If you’re trying to keep your vagina healthy, you’re definitely not alone—dozens of products out there are trying to help you with that goal. But do you really know what you’re shooting for—what a “healthy” vagina actually looks like? Sure, you can assume everything is working like it’s supposed to, but what does it mean to have a healthy vagina—or, for that matter, an unhealthy vagina? First, the good news: The odds are good that your vagina is completely healthy most of the time. But if you want to make sure it stays that way, doctors say you should keep an eye out for these major signs that something is less than ideal:
You’re experiencing pain
It’s obvious, but it’s true. Melissa Goist, M.D., an assistant professor of ob-gyn and physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says that pain is always a concern. “Pain either focally or noted with intercourse may indicate a problem,” she says. “Women can get labial infections or viral infections that cause discomfort without an abnormal or new discharge.”
Just like any other part of your body, it’s completely normal and healthy for your vulva area to be itchy here and there, but Dr. Goist says a persistent feeling like you need to scratch can indicate that there’s a problem. If you find that you’re really itchy down there on an ongoing basis, talk to your doctor—it could be a sign of an infection.
It’s pretty common for a woman’s labia to swell or puff up on occasion, says ob-gyn , M.D., women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., but it can be understandably alarming. “Since the vagina is very sensitive to changes in your daily environment, anything that affects its pH balance will also affect the smell, discharge, and swelling of the vagina,” she says. If you notice puffiness down there, these could be factors: antibiotics, spermicides, an increased frequency in sex, hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy or breastfeeding, and changes in diet, stress, and exercise. If you find that making small tweaks, like eating a healthy diet and finishing up a medication, don’t help, talk to your doctor.