Hot Town, Summer In The City: Keep Your Vag From Feeling Dirty And Gritty

Please note: the suggestions in this article are not intended to serve as professional medical advice.

As you may have noticed, it’s extraordinarily hot outside. So hot that it’s getting harder and harder to be a fully functioning human. I really don’t love existing in temperatures this high. But you know who does truly love how much you are sweating in this weather? The bacteria in your vagina!

Just like the bacteria in your mouth love to fester while you sleep, if you have a vagina, the germs that naturally live in it will multiply given the right conditions. These conditions involve heat, moisture and irritation, all of which are a lot more likely to occur in the summer months. And when the bacteria multiply, it leads to infections, which can be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst.

Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infections

The most common vaginal infections are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Both yeast infections and BV are caused by the overgrowth of certain fungus and bacteria, and the symptoms can include the presence of extreme itching and extra discharge. Urinary tract infections are also caused by bacteria, and occur when said bacteria enters the urethra. A UTI can be extremely painful and dangerous, especially if it spreads to your kidneys. Symptoms can include frequent, painful urination and cloudy or bloody urine.

Of course, bacterial infections and UTIs aren’t caused just by summertime factors. The natural balance of microscopic creatures between your legs can be upset by a lot of things, such as if you are taking antibiotics or birth control pills, have a weakened immune system because of HIV or diabetes, or even if you have a scratch within your vulva. Some people are just more prone to infections than other people, and everyone is different. If you think you have a bacterial infection of any kind, stop reading this article and call your gynecologist. Then you can come back and finish reading.

Let’s talk about some of the ways to decrease the summertime extra-prevalence of heat, moisture, and irritation in your vagina, so that we can all avoid developing the itch that can’t be scratched.

 

Your Underwear

You should wear 100% cotton underwear, especially when it’s a million degrees outside. Other materials might feel nice to the touch and look sexy, but rather than absorbing moisture, they hold it in, which maintains the extremely warm and moist conditions we’re trying to avoid. This is even more important when it’s hot out because you’ll be sweating more. Cotton also allows for maximum airflow, which is really important for minimizing irritation.

I promise cotton can be sexy

If your cotton underwear gets super sweaty, it’s a good idea to simply put a clean pair on. Bring an extra pair to work in case you get stuck waiting on the subway platform for the sweatiest 20 minutes of your life. There’s no shame in changing your underwear.

Also, always wash your underwear in hot water. Important: cold water does not kill bacteria. So always check the label before you buy underwear to see if you’re allowed to wash it in hot water. Otherwise it’s not worth it! I don’t care how cute it is!

If you are a thong-wearing human, you might want to consider an alternative for the summer: that tiny strip of fabric acts as a bacterial superhighway between your anus and your vagina. The bacteria that live in your anus do not belong in your vagina (there is a reason these parts of your body are separated), so this can lead to a UTI.

 

Your Towels

Listen up. Yeast and other bacteria can live on towels. I don’t care if she’s your girlfriend and you haven’t used it since yesterday, you all need your own towels. This goes for pool towels, beach towels, and post-shower towels. Also, you could be giving yourself recurring yeast infections if you are using the same towel throughout your infection. This is especially true when it’s hot and muggy and towels aren’t drying as fast as they do the rest of the year. Wash your towels frequently in hot water.

 

Your Bathing Suit

Do not hang out in a wet bathing suit. The goal here is to be cool and dry, and hanging out in a wet bathing suit is literally the opposite of that. Also, if you’ve been swimming in a lake, you’ve probably picked up bacteria from it. And let me assure you, that bacteria would love to be introduced to your vagina via your wet bathing suit.

 

Riding Your Bike

When you ride a bike, you’re applying lots of friction to your vagina through the bike seat. Also, you are probably sweating quite a bit, and so that extra moisture gets trapped between your skin and the seat. This can lead to all the aforementioned infections. Again, in the summer you are probably sweating more than usual, so this increases the risk. Simply tilting your bike seat down away from your vagina will help a lot.

