Celebrities spawn trends in vagina maintenance, the Internet will tell you a million different things regarding your vaginal health and I'm sure everyone has a grandmother with some far fetched old wives' tale of how to keep a vagina clean. Your friends, co-workers and other family members have probably all doled out their own advice at some point or another, and with all the noise, it's hard to figure out exactly how to care for one of your more special body parts. Indeed, some of us want babies to come through them someday, no one wants to deal with STDs or deadly illnesses like cervical cancer, and I assume most of us enjoy the pleasure of sexual gratification, so keeping your vagina in working order is important. Here are some of the myths and musts of looking after your vaginal health, to help you separate the downright crazy from the absolutely necessary.
1. MYTH: Douching
Vaginal douching is the process of flushing the inside of the vagina with water, sometimes mixed with vinegar, or using antiseptic from a douching kit. Many women do it to feel extra clean, inside out, but medical experts suggest douching can be dangerous. The vagina is actually self-cleaning, and creates a very delicate ecosystem that protects it from bacteria. Douching can actually lead to vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and complications with pregnancy. So you can definitely skip the douche.
2. MYTH: SteamingRecently popularized by none other than Gwyneth Paltrow, vaginal steaming is actually a natural, ancient process that's basically exactly like a face steam but for your vagina. The idea is to "detox" your vagina, as steams are recommended to be taken a couple of days after finishing your period. The steam is meant to cure hormonal imbalances in your vaginal environment and prevent diseases. The bottom line is that steaming your vagina is not necessary or essential, and there's no medical evidence to suggest it works. It's not as dangerous as douching, but it can mess with the vagina's self-cleaning process, and if you're doing it yourself, result in accidental skin burns.
3. MYTH: Vitamin D from the sun
Since actress Shailene Woodley revealed that she exposes her bare vagina to the sun for unfiltered vitamin D, women have been wondering if they should flash themselves to the sky. Medical experts have suggested that this is, in fact, both crazy and dangerous. The vagina is rarely, if ever, exposed to the sun, and the skin is delicate without having built up a life time of melanin like your shoulders or legs. Therefore your vagina is even more susceptible to burning, and regardless, any kind of sun exposure without the protection of clothing or sun cream is hazardous and cancer causing. If you really want a hit of vitamin D, add a supplement to your diet or vitamin rich foods like fish and egg yolks. Sun exposure should always be paired with sunscreen, and time spent under the suns harmful UV rays should be moderate.
4. WORKS FOR ME: Folic acidAfter I had some vaginal complications my doctor insisted I start taking folic acid supplements. Folic acid helps to actually rebalance the vagina's natural ecosystem when bacteria has caused imbalances, and it helps the body to produce healthy new cells. Acidophilus supplements act similarly, and if you're experiencing any abnormalities down there, it's likely that your OB/GYN will recommend adding these supplements to your diet. (Talk to your doctor before taking a dietary supplement to prevent or treat bacterial vaginosis.) Likewise, having a healthy, vitamin-rich diet is essential, not just for vaginal health, but for whole body and mind wellness.
5. MUST: Regular OBGYN visits
The only way to know what's happening inside you is to have a doctor look there. Regular pap tests are essential. If you're healthy, doctors suggest every two years. If you're diagnosed with an illness like HPV, your paps will have to be more regular. Keep in mind that something like HPV can progress quickly; when I found out I had HPV, I had had a clean pap test a year before. The kinds of diseases that can only be detected by pap and STD tests can have harmful long-term effects, from causing infertility to, worst case scenario, cancer. It's important to be meticulous with your OB/GYN visits, and not put them off indefinitely.
6. MUST: Keeping tabs on yourselfAs well as your routine OB/GYN visits, you should be checking on yourself too. If you notice a strange odor, weird growth, pain while having sex, irregular bleeding, pain when urinating, or any other change in your vagina that's causing your discomfort, you should make an emergency appointment to see your doctor immediately.
7. MUST: Using contraception
If you want to protect your vagina from communicable illnesses, you must use contraception. There is no other way to prevent the transmission of STDs than by using condoms, and even then, you're not completely protected, as illnesses like herpes can be passed on through skin-on-skin contact, if the virus is active. Having unprotected sex is something that should only be done with a serious partner, after you have both had STD checks, which you should both continue to have routinely as part of your annual exams.