You may or may not have heard about Vaginal pH, but it’s important to learn about for the health of your vagina and your overall health.

So what exactly is vaginal pH?

pH is a measure of how basic or acidic a particular substance is.  The scale for this runs between 0 and 14 and if it is more basic, it will be a 7 or higher, and more acidic, it will be less than a 7.

For example, water is neutral, it has a pH balance of 7.

You might have heard of pH because shampoo commercials talk about pH balancing shampoo to keep your hair healthy and strong or when looking at deodorant marketing for helping to eliminate odor, but our whole body runs at different pH levels.

But what does this have to do with your menstrual health?

The level of acidity or how basic your vagina is plays an important part in determining whether your vagina is healthy.

What would be an average vaginal pH?

For the average woman or menstruator the vaginal pH level is between 3.5 and 4.5 and as you can determine by these numbers, it is a little bit acidic.  But your pH level changes as you grow older.

When you are younger and still menstruating, from your first menstruation to your last, your vaginal pH should be below 4.5.  But young girls, before they have their period, and older women, when they go through menopause have higher vaginal pH’s and are generally greater than a 4.5 on the scale.

So when you’re in your reproductive years when you’re menstruating, your pH level is more acidic which helps create a barrier that prevents unhealthy bacteria and yeast from growing and causing infections.  When your vaginal pH is higher, your pH is more basic and so you’re more at risk for infections and bacterial, so having a healthy pH allows you to make sure you’re safer from infections like bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.

Your pH level doesn’t protect against STDs and HIV, so you should always use protection during intercourse, but by having a healthy pH, you’re protected from BV and trich, which increases your risk for more serious infections like HPV and STDs.

During sex, your pH levels will temporarily rise because sperm thrive in a more basic vagina (generally in a vaginal pH level of 7.0-8.5).  The sperm then makes its way to the egg and the vagina will then become more acidic yet again.

When does your Vaginal pH become Unbalanced?

There are all kinds of events and life that can change your vaginal pH. The first can be unprotected intercourse.  When you have sex without a condom and semen is ejaculated into the vagina, semen is more basic than the vaginal pH levels and this is what can then encourage growth of bacteria.

When you take antibiotics, these drugs kill off all of the bacteria, not only the bad of your cold, but also the good bacteria that maintains your vaginal pH.

Douching can also cause changes in your vaginal pH.  If you take anything away from this article, do not douche.  20% of women douche which is when you wash out your vagina with a mixture of vinegar, water, or baking soda.  It makes your vagina more basic and thus you increase the likelihood of bacterial growth.

Your period changes your vaginal pH.  With every menstrual week, the pH of your vagina will change.  Blood is a little bit more basic than the vagina, and so changes it to be a bit less acidic, this is one of the reasons that it is good to keep changing your pad or tampon every couple of hours, so you’re not having blood just sitting in one place.

What should you do if you have an unbalanced vaginal pH?

To know that you have an unbalanced vaginal pH, you can first check for some symptoms that include vaginal itching, a burning sensation when you go to the bathroom, an unusual smell, or abnormal discharge with a change in color (it might be yellow or green).

To treat an unbalanced vaginal pH, talk to your doctor about what is right for your body.  And make sure you don’t douche, it throws off your pH balance!  Your doctor will give you antibiotics or another form of helping to maintain your pH.  Make sure to check in with your OBGYN or Primary Care Doctor if you think you need help.

Doctors will actually look to see if you have an elevated pH of above 4.5 when first diagnosing vaginal infections.

There are ways to have a healthy vaginal pH!

There are a number of ways to make sure your vaginal pH is at a healthy level, the first of these is to make sure that you use a condom when you have sex.  The condom not only helps protect you from STDs but it also stops the more basic semen from unbalancing your vaginas more acidic levels of pH.

Try taking more probiotics.  They are great for helping you have healthy bacteria in your body.

Eat all of the yogurt!  Like probiotics, it helps you get healthy bacteria in your body.  Other good eats are chia seeds, kefir, and cottage cheese.

Make sure you don’t douche.  You’ve heard about the problems with douching, instead of cleaning your vagina effectively, it strips it of the good bacteria you need to keep your vagina acidic and fighting off the bad bacteria.

Make sure to wipe from front to back after urinating to prevent the spread of unwanted bacteria in your vaginal opening.

Make sure to consult with your OBGYN.  You want to have regular appointments to make sure you are healthy and well.

About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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