There are several products available that can decrease the amount of labial chaffing caused from bike riding. One such product is unfortunately named Lady Anti-Monkey Butt Powder, and claims to keep your vag dry even during vigorous exercise. Please note that the aim of this product is not to mask your beautiful natural vaginal smell, but to help decrease irritation and moisture buildup.

You can also buy moisture wicking underwear, which many people enjoy for bike riding because it literally wicks the sweat away. However, I’ve heard others say that it simply moves the sweat to elsewhere on your body, which can be uncomfortable. Also if you try it, make sure that your outer layer is absorbent, otherwise the moisture you just wicked will stay in place.

 

Your Cute Tight Shorts

If your shorts are too tight in the crotch, you will trap moisture and heat and also be irritating the area. High-waisted shorts in particular seem to be a major perpetrator of this phenomenon. A good rule of thumb is that if your pants fit right, you should be able to put two hands down your waistband. That serves multiple purposes in addition to comfort. You’re welcome.

these are probably too tight

 

Your Steamy Summer Fling

Vaginal yeast infections are technically not sexually transmitted infections, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get them from having sex. Yeast, and lots of other bacterial friends, live in your mouth. So if someone with a yeasty mouth goes down on you for an extended period of time, you could get a yeast infection. Also, if you have a yeast infection and someone goes down on you, they could get a yeast infection of the mouth, which is called thrush. Some simple preventative measures include brushing your teeth 2-3 times a day and flossing. Using mouthwash actually tips the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth, so you can remove that from your routine. Also, eat less sugar, and avoid yeasty foods like bread and yeasty beverages like beer and wine, especially before having sex. Also also, please stop smoking.

The only surefire way to prevent bacteria from spreading during oral sex is to have safe sex, and use a dental dam . You can put lubricant on both sides of the dam, but make sure that that it does not contain glycerin, because glycerin can also cause bacterial infections. It’s like pouring sugar on your vagina (please don’t do that).

As previously mentioned, you should avoid doing anything that will combine things from your butt with things from your vag. If you don’t want to get up in the middle of having sex to disinfect your hand, dildo, vibrator, or other sex toy, you can always use condoms or latex gloves.

Finally, whether or not you have an orgasm, you should always pee after having sex. This will help clear the bacteria out of your urethra, decreasing the risk of a UTI.

If it’s too late for preventative measures, check out this handy guide for some suggestions about what to do if you already have a yeast infection. And please call your gynecologist.

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Gabrielle writes facts and feelings from an old brick house in an outer borough of New York City. When she's not writing about lesbians, she's editing/writing/producing things at her day job in the beauty department of a well-known online style magazine. In her spare time, she helps organize the New York City Dyke March and makes up songs about her dog.

Gabrielle has written 96 articles for us.

71 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    Yeast is not bacterial (candida is fungal, kinda like athletes foot).

    Normal healthy vaginas are full of bacteria, nice happy healthy bacteria that keep you free from BV and thrush.

    Avoid douching, wear cotton (or even better no underwear with skirts), pee after sex, wipe front to back, don’t have bubblebaths. Eat healthy, drink lots of water, enjoy your summers.

  2. Thumb up 2

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    And please avoid the boric acid. The whole professional side of me has shuddered big stylee. In the UK you can get canesten over the counter, costs a wee bit more than a prescription but you can go to your GP or GUM clinic for free so just do it. Many Gps would be willing to treat typical thrush in low risk patients based on history alone, so you don’t even have to have the unpleasantness of a speculum examination.

    (but avoid Friday afternoons with your GP for swabs and blood tests as unless they are very lucky to have a lab on site it’s a wasted journey for you both)

  3. Thumb up 4

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    latex can be irritating to many people (esp if you don’t use enough lube), and polyurethane (or nitrile) condoms and gloves are waaaaay nicer to touch/feel. plus, potential partners are less likely to be allergic to it ;)

    awesome article since it seems unladylike to mention the sweat of the vag but c’mon, let’s talk about it. and autostraddle does! thanks!!!

