Maintaining vulvar, vaginal and perineal health: clinical considerations


Maintaining vulvar, vaginal and perineal health: clinical considerations
Womens Health (Lond). 2024 Jan-Dec;20:17455057231223716. doi: 10.1177/17455057231223716. PMID: 38396383; PMCID: PMC10894559
Knowledge of female genital anatomy and physiology is often inadequate or incorrect among women. Precise patient-physician conversations can be inhibited by a reluctance or inability to speak accurately about the vulva and vagina, with the terms often being used interchangeably. There is a paucity of scientific evidence and clinical guidelines to support women and physicians in ensuring best practices in feminine hygiene.
In this review, the unmet needs in the field are highlighted. Evidence is provided for the complex array of physiological and pathological systems, mechanisms and behaviours that either protect or, if inappropriate, predispose the vulva and vagina to infections, irritation or other conditions.
The need for attention to perineal health is recommended, given the interdependence of perineal and vulvar microbiota and the risk of colonic pathogens reaching the vulva and the vagina. Differences in feminine hygiene practices can vary widely across the world and among varying age groups, and suboptimal habits (such as vaginal douching or the use of certain cleansers) can be associated with increased risks of vulvar and vaginal conditions.
Critical areas for discussion when advising women on their intimate health include: advice surrounding aesthetic vulvar cosmetic trends (such as depilation and genital cosmetic surgery), bowel health and habits, and protection against sexually transmitted infections. Routine, once-daily (maximum twice-daily) washing of the vulva with a pH-balanced, mild cleanser is optimal, ideally soon after bowel voiding, when feasible.
Due to the finely balanced ecosystems of the vulva, the vagina and the perineal area, a scientific and clinical perspective is essential when determining the most appropriate vulvar cleansers based on their components. Correct intimate care may contribute to improved genital and sexual health and overall well-being. An increased awareness of correct practices will empower women to be the advocates of their own intimate health.