When it comes to fitness, vagina and vulva health matters and yes we can talk about it!
I first began to work with female athletes in 2004, they were high school track athletes.
Two days into the job, I began to recognize jus how closely fitness and athletic performance is related to what’s taking place in our complex, dynamic female bodies AND how being one of the only female coaches was going to mean I better have some tampons and pads handy 24/7.
Sure enough, I was dolling out tampons left and right, excusing girls from practice because of cramps, empathizing with them when they were battling PMS-induced emotions and anxiety.
As women, our activity and fitness is SO TIED to the very things that make us women.
We're trying to be consistent with exercise and movement so that we can maintain or get a certain physique or fitness level and we routinely get sidelined in a way that men just don't.
I mean a yeast infection can have you sitting on the bench for 5-7 days for goodness sakes!!!!
Menopausal hot flashes or insomnia will wreak havoc on our fitness routine.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can even take certain type of exercise completely off the table or make us reluctant to move or train at all.
And I think that as a coach and a woman, it's SUPER important that we acknowledge these hurdles and challenge and HELP women to understand that for us ladies, this is just going to be part of our fitness journeys.
But it's also important that we not just fall into the habit of masking symptoms, avoiding uncomfortable topics and putting pressure on ourselves to just muscle through, because sometimes we need a little coaching for this stuff.
So that's why in March I have been talking to my Inner Circle about vaginal health, pelvic floors, vulvas and the things that make us uniquely female.
We need a safe space to learn and chat and think about these topics!!!
We need to accept that they have a place in fitness and that it's ok when our reproductive anatomy and physiology is challenging our fitness regimen.
So today we're starting with a SUPER SIMPLE topic, cleaning.
Many of my clients (all women) apologize to me for being sweaty and or smelly.
Truth be told, I've never once noticed anybody's smell.
Maybe that means that I'm smelly?
But gyms are stinky. The mats smell, the rubber equipment smells.
My gym is in my garage and I raise pigs for part of the year, have chickens that walk around the place pooping constantly. My dog naps on the gym mats and I live with 4 boys.
Oh and my neighbor has like 40 sheep and goats, so I'm sure my gym smells and I'm sure it smells SO MUCH MORE than any of the amazing and strong sweaty ladies that workout in it.
But back to sweat and smell.
Yeah we sweat and we often sweat in spandex.
Our armpits and crotches and belly rolls and cleavage, all these things get sweaty, when we workout and even when we don't.
What has happened, especially since the 1950's is this idea that everything in our world has to be so squeaky clean, antiseptic and smelling like flowers, ESPECIALLY everything female.
God forbid a woman smell like a human being. We're supposed to smell like Bath and Body Works, OBVIOUSLY.
This standard extends to our homes, our clothes, and sadly our bodies.
Which is why you find SO MANY WOMEN deodorizing that heck out of their vaginas.
Pads and tampons are scented.
You can buy deodorizing WIPES up the YAZOO for cleaning all your "smelly" feminine parts.
And know you what, it's causing MAJOR health issues for women.
These artificial scented chemicals have NO BUSINESS near your vulvas, vagina and the mucosal lining within it.
They strip the body of moisture and change the natural pH (4.5) of your vagina.
The pH is a measure of acidity and when you change it, you change the GOOD bacteria that can live there. And when you do THAT, you open yourself up to colonization by BAD bacteria and YEASTS.
By the way, while FDA approved, NONE OF THESE CHEMICALS have been studied for their longterm effect on the female anatomy.
Their approval is pretty much based on the concentration of a product required to a kill a mouse....
In order to remain healthy, your vagina needs to be colonized by the right bacteria and it's mucosal linings that much like your mouth, produces liquids to maintain its health, need to be left IN TACT.
And don't even get me started on douching.
Douching for example has been linked to not just chronic yeast infections (which are HELL), but also pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis and interstitial cystitis (inflamed bladders).
So what CAN you do to help your vagina and vulva (exterior bits) be naturally healthy and clean enough?
Educate the people in your life that vaginas and vulvas are NOT supposed to smell like a garden. They have a unique and normal smell, because they are slightly acidic and colonized with a specific population of bacteria.
When you bathe, rinse with clean warm (NOT HOT!) water and NEVER put any soap or foaming agents inside your vagina.
If you MUST use some sort of cleaning agent on your pubic hair or exterior lady bits, AKA vulva, do not use anything with phlatates, sulfates, alcohols or salicylate, things that foam. A gentle handmade goatmilk soap with scents from ACTUAL real-life herbs or flowers can be a good option.
Again, you don't really need it. BUT honestly try, not even doing this. There still isn't enough research to support that any cleaning agents will NOT have a negative impact on the vagina.
Air dry completely before putting on underwear.
"Free ball"-spend time on the weekend or at night without wearing any underwear and let your private parts breath.
If you do notice an unusual smell, think back to what you have eaten recently. Some people metabolically have a difficult time breaking down pungently smelling foods like seafood, asparagus and cabbage.
If you do begin to notice a smell or infection developing, consider cutting back on dietary sugar, alcohol, dairy and grain intake until the symptoms resolve. Consider adding Femcologyto your probiotic regimen both orally and opening and dumping one capsule into the vagina-you will have to be lying down for this.
Know that even natural products like coconut oil and tea tree oil can change the pH and microbial balance of the vaginal microbiome (both are anti-microbial, so they will kill bad but also good ones). ADDITIONALLY. Some people have a slight allergy to coconut (I do!) and will experience burning much like yeast infection if used internally.
Know that ALL pain and burning in the pelvic and vaginal areas do NOT necessarily mean infection. There are OTHER causes, such as over-activation of the pelvic floor.
Ok, so there you have it.
You're a woman.
You're strong and amazing and capable.
You're not a delicate garden that should smell like roses all of the time.
You can be soft, loving, kind, caring nurturing ALL while being capable, and confident, ALL WHILE smelling like a real life human being.
Next up! Let’s talk about pubic hair!
Sarah Smith is a trainer, lifestyle coach and postnatal fitness specialist that specializes in helping women feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
Her specialties include kettlebells, gut health and optimization for fitness goals, pelvic floor health and function and making fitness fun! Check her out on social media here or get on her email list!!