We’re flooded with health tips on a regular basis (“Don’t eat this!”, “Buy this supplement!”, “Work out more!”), and figuring out how to keep our bodies healthy can feel overwhelming. Between influencers, specialists, and bestselling books, it’s difficult to know who to listen to and what advice to take. At The Everygirl, our mission is to make wellness less overwhelming (because taking care of your body should be easier and feel more natural than asking for a raise or cultivating a killer wardrobe). As the resident wellness editor, I’m on a mission to bring you only the top experts (who know their stuff) and advice that will actually help improve your well-being instead of causing you stress, anxiety, or guilt.
While you might know that eating veggies and moving the body are crucial daily habits, so is tending to your sexual health—and most of us aren’t paying enough attention to it. So I asked a leading women’s health expert and gynecologist the most basic tips that everyone with a vagina can adapt today to become a bit healthier by tomorrow. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OB/GYN, is basically your neighborhood gynecologist who also happens to be a leading professor at Yale University and has been honored by The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame for her significant contributions to the care and well-being of women (NBD). Here are six easy changes she recommends everyone can make for better health.
1. Relying on “Dr. Google”
PSA: Call your doctor with questions and concerns instead of typing it into Google. Besides the common WebMD anxiety (Googling a small headache or minor pain can spiral into major health anxiety), Dr. Minkin also warned that there’s a lot of false information that can be damaging. “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” she advised. “Googling your questions can be helpful at times, but it’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider instead.” In other words, feel free to search for things like how to naturally improve energy if you’re feeling a slump (eating an apple, getting outside, or moving the body can’t hurt!), but for making conclusions about your health and symptoms? Leave that job for a professional, not a search engine.
2. Waiting for a reason to see your gyno
Abnormal symptoms, family planning, painful periods, and switching birth control methods are all great reasons to visit your gyno, but they’re not the only reasons. In fact, you should make regular visits to your doc even when you don’t have a reason at all. “Wanting to be healthy is the only reason you need to see your OB/GYN,” Minkin encouraged. “It is absolutely necessary to schedule routine appointments to monitor your health as you age.” The general rule of thumb is an annual gynecological checkup, but talk to your doctor about what frequency makes sense for your body, symptoms, and lifestyle.
Minkin also advised that it’s most important to feel comfortable with your provider. While you still need appointments with a gynecologist to receive the recommended pap smears, exams, etc., regular checkups with a knowledgeable physician’s associate, nurse practitioner, or midwife is fine, as long as you feel safe, heard, and comfortable with them.
3. Using scented soaps, washes, tampons, etc. “down there”
While vanilla-scented wash or tampons with a “fresh” floral scent might sound alluring, they’re probably not good for you. For one reason, vaginas are not supposed to smell like vanilla or florals—they’re supposed to smell like vaginas (and that’s OK!). If you notice an abnormal scent coming from your period, discharge, or the general “down there” area, Minkin recommended talking to your doctor to rule out infections, evaluating what hygiene products you’re using, and taking a probiotic. “A lot of products (especially scented) throw off the vagina’s pH balance,” she warned. She recommends patients take a probiotic like RepHresh Pro-B for vaginal health to balance yeast and bacteria. Also, try to swap the fancy soaps for a non-toxic, unscented, and pH-balancing external wash. (PS: That goes for toys, condoms, and anything else that might come in contact with your vagina. Unscented is best.)
4. Tracking your cycle
If you don’t have a go-to app or old school calendar method to keep track of your cycle, you need to (even if you don’t think there’s a “reason” to know when you’re getting your period). “It’s important to keep track of your menstrual cycle to know your timing of ovulation, whether or not you are trying to conceive,” Minkin said. “When you are familiar with your cycle, you’re better equipped to recognize when something might be wrong or irregular.” Knowledge is power, and that goes for your fertility cycle too. Use an app like MyFlo to record symptoms like migraines, PMS, cramps, and acne, or simply mark on your calendar the first and last day of bleeding so you can look for any irregularities. And if you don’t get a regular period, tracking any symptoms can help you identify patterns and possible causes.
5. Examining your breasts regularly
Putting on a face mask and dry brushing might be regular acts of self-care you know and love, but I’d like to suggest a new self-care practice to add to your routine: examining your breasts. Whether it’s before bed, any time you’re in the shower, or once a week, turn feeling yo’self into a regular habit so you know what your breasts feel like and can detect any changes or abnormalities early on (for how to perform a breast exam, click here).
“Although OB/GYNs aren’t supposed to officially recommend breast exams, we do promote ‘breast self-awareness,’ so make sure you know what your breasts feel like and report any changes you notice to your health care provider,” Minkin said. The point is not to worry about every lump, bump, or tenderness but rather to know your breasts so well that you know when you feel something abnormal. Knowing your body is the most powerful tool for our health we have access to, so start practicing self-awareness with regular breast exams.
6. Taking safe sex seriously
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but your use of protection should not be determined by your possibility to get pregnant. Whether you’re on oral birth control, have an IUD, are with someone of the same sex, or cannot get pregnant for whatever reason, you should still use protection when having sex with a new partner or multiple partners (you can never be too safe). If you’re unsure, ask your doctor about what safe sex method is best for you and when a form of protection is necessary. Also, Minkin recommended regularly getting tested for STIs (at least annually if you’re using protection, but the best practice is to both get tested before any new partner). Minkin’s slogan? “There is a Trojan for everything.” Always have some form of protection on hand, just in case.