You might think only uncircumcised men develop smegma under their foreskins, but this isn’t true: women can accumulate smegma between the labia and under the clitoral hood. How much smegma is a personal thing, but cleaning it out has some standard concepts that should be abided, since it is kind of oily and doesn’t always rinse of easily with water.
(Smegma is the horrible name given to what would normally only be affectionately known as ‘dick cheese’. I know. We’re sorry. You get it too.)
What is smegma?
Smegma is a naturally-occurring oily substance made up of skin cells, oils, and other moisture, say from vaginal secretions or sweat. When it builds up, smegma tends to smell bad and can in some cases lead to an infection. Smegma may be cheesy in both appearance and odour, and can occur more frequently in babies as a protective emollient. If smegma is occurring in excess in a baby, see your pediatrician for more information on cleaning.
Smegma is by its very nature a bit harder to wash off with water, as it serves a protective barrier function for our delicate genitals. Smegma keeps these vulvar areas hydrated and supple.
How to find smegma in your vulva
You’d think that regular washing would get rid of smegma, but this isn’t always true. You will soon discover where your blind spots are of cleaning your vulva by gently pulling your labia apart, and drawing back your clitoral hood as far back as you can go. You may find – after showering – a white substance. This is smegma, and it’s kind of greasy, so isn’t always easy to wash off with water.
Removing smegma from between the labia and around the clitoris
Usually smegma is removed during normal bathing and towel-drying, however it’s important to check yourself – you don’t want any nasty smelly surprises for visitors or to encourage bacterial overgrowth.
Recommendations from experts include simply wiping the smegma away with a dry towel after washing the labia. You can also find your ‘trouble spots’ where smegma typically accumulates in your vulva and remove it with a finger in the shower. You’ll notice that it doesn’t budge as easily as you might want it to, so using a soft wet or dry wash cloth (but do not use soap to do this) can manually remove it. It’s important not to hurt yourself doing this, so be gentle and take good care of your delicate vulva. Rips are easy when pulling the labia apart to get into crevices.
Preventing smegma buildup
It’s normal, so don’t concern yourself with the why’s and what for’s – you can’t prevent smegma from developing – but remember that some elements may cause more smegma build-up than others.
- Wash your vulva every day, twice if you must
- Avoid tight synthetic fabric underwear
- Don’t use vaginal deodorisers or feminine hygiene products – a healthy vagina doesn’t need anything and should smell lovely
- Definitely do not douche
Teaching young girls how to check for vulvar smegma
When teaching your girls how to care for their vulva, teaching them about smegma is useful, since later they will know to check for it. Many women have no idea what the crevices of their vulva hold, and while it typically doesn’t matter at all, it’s a thing we should all know about.