A healthy vagina has a pH of 4.0 to 4.5, according to Dr. Sophocles, making it moderately acidic. This allows the vulva to naturally protect itself from yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
However, certain things can change your vagina’s pH and make it more susceptible to these issues. One of these is unprotected sex, which introduces bacteria from semen that can cause changes in the vulva’s microbiome.
Many women use lubricants to improve the comfort and pleasure of sexual activity, reduce pain or discomfort, increase their ability to orgasm, and shorten time to orgasm. They also believe lube can help with fertility. However, not all lubes are safe for the vagina. Some contain ingredients that can irritate the vagina, throw off the pH balance and cause dryness or burns. In addition, some lubes can affect sperm motility and decrease the likelihood of pregnancy.
Women vary in the amount of natural lubrication they produce. This is normal and can be caused by hormonal changes (including breastfeeding, perimenopause, and postmenopause), medications, a lack of exercise, or dehydration. Reduced lubrication can also be a side effect of some medications including antibiotics, hormonal forms of birth control, hormone replacement therapy, and some antihistamines.
When choosing a lube, look for a water-based formula that is gentle to the skin and non-irritating. Avoid oil-based lubes, especially those with an osmolality of 4 or above. This level is higher than the osmolality of healthy vaginal fluid and can pull moisture from the body, leading to irritation, yeast infections, and painful sores. Also, be sure to choose a lube that doesn’t contain glycerin, nonoxynol-9, propylene glycol, chlorhexidine gluconate, sugar, fragrances or flavors, and parabens. You should also be sure that the lube you choose is safe for use with condoms as many oils can damage them.
Many medications, including birth control pills, can alter a woman’s vaginal pH level. This is because these pills contain progestins, which increase the amount of basic metabolites in your body. These metabolites can change the bacteria in your vagina, which can cause infections such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. These infections can be uncomfortable, but they’re not usually dangerous. Unbalanced vaginal pH levels can also increase your risk of sexually transmitted infections, including STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease.
Other medications that can affect your vaginal pH include antibiotics and clomid, which both reduce the number of lactobacilli in your body. These antibiotics can lead to a lowered pH level, which allows harmful bacteria to thrive. Taking a probiotic supplement can help restore the levels of these healthy bacteria in your body.
Vaginal odor and itching are signs of an imbalanced pH level, as is vaginal discharge that looks cloudy or bloody. If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to see a women’s health expert right away.
A doctor will examine your symptoms, ask questions about your history, and take a sample of your vaginal fluid to determine the exact cause of the imbalance. Then, they’ll prescribe the right medication to treat it. They may also recommend other treatment options, such as avoiding certain behaviors, such as douching or wearing tight non-breathable clothing. They’ll also advise you on how to get your pH levels back in balance.
Semen is a bodily fluid containing sperm, seminal fluid, mucus and enzymes. It is a necessary part of sexual intercourse and it helps fertilize the female egg to promote conception. Semen can also cause certain bacterial infections if it becomes too acidic or alkaline.
A healthy vagina has a pH measurement between 3.8 and 4.5. This is slightly acidic, but it is ideal for growing Lactobacilli, which are healthy bacteria that the vulva needs. Semen, on the other hand, has a pH between 7.1 and 8. This is highly alkaline and can disrupt the delicate balance of flora in the vulva.
In addition to a change in pH, unprotected sex can increase the amount of bacteria in the vagina and lead to an STI. It can also change the pH level of the semen, which may cause a decrease in fertility.
Men can check the pH level of their semen by using an at-home testing kit. The test requires placing a strip of paper against the skin for a designated period of time, and then comparing it to a color chart in the kit to see the results. In order to get accurate results, men should avoid ejaculating for two to seven days prior to the test, and they should wash their penis and hands carefully to prevent contaminating the sample.
Every substance on the planet falls somewhere on the pH scale between acidic and basic (alkaline). Your vulva, like your skin, has its own unique pH balance that keeps your bacteria in check. Anything that can throw this balance off can lead to infections, including bacterial vaginosis and yeast vaginal infections. Douching, using scented soaps and products around the area, wearing tight non-breathable clothing, and multiple sexual partners can all contribute to an unhealthy pH level.
During your reproductive years, a woman’s normal pH is between 4.0 and 4.5. This protects against unwanted bacteria, like a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, that can cause odor and itching. This healthy pH balance can also prevent STIs.
Vaginal pH levels can go up and down throughout a woman’s lifetime due to different circumstances. Luckily, most of these changes can be prevented with good feminine hygiene habits and simple lifestyle changes.
For example, washing the vulva daily with a gentle cleanser is essential to maintaining a healthy pH level. Wearing loose, comfortable clothing and changing it often can also help prevent bacteria build-up. Also, avoiding scented soaps and using unscented, reusable feminine wipes or a menstrual cup that is made from natural materials are great ways to keep the area clean without disrupting your body’s delicate pH balance. Keeping yourself hydrated and avoiding foods that contain excess sugars and alcohol can also promote healthy bacteria.