Rarely a day goes by that we're not confronted by advertisements for vagina-related hygiene products. Sold in packages covered in flowered designs and girly colors, they're presented as goods that can make your vagina cleaner than it was yesterday. On the outside, the messages seem innocent enough. Douches, for example, are labeled as simple feminine sanitary products. But there are many products and substances, douches included, that should never, ever come into contact with your vagina.
"The vagina can be sensitive and temperamental, often affected by everyday routines including diet, medications, stress, fragranced body and laundry soaps, douching and sex," Dr. Sherry Ross M.D., an OB/GYN, tells Bustle. "Some of the common offenders may surprise you."
As always, talk to your doctor or a qualified medical professional if you have any pressing questions. And if in doubt, don't put it anywhere near your underwear.
There is no circumstance that calls for you cleaning your lady parts with a douche. "Douching is an aggressive treatment and alters the normal vaginal microbial population — which is a complex ecosystem — killing both the good and bad microbes," Dr. Felice Gersh M.D., an OB/GYN, tells Bustle. Your reproductive system doesn't need to be "cleaned out." Douches leave your pH levels out of whack and mess up the vagina's balance of bacteria, leaving you at risk of a yeast infection.
And there are more serious risks, too: using douches increase your likelihood of contracting pelvic inflammatory disease by a whopping 73%, according to a 1997 study from the American Journal of Public Health.
There's also a potential connection between douching and ectopic pregnancies in people who are pregnant, according to a study published in Epidemiologic Reviews in 2002. Another study, published in American Journal of Public Health in 1996, suggests that consistent douching might be linked to lowering fertility.
2. Fruits & Vegetables
Laugh all you want, but fruits and veggies have been used in the act of sex for a long time — and they still are. From grapefruits to carrots, there are all kinds of creative ways produce can be incorporated in the bedroom. There are some important things to know if you're choosing to get down and dirty with fresh produce.
Dr. Raquel Dardik, Associate Professor Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, told SELF in 2016 that many fruits and veggies still carry some kind of pesticide on them. If you're using them for penetration, pieces could break off inside. Also, no matter how many times you've scrubbed that organic cucumber, it probably still carries some bacteria. That could result in a bacterial imbalance, which can lead to a yeast infection.
3. Rubber & Plastic Sex Toys
Simply using a dildo that's made of rubber won't hurt your vagina right off the bat. But over time, rubber and plastic sex toys are susceptible to small cuts and other damages, which can eventually lead to microbes making themselves at home. They can easily move from the toy into your system, and give you an infection.
Plastic is no better. Many of the chemicals found in plastic — particularly trimethhyltin chloride, phenol, and toluene — have been banned from use in the manufacturing of children's toys because they've been dangerously correlated with hormonal changes and birth defects.
"Warming gels and scented lubricants, rubber products such as diaphragms and condoms, spermicides such as foams, creams, and jellies can all cause irritation," Dr. Ross says. Always read the ingredients and do a spot test (check to see if the object or cream causes irritation when applied to an unobtrusive patch of skin) if you can.
So how do you play safely? Instead of going for the cheap toys out there, invest in a phthalate-free toy that is made of silicone, good-quality plastic, or stainless steel. Additionally, make sure you're properly cleaning your sex toys after each use to avoid any bacteria build-up.
4. Body Art
Vajazzling isn't highly recommended by any doctors, and for good reason. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical associate professor of OBGYN at Yale University, told Shape in 2019 that any body art, including and especially tattoos, generally cause severe irritation in the vaginal region. And the glue and substances used in vajazzling pose a unique threat — as OB/GYN Dr. Suzanne Merrill-Nach told Time in 2010, adding glue to freshly waxed skin could create a serious infection risk, by trapping bacteria. Hospitals in the UK also reported a spike in genital injury admissions in 2015 due to vajazzling; it's not worth it.
5. Dirty Razors & Pubic Hair Dye
"Even everyday rituals can disrupt pH balance and irritate all areas of the vagina," Dr. Ross says. Shaving your pubic hair is one of them, as is dyeing it.
"It’s most important to use a clean razor when shaving the bikini area," Dr. Ross says. Old razor blades carry unwanted bacteria that can cause razor burns, bumps, and irritation to the sensitive skin around the vulva. You should also avoid all products containing alcohol or astringents, she says, in case they irritate the skin.
Your pubic hairs are much more sensitive than you might think, so dyeing them in the first place isn't a great idea. It's also worth considering that any time you dye your hair, dye drips from the hair onto the skin below, no matter what you do — and the smallest amount of dye on your vulva or inside you could result in pain and irritation.
6. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a totally natural product. Therefore it is safe for all parts of the body, right? Nope. "It can do more harm than good," Dr. Ross says.
Tea tree oil has been identified as an antifungal to yeast, so some say it's good to use in the case of a yeast infection. But the vulva is a very sensitive area, and the risks of irritation when using this method are great. Tea tree oil has astringent effects on skin, so you could experience discomfort or burns. Talk to your OBGYN about other alternatives to taking care of a yeast infection.
7. Anything That Has Been In Or Around Your Butt
This includes condoms, sex toys, fingers, penises, toilet paper, etc. When fecal bacteria from your anus climbs into your vagina, it could easily lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI). No matter what it is, if it's been in your butt, thoroughly wash it before you put it in or around other intimate areas.
8. An Electric Toothbrush
People have been known to use these for their vibrating pleasure. But while they might do the trick on your clitoris (you know, if you're running super low on options), don't explore what it's like to use an electric toothbrush internally. Electric toothbrushes are household products that weren't made to be inside you, and with all the bacteria from your dirty mouth living on them, they could easily cause irritation or, worse, fissures and infections in or on your vulva or vagina.
9. Oil-Based Lubricants
Dr. Minkin strongly advised that you keep all oil-based lubes — including Vaseline — out of the bedroom. They are difficult to wash out of the vagina, and they're usually made of glycerin, which is made of sugar compounds. That means it turns your vag into a breeding ground for bad bacteria, putting you at risk for a yeast infection. "Maintaining a healthy microbiome of the vagina is important for the overall health of the reproductive organs," Dr. Gersh tells Bustle — and oil-based lubes invite problems.
To make matters worse, oil and latex don't get along, meaning it could wreck the efficiency of your condom, landing you with an unwanted pregnancy or an STI. Instead, opt in for silicone- or water-based lubes, which won't interfere with condoms.
When in doubt about lube (or anything else), ring up your OBGYN or a nurse who works at the office, your local Planned Parenthood, or a sexual health clinic. They'll be able to give you a solid idea of what's unworthy of your vagina's time.
Baird, D. D., Weinberg, C. R., Voigt, L. F., & Daling, J. R. (1996). Vaginal douching and reduced fertility. American journal of public health, 86(6), 844–850. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.86.6.844
Biju, S.S., Ahuja, A., Khar, R.K., Chaudhry, R. (2005). Formulation and evaluation of an effective pH balanced topical antimicrobial product containing tea tree oil. Pharmazie, 60(3), 208-11.
Martino, J. L., & Vermund, S. H. (2002). Vaginal douching: evidence for risks or benefits to women's health. Epidemiologic reviews, 24(2), 109–124. https://doi.org/10.1093/epirev/mxf004
Zhang, J., Thomas, A. G., & Leybovich, E. (1997). Vaginal douching and adverse health effects: a meta-analysis. American journal of public health, 87(7), 1207–1211. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.87.7.1207
Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Sherry Ross M.D., OB/GYN
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