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You’ve heard of pH but what is it?

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Well, first of all, the P stands for the ‘Potential’ and H is the chemical symbol for hydrogen. So, pH literally means the potential for hydrogen. pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a water-based environment. For a solution to have a pH, it has to be aqueous (contains water). Thus, you cannot have a pH of vegetable oil or alcohol. The pH scale is from zero to 14, with pH7 in the middle being neutral or neither acidic nor alkaline. If a pH is lower than 7, then the liquid is acidic, and when above 7, it is alkaline. Vinegar is pH2, so it is very acidic and oven cleaner is pH12-13, so it is well alkaline.

Let us look closer at intimacy and why pH is important?

A healthy vaginal pH level is between 3.8 and 4.5, which is fairly acidic, keeping harmful bacteria at bay and encouraging healthy bacteria. Interestingly, postmenopausal women are naturally more likely to have a vaginal pH level that is higher than 4.5. This is because of lowered estrogen levels following menopause. This acidity is made by a naturally occurring good bacteria population (called lactobacillus). When this population is reduced or compromised, it cannot make sufficient lactic acid to keep the pH low. Examples of the sort of concerning microbes are Candida albicans (causes Thrush), HIV, and various bacteria (causing Cystitis and bacterial vaginosis). Lactobacillus spp.’s dominance of the vaginal microbiota is an important factor in maintaining urogenital health. It is important

to understand that for good vaginal health, you should keep your vagina acidic.

At Lucy, we have worked with our TGA-approved manufacturer to develop our lubricant at a pH level of 4.38 – pretty good if we do say so ourselves!

There are some situations that can impact the Lactobacilli and stop them from operating normally which means their ability to protect against infections is lost:

  • Vaginal dryness – As the vagina dries, the ability of the lactobacillus to function correctly is reduced, so the pH rises.

  • If you take antibiotics, they are designed in most cases to kill both the good and bad bacteria. Usually, the lactobacillus will come back quickly once the course of antibiotics has finished, but if an infection gets there first, they may not be able to bring back the protective acidic levels fast enough.

  • Sex with a male partner! The presence of semen (which slightly alkaline) neutralises vaginal acidity, for several hours. This is good if you are trying for a baby, as sperm stop swimming in acidic conditions, so the alkaline nature of semen gives fertilisation a chance.

  • Douching with neutral or alkaline solutions can make the vaginal environment less acidic.

Intimate human pH varies:

  • Vaginal - pH is acidic, typically pH 3.8-4.5

  • Rectal - pH is neutral at pH 7.0

  • Semen - pH is slightly alkaline at pH 7.0-8.5

What are the good bacteria?

Lactobacilli are the most abundant vaginal bacteria in women. They inhibit the binding of other bacteria to epithelial cells and produce lactic acid that kills or inhibits the growth of many other bacteria. These are the good bacteria and they are naturally occurring in the vagina. They produce lactic acid, which keeps the vagina at around pH4. A healthy vagina is lactobacillus-dominant.

How to maintain a healthy vagina?

Know what is in your lube. Glycerine, for one, is related to sugar. While it works great to keep lubes moist, it can also contribute to bacterial growth in the vagina. Petroleum products are also no-nos because they can ruin the vagina’s natural pH level.

Other things you may want to avoid include parabens, scents, flavours, and dyes.

  • If you douche, try not to do it too often as you run the risk of washing away the good bacteria.

  • Try never to use products containing chemicals that can interfere with the vaginal environment or cause irritation. By this, we mean fragranced tampons and panty liners or intimate deodorants.

  • Have more showers than baths – less exposure to the chemicals in the soaps and bath product.

  • Understand what materials are contained in your sex toys. Like lube, you really need to know what you are putting in your body. Make sure that you do your research on what is contained in the material and practice safe cleaning of the toys. Some cleaners do not work well with some materials.

  • Peeing after sex can help reduce the likelihood of UTIs. Plus, it helps you get in some discrete clean-up time.

  • Avoid strong soaps as most soaps are strongly alkaline and it is not just the vagina that matters here, the outer tissues are delicate

  • Look for TGA-certified products – it’s a confirmation that it’s safe for the bodily environment it was intended for by Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) standards. Without this, there’s no guarantee that your lube product doesn’t contain anything that’s grossly offensive to your vulva skin and vaginal pH. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is a Commonwealth Government agency that regulates medical devices and drugs. Lucy Lube is registered and certified with the TGA.

~ Words by: Alan McCarthy

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