  4. Thumb up 1

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    And yogurt! Yogurt contains l.acidophilus which is a “good” bacteria that balances out the natural flora and fauna of the body. So eating yogurt (preferably with no sugary fruit topping or honey)balances out the bacteria/yeast ratio – both in the intestines and the vag.
    As a matter of fact, some home remedies for yeast infections call for inserting plain yogurt up there. But don’t quote me on that one!

  5. Thumb up 2

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    The yeast in bread and beer is absolutely different than Candida, and eating foods made with culinary yeast has zero to do with transferring yeast infections. Also, eating yogurt does nothing for yeast infections… old wives’ tale.

        • Thumb up 6

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          *wince* Didn’t want my first comment here to be a GET TEH SCIENCE RIGHT OMG, but I study yeast for a living and this is making me twitchy. Please excuse the pedantry.

          1) Most alcoholic beverages don’t actually still have yeast in them. Unfiltered beers would be the exception.

          2) Re: the comment one above, no, different yeast species do not feed on one another. At all. (Conditions that are good for one species to grow are usually good for another, but that’s a feature of the environment and has nothing to do with whether another yeast species is present.)

          3) Candida albicans does, in fact, like sugar, but sugar in your digestive tract is not going to cause or contribute to thrush. Eating the sugar isn’t a problem; it’s leaving it on your teeth that will help Candida grow.

          • Thumb up 6

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            So is it safe for Stef to continue pouring sugar on her vagina? This is extremely relevant to my life as I and my sweet tooth are returning to A-Camp in September.

          • Thumb up 1

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            In high school one of my friends had thrush all over the side of her face from the lapse of judgement that was hooking up with some dude on the wrestling team.
            I will never be able to un-see that image, so I don’t fuck around. I pretty much exclusively drinks unfiltered beer, so thank you for the tip Gabrielle!

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            see now this is why I love autostraddle: wide variety of lovely learned ladies who can turn me on with their love of scienciness.

            And who care enough to share their sexy knowledge

  6. Thumb up 3

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    “Also, always wash your underwear in hot water. Important: cold water does not kill bacteria.”

    Most washing machines don’t reach temperatures high enough to kill bacteria (140-165°F or so), and super high temperatures aren’t really possible if you’re handwashing.
    You can still disinfect your stuff though! I use Pine Sol because I like the smell.
    For more options, there’s a cute government brochure from the 60s!
    http://agnic.msu.edu/hgpubs/modus/morefile/hg97_70.pdf

      • Thumb up 4

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        I’ve been going Commando for years. I get it’s not for everyone but I have to say I love it! My jeans are pretty “form fitting” and I feel like my panties bunch up and strangle my lady parts. I have no visable panty line. I’ve never felt any chafing. I wash my jeans after every wearing. This is crucial! And I haven’t had a single yeast infection since I started this. It has freaked a few ladies out.. I think mostly we’re programmed that it’s “wrong”..But my current girlfriend doesn’t have an issue with it. At all. In fact, it’s kind if fun in public settings to lean in close and remind her that I’m not wearing any! Try it. That’s the only way you’ll know. Only took me that first time to convince me! Never looked back.

        • Thumb up 3

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          This reminded me of how my gf in college never wore anything under her jeans….which is fine, except that she tended to also be the drunk girl who lost her pants. That leads to some interesting conversations with your co-workers, who have now seen your lady-bits!

          • Thumb up 1

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            Ooooh, I do take my pants off a lot, so I guess it is unders for me. People spill things on them and I have to take them off. Or it gets too hot. Or I just don’t want to wear them.

            I guess I’m just going to have to keep wearing my unders. :( But :) because I can keep taking off my pants.

          • Thumb up 2

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            But certainly on *special* occasions? I’m telling you, do it next time you are out at a party or event with your favorite lady. Just lean in close and whisper in her ear “Oh. Hey. Did I neglect to mention that I’m not wearing any panties tonight? Nada. None. Just thought you should know.” Enjoy the reaction. Your welcome.

