Your vagina is just another part of you, just like your heart or brain or legs. So it makes sense to get to know it.
"Some women don't have any idea what's normal and what's not normal," says Jennifer Ashton, MD, author of The Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You. And that can cause many young women to think that everything's bad.
These suggestions can help you be smart and healthy about your vagina.
1. Know what your girl parts look like.
You can bet guys know their own bodies! Get to know yours. Use a hand mirror to explore your vulva (folds of skin outside the vagina) and vagina. You'll see what's where, and be able to tell if something is wrong.
One common blooper is to think that pee comes out of the vagina. Urine comes out of a completely different opening that lies between the clitoris and the vagina.
Most of the vagina itself lies inside your body, so an illustration is a good way to get to know it.
"Women freak out when they lose something in their vagina," says Lissa Rankin, MD, author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend. "They think the vagina doesn't end, so if they lose a tampon, it will end up in their lung."
For the record, your vagina is about three to five inches long. It connects to your uterus (womb), but the opening to the uterus (called the cervical os) is very small -- unless you're about to deliver a baby. So a tampon can't get lost or move beyond your vagina.
2. You don't need to douche or use special cleaners.
Your vagina is self-cleaning. If anything, you just need a mild soap or shampoo on your pubic hair and the outer vulva. Avoid rubbing with a washcloth. Don't douche or use other special cleaning products for your vagina. These can ruin the normal balance of bacteria and cause problems.
3. Vaginal discharge is normal when it's clear.
The vagina is a mucus membrane. That means fluids are supposed to be there. And you may see a few spots on your underwear. Some women have more discharge than others. Being on the birth control pill can affect discharge.
4. Changes in discharge can mean an infection.
Yeast infections are fairly common. They tend to cause a white discharge that looks like cottage-cheese. They bring a lot of itching and redness but no odor. They're usually treated with creams or other meds that go directly into the vagina. Doctors sometimes prescribe pills.
Another common infection, called bacterial vaginosis, causes a greenish or yellowish discharge. It smells fishy, especially after sex.