The vagina is the most interesting organ in the female body. It’s made up of so many different facets and parts. They all have the same basic functions, but everyone’s still looks different. It’s crazy! So, when you notice irritation or issues, it can be quite confusing to figure out what’s going on.
Due to some old wive’s tales, miscommunication, and a lot of talk back-and-forth, there are many myths floating about on how we can best take care of our vulva and vagina. We busted some of the most common myths about vaginal health, so you can make sure yours is in tip-top shape and feeling great. (Rhyme not intended but appreciated!)
1. You don’t need to cleanse the vulva
This is a very common vaginal health misconception. Because doctors often say that the vagina is self-cleaning (they’re right!), most women take that as they don’t need to wash their vulva area as well. Wrong!
The skin on the vulva is not self-cleaning in the way that the vagina (remember female anatomy here) is. Sweat, dirt, and oil can buildup on the vulva just as it does anywhere else on the body. That means that this skin needs to be cleaned just as often as you would cleanse the skin on your body.
2. If you do cleanse the vagina, it requires hard scrubbing to get clean
The vulva and the skin around the vagina are the most sensitive of your whole body. You wouldn’t go to town scrubbing your face like that, would you? While using a gentle soap, use clean hands or a clean washcloth to cleanse the vulva.
If you’re experiencing itching, try taking a warm bath with Epsom salts or colloidal oatmeal. This will relieve the irritation without causing any micro-tears or added issues to the vulva.
3. You can use any kind of soap down there
The pH of the vagina and vulva area is supposed to be around 3.8 to 4.5. Most regular soaps are much higher than that. When we use our normal body wash on our vulva, it can upset the pH of the vagina. This can cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) or yeast infections.
Instead, opt for a gentle soap without fragrance that is pH balanced. Here are some of our favorite options:
4. Yeast infections and BV are caused by not washing well enough
Yeast infections and BV are caused by a myriad of reasons. Some women get yeast infections just before their periods as a result of an uptick in hormones. They can be caused by taking certain antibiotics. Some women get yeast infections after sex. Mostly, they are caused by a change in the pH of the vagina. As we’ve talked about above, using soaps and washes that aren’t set to the pH of the vagina can throw off the pH balance.
With that said, it is less about how well you’re washing and more about what you’re using to wash. However, be aware that many things can disrupt the pH of the vagina and cause yeast infections or BV. If you are prone to chronic yeast infections or BV, talk to your doctor about different ways you can keep your pH and good versus bad bacteria in check.
5. It’s OK to use scented products to clean the vulva
Often, drugstore feminine washes are scented with harsh or artificial fragrances. Some women might not experience any negative effects of using a scented product down there; however, this is often the first thing to get rid of if you begin to notice vaginal irritation. Err on the side of caution by switching to a fragrance-free wash.
6. All discharge means you have a yeast infection
There are many reasons you might see discharge. Of course, a yeast infection is one, which would produce a thick, white, cottage-cheese-like discharge. (It’s so gross, we know!) Bacterial vaginosis produces a white, grey, or yellow discharge that has a fishy odor. Cloudy or yellow discharge is typical of Gonorrhea, and yellow or green discharge with a bad odor is found with Trichomoniasis.
However, there are other reasons your vagina might produce discharge. Birth control pills, STIs, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), vaginal atrophy in menopause, vaginitis, and more can cause your vagina to produce abnormal discharge. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.
7. My vagina isn’t supposed to smell like a vagina
As more and more vaginal products come out, such as douches or various feminine washes, it can seem as though our vagina is supposed to smell better. “Summer Breeze,” “Tropical Coconut,” and “Calming Lavender” are just some of the artificial fragrances seen on the boxes of these products. All of these products are geared toward making women feel as though they have to conform to this norm of always looking, smelling, and behaving our best.
News flash: the vagina is not supposed to smell like any of those things, and it is actually healthier for your vagina to smell like a vagina. Using douches and these fragranced washes can cause irritation, amongst other worse side effects.