Because of outdated societal taboos and ridiculous restrictions on women’s bodies, there’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to dealing with vaginas. A lot of women, who are, after all, owners of vaginas, have been misinformed, capitalised on and encouraged to believe all sorts of unsubstantiated myths when it comes to caring for their bits.

We speak to a gynecologist to dispel the main ones.

Should you douche?

Douching is an age old practice that involves rinsing out the vagina. Warm water is used and everything from disinfectants to vinegar to tee tree oil is sometimes added to it. Women do it to “feel cleaner” and sometimes to try and protect themselves from STDs and or pregnancy. Unfortunately science says this doesn’t work, and douching is linked to vaginal infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and even cervical cancer.

We spoke to Health24’s Gynae Doc: “Douching is not necessary unless in very specific circumstances prescribed by a  doctor These would include preparation for certain operations, and in the case of infections. Douching can unnecessarily upset the delicate balance of protective organisms in the vagina.”

What about steam cleaning?

Recently Gwyneth Paltrow suggested that women get vaginal steams done, with mugwort and infrared to “steam clean your uterus et al.” She also claims that these treatments balance female hormones. The question here is twofold: a) Basic high school biology teaches you that the body produces hormones via the endocrine system, and not the vagina and b) doesn’t the vagina clean itself?

Gynae Doc responds: “The vagina, like the mouth is a self-cleansing organ. It is not necessary to steam clean it. I am not sure exactly what this involves, but hot steam could be quite dangerous to the sensitive vaginal tissues. It is not possible for a cleaning of the vagina to balance hormones, as hormones are secreted by glands like the ovaries into the bloodstream.”

Can you use oil-based lubricants, soft rubber toys, vegetables, flavoured condoms, vaginal deodorant, soap etc?

In short, no, you shouldn’t really. We don’t want to be sticks in the mud, but all of the above can increase your risk of infection. The vagina, while surprisingly hardy and self-cleaning, has a delicate balance of bacteria that shouldn’t be upset by foreign matter.

Oil-based lubricants often provide breeding grounds for bacteria and break down the latex in condoms. Soft rubber toys can have micro cracks where bacteria gathers. Vegetables (even when washed) are covered in bacteria that your mouth and digestive tract can deal with, but not your vagina. Flavoured condoms are fine for oral play, but the sugar can cause infections, and vaginal deodorants and soap contains all sorts of harsh ingredients never intended for your cookie.

As a rule, clean fingers, penises and sex toys made from safe materials are generally your best bet. If you want to use anything else, be sure to put a condom over it before insertion.

Gynae Doc works at Groote Schuur Hospital and has an interest in high risk obstetrics.

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