Just as your face starts sagging, so your lady parts will inevitably age over time. One critical difference: There are a million products to help keep your face looking supple, but your vagina is kind of left to fend for itself. “Gynecologists don’t tell women these things are going to happen, and then women come in shocked that their vagina and vulva have completely changed over the course of a couple years,” says Karen Boyle, M.D., an expert in female sexual health and vaginal rejuvenation.
Beginning as early as your 20s, you may lose fat in your outer labia and mons pubis (the mound of fatty tissue above your lips). “Those areas can start to sag—it’s volume loss, just like you’d have in your breasts or face as you age,” says Boyle. That’s often followed by changes inside your vagina (hello, stretching!), and as you approach menopause, the lining of your vagina starts to thin, blood flow decreases, and your pelvic floor muscles weaken, says cosmetic gynecologist Marco Pelosi, III, M.D.
And a sagging hoo-ha can be a confidence killer in the bedroom. A recent study in Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who were dissatisfied with the appearance of their genitals had lower sexual self-esteem and satisfaction. “Not only do things look different, but things feel different,” says Boyle.
That may explain why vaginal rejuvenation is becoming increasingly popular—the number of procedures performed in the U.S. jumped 64 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. But you don’t have to seek plastic surgery to keep your lady parts looking and feeling young. Instead, try these simple strategies. (Then see these 13 Down-There Grooming Questions Answered)
1. Avoid the Yo-Yo
If you gain and lose, you can expect your vulva to flop. “The more swings in the size of an area, the more stretching,” says Pelosi. Equally important is maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re super skinny, your private parts can start to look as gaunt as your face as soon as aging sets in. “We see women who are 35 years old, but look much older because they have no fat in their face,” says Boyle. “Similarly, the labia majora can take on a saggy appearance—and once you lose that fat, you’re not going to gain it back.”
2. Kick up Your Kegels
You’ve probably read about the merits of Kegels a million times: tighter vagina! Better sex!—but there’s a good chance you’re still doing them wrong. “Women don’t do enough of them, and they don’t hold them for long enough,” says Pelosi. The routine he suggests: Contract your pelvic floor muscle five seconds, relax, and repeat 100 times, three times a day. Sound daunting? You can make Kegels fun by squeezing a few reps in during sex. You can imagine pinching your partner’s penis with those muscles, which helps you target the right spot (and gives your guy an extra, pleasurable sensation), Boyle says.
3. Ditch Your Office Chair
For a little extra workout—for your vaginal muscles, that is—trade your desk chair for a Swiss ball for 15 minutes a day. This forces the muscles of your pelvic floor to contract, without doing a single squeeze, says Pelosi. “It feels like nothing is happening, but it’s a very efficient way to keep the pelvic floor toned,” he says.
4. Stay Sexually Active
The whole “use or lose it” idea applies to your vag, ladies. “If you’re not getting stimulation and increased blood flow to that area, the tissue and muscle can change,” says Boyle. Blood flow is critical for lubrication (and orgasm)—which you naturally start to lose as you age. Plus, if you and your guy aren’t worried about pregnancy, his semen may have an anti-aging effect, thanks to the hormones, fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory compounds, say Spanish scientists.
5. Re-Think Long Bike Rides
Training for a triathlon? Know this: The constant friction of crotch-to-seat contact can pull and stretch your labia, especially if you have naturally pronounced outer lips, says Christine Hamori, M.D., director of Cosmetic Surgery + Skin Spa in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
6. Stick to Mild Cleansers
Scrubbing the living daylights out of your labia is not only unnecessary—a gentle cleansing will do, really!—but harsh soaps can leave you dry and irritated below the belt. “The labial tissue is so sensitive,” says Boyle. “You see women with very dry facial skin because they overuse products that suck water out of the cells. That can happen down there too.”
7. Switch Things up in the Sack
Take the reins and climb on top: “Being on bottom can sometimes cause stretching,” says Boyle. Why? Because your partner—not you—is usually controlling the pace and intensity of the thrusting, which means he may accidentally push past what’s physically comfortable for you. By contrast, when you’re on top, you’re in control—and “it’s much easier to contract those muscles when you’re on top,” says Boyle.