The Top 10 Intimate Care Habits No One Talks About

November 29, 2018

By Frances Lucraft

As she tells it, Kaleigh Heard grew up in a wild household with two athletic brothers who brought a daily explosion of energy and competition. Yet despite all of the rampant testosterone, the three were some of the most educated pre-teens around regarding sexual and reproductive health. This was thanks to their mother, a high school physical education and health teacher who taught thousands of students about the ‘often uncomfortable, slightly icky, make you squirm’ kind of health.

This meant that in-depth, no-holds-barred hygiene talks were always on the table. It meant learning at length about healthy relationships and intimate partner violence. It meant knowing from a young age the risks associated with not maintaining good intimate hygiene practices. Not just for Kaleigh, but for the boys as well.

The Unmentionables

It wasn’t until Kaleigh co-founded The Unmentionables – an organisation that provides undergarments, menstrual products, and sexual health products to displaced people around the world – that she realised how unusual this education was. The taboos surrounding these issues are immense.

People with periods (mainly women and girls) are only just now feeling comfortable being open about their periods and fertility issues. Open conversations about intimate partner violence are only recently coming to the forefront thanks to brave individuals who are telling their stories. People who do not have periods (mainly men and boys) are only now gaining access to conversations on intimate health topics at all.

Kaleigh now applies her unique education – which includes two Masters Degrees in International Conflict Management and a visiting doctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford – to providing relief for global refugees who have extremely limited access to hygiene products.

Yet it’s the early education from her mother that has often been so indispensable.

We asked Kaleigh to share her top ten tips for intimate hygiene – and how this applies this to her work in refugee camps.

1. Wearing wet or damp undergarments or swimsuits can result in yeast infections

Same goes for sweaty underwear. This is, of course, not a big deal if you live in stable circumstances with access to laundry facilities. But think about this in the context of a refugee camp – where do you dry your underwear? Would you hang it outside for everyone to see?

2. Wearing the same underwear for several days can lead to skin irritation and infection

There are real risks for both significant skin irritation and infections below the belt for men and women, as underwear carries tons of bacteria.

Changing undies often and washing them with hot water and soap kills bacteria and prevents infections. But for displaced people, accessing clean underwear and the ability to wash and dry it appropriately is often out of the question.

3. Fabric and fit matters

Your underwear fabric makes a significant difference to your health. Cotton or a breathable, moisture-wicking fabric is best, allowing for breathability and absorption of moisture.

Loose-fitting underwear protects against vaginal infections, jock itch, and (oddly) ingrown hairs. This is why The Unmentionables is careful about what kinds of underwear it provides to migrants living in damp and unhygienic circumstances.

4. Thongs can spread E.Coli to your vagina

Not saying never wear a thong again, but be careful! These sexy little undies can spread bacteria from the back to the front that leads to vaginal infections, UTIs and general irritation.

While some migrant women choose thongs (migrating does not stop your love of pretty things), The Unmentionables is very careful to educate them on the risks and proper intimate care should they choose them.

5. Going commando during the day has health risks

Looking at you, boys! We all know you do it. Some of you even brag about it. Ladies, we pretend we don’t, but we do. As great as it is when you have no clean undies left, not wearing underwear causes a whole host of problems because your clothes don’t have a liner.

Trousers will rub the area, irritate sensitive tissue and cause chafing, and the natural moisture produced by intimate areas has nowhere to go, which can irritate the skin further and lead to yeast infections and jock itch.

6. The average age a girl gets her first period is 12

All of us remember our first period. We were young, already awkward, and then we had blood running down our legs. It’s the worst, often most embarrassing moment of our already awkward adolescent existence, and it’s often a memory that stays with us for life.

Though most of us have had mothers, teachers, friends or health professionals around to help us make sense of it all, many refugee girls do not have access to this type of support or education – nor do their mothers.

7. Period products should be changed at least every six hours

Bacteria from blood and sweat can cause infection, rashes, and in the case of tampons, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if not changed regularly. Not adhering to these guidelines can lead to fungal infections. At The Unmentionables, we provide each woman we serve with enough period products that meet these requirements for the entirety of her monthly period.

8. Poor menstrual health can lead to serious reproductive tract infections and infertility

Multiple intimate infections can lead to serious vaginal, cervical, and uterine infections for women – and UTIs can have devastating impacts on men.

Repeated infections, for both men and women, can result in infertility, as they scar and permanently damage the reproductive tracts.

9. Condoms are the only contraceptive that can prevent both unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections

Condoms are 98% effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when used consistently and correctly and, when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), using a condom makes sex 10,000 times safer, with an 80-94% reduction in risk of contracting HIV, a 92% reduction in risk of contracting herpes, and nearly 100% effectiveness in protecting against HPV-related diseases.

The Unmentionables provides condoms both for family planning purposes and for STI prevention.

10. Condoms are one of the most accessible and inexpensive forms of birth control and intimate infection prevention

The cost of condoms is as low as $0.04 each. Meaning for less than a dollar, you can protect 20 intimate encounters against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Many of the individuals The Unmentionables provides condoms to have had to resort to survival sex (prostitution to buy food, water and shelter). While we can’t prevent their circumstances, we can make sure their futures are not coloured by unintended pregnancies and painful or fatal sexually transmitted infections.

Grace & Green is proud to be partnering with The Unmentionables

We are committed to being socially responsible in everything we do.

Given the taboos around intimate health, the provision of these products is often overlooked as donors and aid organisations try to meet the most obvious and easily donated items – solutions for food, water, shelter, and clothing.

But intimate health products are essential to human dignity and wider personal and community.