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            Or perhaps Marika would whisper, “Oh. Hey. Did I just neglect to mention I’m not wearing any boxers tonight? Nada. None. Just thought you should know.” Didn’t get the impression you wore panties… ;)

            Also, Digger, have done. Total fucking win.

          • Thumb up 2

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            Trunks or boxer briefs! Occasionally boxers. Good call, Christie. Good. Call.

            And I’ll think about it, next time I have a pretty lady to whisper things to. :P

        • Thumb up 2

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          digger since meeting you at camp i read all your comments in your voice and i can picture your facial expressions while you “say” them and it just makes the experience of reading your comments 100000x better. and it was already really good before, so.

          • Thumb up 4

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            *FEELINGS* .. That’s really quite sweet! Thanks. And now of course you can “hear” them in my voice while also picturing that I’m not wearing any underwear!

  7. Thumb up 8

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    I just want to say that all underwear can, indeed, be washed in hot water! I’m kind of a clothing care freak–I wash literally everything I own by hand and have all sorts of weird-ass methods for removing stains and other garment care issues. Don’t ever let a tag tell you differently: all of your underwears can be washed in hot water. You have some silk satin knickers? Cool. Dissolve a really gentle soap in a basin with hot water, swish them around, and gently rub clean the parts that get especially…germy. Rinse in cold water. Rinse with vinegar. Rinse in cold water again. Air dry. And you’re good! If you can do all of this with distilled water, your fancy thing will do even better. They may not look 100% perfect shiny as when you bought them, but nothing ever does after it’s been worn and cleaned, regardless of method. I have fancy things that I’ve owned for years and they still look great after being washed via this method. Sanitary doesn’t require you to forsake sexy! This femme appreciates the Shane photo as proof that cotton can be sexy, but I would still die if I had to say goodbye to my shiny lacy ruffly underthings.
    Also! Foods made with yeast in don’t cause yeast infections (at least not yeast->yeast directly). These are totally different sorts of yeast. Although drinking too much beer might lead to a yeast infection just because it leads to lots of questionable decisions that affect your vag…

  8. Thumb up 4

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    My two cents–I think the suggestions are meant to avoid/control systemic yeast infections, not just vaginal ones. I was on a medication that can lead to fungal overgrowth (I quit it) but it did seem like for me, going easier on the sugar/booze and taking a probiotic pill helped out a bit. I’m still having problems so I started taking olive leaf extract, which knocked me for a loop for a couple days (herxheimer reaction?) but now I seem okay.

    I’m a scientist AND I’m all into alternative medicine, so I’m an outlier here.

  9. Thumb up 1

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    I am a nursing student and have worked with/around women’s health for over 5 years and there are a lot of good tips on here. Thanks for sharing!

    Sometimes though, trying all of these things may not prevent or resolve your yeast infections… Just FYI… (sometimes it may be a chronic yeast infection condition, be related to diabetes, or just may need an actual medication unfortunately)

    So… just get it checked out if it comes back even if you’re sticking to this advice!!

  10. Thumb up 3

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    “Your vulva asked me to write this.”

    Hm, well, if my vulva asked you to go to the trouble of writing this, I guess the least I could do would be read it…

    I’m not aloud wear tight shorts??? But what about my bootylicious bottom? :(

    “Lady Anti-Monkey Butt Powder” made me wet my bootylicious shorts.

  11. Thumb up 2

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    In the middle of reading this article, I got up and took off my post-workout, partially-spandex thong underwear. Thank you AS for that reminder for my vaginal health.

    Also, if you’re not willing to go commando during the day or switch to all-cotton, full-assed underwear, the least you can do for your XX genitals is sleep sans underpants. I’ve done that for years and the only time I got a yeast infection was after I slept with a personal trainer who I believe skipped a shower after working out -_-

  12. Thumb up 1

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    In the South, hot days are sometimes referred to as “powder in your panties days” for that reason. Women sometimes (I have only witnessed my gmom do this) put baby powder in their panties to absorb moisture. Less moisture, less smell and bacteria.

    Yep, it works.

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