this can upset the pH balance in the vaginal area which may contribute to the development of BV.”
“I would recommend using a very mild hypoallergenic washing product, for example Eco Egg, which I think is the only laundry product recommended by British Gynaecological Association. Eco Egg is environmentally-friendly and unlikely to cause irritation, so great for when washing gym clothes or underwear.”
The tribe: Rampant Rabbits
It seems sexual habits have been mixed during the lockdown period but if you’re one of the lucky ones to be indulging in more sex, the experts say increased sex may but you more at risk of intimate infections.
Anne explains: “Many intimate health conditions can be related to sexual intercourse, whether it’s an indirect or a direct cause. Not a lot of people know that BV and thrush can be passed from partner to partner, or intercourse can be a stimulant for these infection.
“Sexual intercourse is probably the main trigger for cystitis in women, and it’s very easy to understand anatomically why that would be. Most women will find that it happens around the time of intercourse or 48-72 hours later, and it’s simply a mechanical transfer of the bowel bacteria from the perineum to the bladder. There are precautions you can take to avoid that.
“If intercourse itself isn’t an issue, it’s the post-intercourse hygiene that’s important. Women need to empty their bladder if they think they’re prone to cystitis. It’s an easy thing to do but it definitely works.”
The tribe: The wine aficionado
Recent YouGov research has found that around 1 in 5 (21%) have been drinking more since lockdown (guilty) and with pubs re-opening, this may only increase that number. However, alcohol’s high sugar content is another cause for concern when it comes to our vaginal health.
Anne tells us more about the impact of sugar on the vagina: “Try and avoid a high sugar diet – refined carbohydrates and sugar are bad for all aspects of health as they raise sugar levels. This is then carried throughout the body which can raise the sugar levels in the vaginal tissues, not just the bloodstream and that is very unhealthy. Thrush in general, more so than BV, really thrives on high sugar levels in the tissues.”
The tribe: DIY Divas
Despite some salons now opening, many of us have gotten used to the idea of DIY beauty and think we might just be an amateur waxer. However, if you’re waxing or shaving down there, there are some common pitfalls to be aware of.
Anne explains: “Whether a women shaves or waxes doesn’t make her more prone to vaginal infections but shaving in particular, does increase the risk of skin conditions such as cellulitis, which is an inflammation which can cause an infection to the hair root of the follicle.
“That can happen with waxing as well, but it’s particularly common with shaving. Shaving you’re actually removing some of the skin surface hence it can bleed when you shave and can allow infection in and also disrupt the hair follicle itself.
“My advice would be to not shave the genital area, you can easily cut yourself and get an infection. If women want to remove hair then it must be done by somebody who’s professionally trained in waxing.”
The tribe: Hygienic Herd
Symptom: Vaginal Imbalance
Most of us are members of the hygienic herd, washing our hands at every turn. However, while we fully support hand-washing, this sense of over-washing should definitely not be extended to our vaginas.
Anne comments: “If you use perfumed vaginal washes, this will alter the pH balance with your vagina and this affect combined with your menstrual cycle can cause thrush and BV.
“Do as little as possible or in some cases do nothing. Please leave the vagina alone! Over-washing and using harsh cleaning products, wearing tight clothing can all impact the health of the vagina. My best advice would be to wash the vagina with just water, make sure it’s dry after and try and wear loose underwear.”
If you want to check in on your vagina when you can’t get out to the doctor, try Canestest which can tell you if you have BV or Thrush.