Sex writer Karley Sciortino discusses her years-long journey to finally get her vaginal health on track. Having a vagina is stressful. Being a woman essentially confirms that your bathroom cabinet is permanently overflowing with vaginal antifungal creams, and that more than once you’ve thrown a pair of bloody underwear into the garbage of a public restroom. However, when everything down there is operating smoothly and your pH balance is in check, the vagina can be a magical portal to sexual and self discovery.
A Brief HistoryMy journey toward vaginal enlightenment began in my mid-20s. My-then boyfriend noted that my vagina smelled “weird.” I was like, “Ugh, you are the personification of toxic masculinity! As an empowered feminist influencer, I will not stand for this!” And then a few weeks later I went to the gyno for a checkup and found out I had bacterial vaginosis (BV), and was like… Oh, sh*t. At the time I didn’t fully know what bacterial vaginosis was. If you’re in the dark, BV is a bacterial infection that occurs when the different kinds of healthy bacteria in your vagina get out of balance. Basically, it’s a tragic situation that results in your discharge smelling like a fish explosion, often paired with itching, burning, and pain during intercourse. One in three women will get it in their lifetime, though most don’t have symptoms. It’s not an STD, and even virgins get it. However, having sex with a new partner, or multiple partners, can increase your risk of getting it, meaning it’s a condition that disproportionately affects sluts—aka me—which I find highly offensive. In the years to come I dated lots of “rock n’ roll” guys who didn’t shower—unsurprisingly, another risk. When I got BV, I was prescribed antibiotics as a remedy. But as I continued my immersive sexual “research,” the BV repeatedly came back with a vengeance. Hence, more antibiotics, which isn’t healthy. But taking an antibiotic can cause a yeast infection (literally, is the universe trolling us?), which catapulted me into an endless ping-pong between the two. To add to the mix, I was also getting UTI’s—in part, in hindsight, for constantly wearing cheap, faux-lace panties, and being too lazy to pee after sex. I once got a UTI so bad that it morphed into a kidney infection, which landed me in the hospital. I love sex, but sex started to feel stressful, because it put me at risk of this hellish trifecta.
The “Climax”A month into dating my current boyfriend, I woke up at 6 a.m. to horrible pain in my lower abdomen. As anyone with chronic UTI’s knows, the pain wasn’t mysterious. Since my doctor didn’t open for multiple hours, I figured I’d just do my normal routine until then: pee a few droplets of razor blades, then lie on the bathroom floor in the fetal position for roughly 10 minutes until I undoubtedly had to pee again. However, this UTI wasn’t joking. In the end, I had to lie down in a hot shower to enable me to pee as needed, without having to stand up. Two hours later, my boyfriend woke up to find me still lying in the shower, crying, lightly peeing on myself. Rather than being freaked out, he promptly brought me ibuprofen and rushed me to the doctor, which was when I knew I’d won the boyfriend lottery. At the doctor’s office, I learned a scary piece of info: Because of decades of doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, humans are developing antibiotic resistance, which is currently one of the biggest threats to global health. UTI’s are some of the most common infections in the world, and studies show that UTI-causing bacteria are growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics. I discovered that my chronic UTI’s were actually one lingering UTI that each round of antibiotics minimized, but didn’t totally kill. Finally, I was put on two antibiotics at once, for two full weeks—the longest I’ve gone without drinking since I was sixteen—to get rid of it. If you have chronic UTI’s, I recommend checking with your doctor to assess whether this could also be happening to you. After that, I went into mega prevention mode.
HOW I RESTORED MY VAGINAL HEALTHSince then, I’ve become a psycho with a daily vaginal self-care regimen. It includes pounding probiotics and cranberry pills daily. Probiotics help maintain a healthy vaginal microbiome—I’m not a scientist and don’t know what that means, but I don’t care as long as it prevents my sh*t from getting messed up. Cranberry helps protect urinary tract health. And I love probiotics so f-ing much that I literally thanked them in the acknowledgements of my book. The rest of my regimen includes:
- peeing immediately after sex
- only wearing cotton underwear
- only using silicone sex toys that can be de-sanitized in boiling water
- abandoning latex condoms for other birth control methods
- being a neurotic who asks my partner to wash their hands and/or penis before sex
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