When it comes to health—and especially women's health—there's a lot of misinformation floating around; it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction and know what information to trust. And as a full-time practicing OB/GYN, there are a few myths that I find myself debunking more than others. Here are seven things you might be getting wrong about your vaginal health:
1. All vaginal discharge is a yeast infection.
False! Most women have a physiological vaginal discharge that may vary individually both in amount and consistency with the menstrual cycle. A mucus-like discharge that occurs midcycle, with ovulation, is totally normal. On the other hand, copious, foul-smelling, or bloody discharge should be evaluated—especially if it's associated with pain, itching, swelling, or irritation, which could signify infection.
2. Vigorous scrubbing and washing are essential to vaginal health.
False! In fact, the vagina has a remarkable ability to maintain its normal acidic pH. This delicate balance can actually be disrupted by the use of overly fragrant products or harsh detergents. Mild soap and water are sufficient for vulvar care, and plain water is ideal for the vagina.
3. All vulvas look the same.
False! In fact, the vulva, which is comprised of all of the external genital structures (labia majora, or outer lips; labia minora, or inner lips; and clitoris) comes in many shapes and sizes. In particular, the labia minora can be long or short, wide or skinny, plump or flush. In this day and age of Brazilian waxes and the internet, we are more and more aware of the vulva up close and personal. There is no normal—but rather, what’s normal for you.
4. Douching is good for you.
False! Not to beat a dead horse, but the vagina does its own cleaning by maintaining an acidic pH. The practice of douching and cleansing the inside of the vagina somewhat forcefully with a fragrant, antiseptic, or vinegar-and-water solution is just unnecessary. In fact, it might alter the delicate balance of yeast and bacteria and lead to infection. Don’t douche!
5. The material of your undergarments makes no difference.
False! Yoga pants, tight athletic wear, wet bathing suits, or 24/7 panty-liners and pads do have an effect on your vaginal health. In fact, your vulva may be suffocating. It's beneficial to let the area "breathe" intermittently for optimal vulvar and vaginal health. Yeast and bacteria thrive in moist, dark places. Consider going commando at times, wearing loosefitting sleepwear, changing out of wet workout clothes and bathing suits, and ensuring a cotton crotch on all undergarments for ideal intimate health.
6. Vaginal lubricants are all created equal.
False! You may have noticed the abundance of available intimate lubricants: water-based, silicone, hybrids, and oil-based. Water-based are readily available, inexpensive, well-tolerated and safe with condoms but might be sticky and need frequent reapplication. Silicone lubes are slicker, nonstaining, longer lasting, and also compatible with condoms. Oil-based lubes including coconut oil are suitable for and preferred by some but can potentially degrade condoms. Whichever you prefer, be mindful of the ingredients since, for example, glycerin might increase the risk of yeast in those prone to yeast infections.
7. Diet has no influence on the vagina.
False! When it comes to the vagina, you really are what you eat. Adequate hydration is important to avoid dryness. Increased intake of sugar and alcohol might increase the risk for yeast infection. Cranberry concentrate might minimize the risk of UTI (urinary tract infection) in those prone to such. Finally, probiotics might play a role in preventing vaginal issues for those who are plagued by reoccurring infections.
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