The V Spot
Interview with Dr Rhoda Molife
Do you find that black women are comfortable speaking about their vaginas?
Generally, we’re not. You know in our culture anything to do with our sexuality is generally not for discussion. But here’s the good news – it is probably more to do with the generation we’re from – so our mothers and grandmothers didn’t talk to us about our vaginas, though I bet amongst themselves they probably did. And I think our generation and those younger – in their 20s and 30s – are more comfortable having these conversations and are more open about anything to do with our sexuality, especially when we’re together. What we may not talk so much about is vaginal health. I don’t think this is limited to black women…women period don’t talk so much about vaginal health.
What are the common issues you find are prevalent to black women when it comes to vaginal health?
You know I think the main issue is still about vaginal cleanliness. Should we use soap or douches to wash our vaginas? By now, we should know that we shouldn’t but there are still pockets of us that think that we need to scrub with all sorts to ‘keep clean’, not realising what a wonderful and smart mechanism the vagina has to keep itself clean and healthy and that all we need is water and a mild soap for the vulval (outer) area.
The other issue we have is – vaginal appearance. I think many of us don’t know what our vaginas look like nor understand that each one is different. The key is to get to know your own really well, to look at it, examine it, feel it and only when you know yours well, can you then know when things change.
Vaginal discharges can also be a source of confusion. Not all discharges mean a sexually transmitted disease. So, how do you recognise a discharge that needs medical attention?
Briefly – a clear, odourless discharge is quite normal and you’ll find that it varies during the menstrual cycle; during ovulation it may be thicker and stretchier.
Thrush causes a thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and is associated with some itching.
Any discoloured or blood-stained discharge absolutely needs medical attention and usually means an infection.
Do you think there is a taboo in the black community overall about discussing a woman’s vagina?
There is but I like to think it is improving with each generation.
Do you think vaginal health is discussed enough between mother and daughter?
Though it’s getting better it’s still not enough. So you find that whilst it’s easier to talk about it now, some key facts still aren’t being shared and there still isn’t enough openness. And many mothers themselves don’t know enough to share with their daughters but there are many mothers out there that are doing a great job at it. And those who are, this is what they tell me they do and this is what I do (though I have a son and not a daughter):
- Use the term vagina (and for boys, penis) as soon as they start asking. Try and avoid, pet names and abstract names like: ‘bits’ or ‘things’. This demystifies genitalia and makes them feel that their vagina or penis is theirs, and a part of them that they own. It also makes them comfortable and eliminates embarrassment.
- Teach them how to care for their vaginas; as they get to the teens and are more aware of their bodies, teach them to examine them and get comfortable with how they look. This is important because as they start growing into young women and meeting young men, inevitably they will start having sex. Not being comfortable with their whole beings, can limit how much they enjoy sex. With porn now being so prevalent, both parties get the wrong idea of what the perfect vagina (and penis) should look like, and this puts unjustified and unrealistic expectations on everyone. Girls need to understand that just as we have different noses and ears, we have different vaginas – and unless you have a congenital defect – there is no ‘normal’ looking vagina. This simple acceptance can avoid many hang-ups in later years.
- The main thing is to have an approach to the vagina like you do to other parts of the body – accept it as part of your body – like you do your hair and your teeth. Normalise it.
Signs of poor vaginal health
- Let’s work from the outside in:
Outer – ulcers, redness, soreness, itching
Inner – discharge colour, unusual consistency; ‘not your usual discharge’
Smell – offensive smell
Bleeding – in between periods, after sex
|smells fishy||bacterial vaginosis|
|thick and white (like cottage cheese)||thrush|
|green, yellow or frothy||trichomoniasis|
|with pelvic pain (or bleeding)||chlamydia or gonorrhoea|
|with blisters or sores||genital herpes|
See a GP or go to a sexual health clinic if:
- your discharge changes colour, smell or texture
- you produce more discharge than usual
- you feel itchy or sore
- you bleed between periods or after sex
- you get pain when peeing
- you get pain in the area between your tummy and thighs (pelvic pain)
Vaginal do’s and don’ts
- wash gently
- use water or plain soap on the outside of your vagina only
- use perfumed soaps or gels
- use deodorants or scented hygiene wipes
What to do to promote health?
Exercise to keep pelvic floor muscles strong
Use condoms as a precaution with new partners and those whose sexual health you don’t know about to minimise the risk of picking up infections and maximise enjoyment without the worry and distress that comes with unwanted infections.
Sleep without underwear or wear breathable cotton underwear.
Dr Rhoda Molife
1st February 2018