January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. While that may sound like a really boring thing to celebrate, it’s a really necessary conversation to have. Each year, over 12,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about a third of them will die from it. Thanks to advances in medicine, cervical cancer can be fought aggressively, and we have the tools to prevent it. Regardless of how you identify, if you have a vagina, you need to take care of it.
Here are six steps that you can take toward vaginal and cervical health.
1. Get Vaccinated Against HPV. If you were hoping this article would be filled with all natural solutions, you’re wrong. If you’re an anti-vaxxer, you’re putting all of our families at risk. If you’re sexually active, there’s a strong chance that you’re going to end up bumping uglies someone who has HPV. According to healthywomen.org, “It’s estimated that at least 75 percent of the reproductive-age population has been infected with one or more types of genital HPV. “ Rather than expose yourself to an STD known to cause cancer, simply get vaccinated. I received my vaccination for free! These vaccines protect against the two most common high risk-strains (16 and 18) and the two most common low-risk strains (6 and 11). The FDA has approved three vaccines to prevent cervical cancer: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. “These vaccines are preventative and work like other vaccines that prevent diseases caused by viruses and bacteria: they prompt the body to produce antibodies (disease-fighting substances) to protect against infection,” says Marion Gruber, Ph.D., director of FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review. (source: fda.gov)
2. Don’t miss your Paps. I’m in my early 30’s now, and was initially told to have a pap done every single year from the time that I became sexually active until I died. That’s a lot of speculums. While sticking something human-made in my vagina doesn’t really sound like a bad time to me, paps certainly were not my favorite experience. Luckily, medical professionals agree that it is no longer necessary to poke around in there. Womenshealth.gov says this: If you are between ages 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years. If you are between ages 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and human papillomavirus (HPV) test together every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years. If you are 65 or older, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.
3. Diet and Nutrition. I’m a fat woman and I’m anti-dieting. That being said, there’s a huge difference between “dieting” and making sure that your nutritional needs are being met. I’m not here to preach anything, merely to suggest that you make sure that you are getting your antioxidants and fiber. Doctors actually say that the most common thing that the average person is missing from their diet is fiber – not antioxidants, according to Dr. Stephen Sandberg-Lewis, a practicing naturopathic physician for over 40 years. Don’t go spending a ton of money on fancy, fad-diet acai berries – blueberries are much more cost efficient and just as healthy for you. Watch your sugar intake, too. Candida, the lovely vaginal bacteria that causes yeast infections, lives off of sugar. This goes for over-consumption of alcohol, which breaks down into sugar.
4. Communication. There’s no reason to be ashamed of having HPV. Shit happens, and so do STD’s. If you know that you have a communicable disease, it really is your responsibility to bring it up and speak earnestly about it with your partner. Don’t worry… there isn’t actually a type of HPV that only “1 in 4 nice women” have. HPV can actually pop up years after you’ve initially been exposed, so even if you have been in a monogamous relationship with a partner for years and one of you pop up with the disease, you can still seemingly randomly pop up with a case of it. So, there’s that to look forward to. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt if this happens.
5. Anything Penetrating You Should Be Clean. Regardless of whether they are human or latex, make sure whatever is penetrating you is clean and free of bacteria. Never go ATV, which should be common sense since you should never wipe back-to-front after peeing, either. Just say no to “truffle butter.” Fecal matter is the #1 cause of UTIs. Different sex toys require different cleaning solutions, too. “Jelly” toys require different care than a different smooth latex or hard plastic. You can boil some, while others shouldn’t be submerged in water due to the motors. Use condoms on your sex toys if you are going to be using them between yourself and a partner. You may not be able to get pregnant from a sex toy, but they can still transmit disease between partners.
6. Let It Breathe. Cotton absorbs moisture and modal, a fabric made from bamboo, is also moisture-wicking. While cotton underwear may not always present the sexiest lingerie choices, there are plenty of options if you look. A healthy vag is a lot sexier than an itchy, oozy one, anyway. If you’re a swimmer or exercise a lot, change your underwear after working out and get out of wet swimsuits as soon as you can. Skip underwear while you sleep to let it air out and stay drier overnight.
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