You might only see your gynecologist once a year, but if it was up to them, you would be taking care of your sexual health all year long — and hopefully you are. When it comes to care of your vagina and reproductive health, there are a number of habits that gynecologists hate, and it's not just because they're picky or annoyed with their patients. They want all of us to avoid these habits so we can be as healthy as possible, and when it comes to our sexual health, gynecologists know best.
"It’s more difficult to take care of a patient who doesn’t take care of herself," says Melodie Zamora, M.D., an OB/GYN with the Institute for Women’s Health over email. "Using contraception to avoid pregnancy and STIs, scheduling — and keeping — your annual appointment, and candidly talking to your doctor about your concerns are all very easy steps to take to protect your gynecological health. So many women prioritize caring for others before caring for themselves, but we really encourage our patients to do a few simple things that can make a big impact on their health."
To make sure your appointments go as smoothly as possible — not to mention that you walk away as healthy as possible — avoid these 11 habits that gynecologists hate.
Remember, your vagina is self-cleaning. "Douching is definitely not recommended," says Christine Greves, MD, OB/GYN over email. "It affects the pH of the vagina, which as many females know, is quite sensitive. If the pH gets thrown off, then certain bacteria may view the vagina as a much more friendly area and decide to take over. Fortunately, it seems that less women are doing this though so it is not a popular bad habit."
2. Lying About Your Habits
Many women are afraid to be completely honest about their sexual practices or other habits like smoking and alcohol, but there's no reason to hold back. "We are not here to judge, but to help and also screen for conditions that these habits may put you at risk for," says gynecologist Dr. Nicole Scott over email.
3. Googling Symptoms
Google and WebMD are not a valid substitutes for medical care. "We often see patients with symptoms that can mimic a yeast infection or UTI, but are actually more serious," says Zamora. "It’s important to schedule an appointment for a check-up in order to receive an official diagnosis and treatment plan. Delaying seeing your OB/GYN can lead to unnecessary complications that could have been easily avoided."
4. Self-Treating An Infection
"Treating yourself can make vaginal discharge and infections worse or make your diagnosis confusing to the doctor evaluating you," says Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG over email. "There is one caveat to self diagnosis and self treatment: yeast infections. If a woman has had a yeast infection in the past and now has the exact same symptoms, she can try an over the counter course of miconazole (Monistat) without seeing a doctor first. However, if her symptoms don't improve then she should be evaluated."
5. Not Changing Out Of Sweaty Clothes
Getting into the shower right after a grueling workout might be the last thing you want to do, but gynecologists hate it when you don't change out of your sweaty clothes right away. "Excess moisture can lead to vaginal irritation," says Vagisil's expert gynecologist Dr. Althea O'Shaughnessy over email.
6. Not Using Contraceptives If You Want To Avoid Pregnancy
"Although the 'rhythm method' is valuable in that it allows for a better understanding of your body’s cycle, it’s hardly a foolproof method of contraception," says Zamora. "There are many options for birth control, and we’re happy to work with you to find the one that best suits your preferences and lifestyle."
7. Tacking On A Complex Question At The End Of An Appointment
If you have an important question, most definitely ask it — just make sure it's at the beginning of the appointment or that you bring it up to initially when scheduling a visit. "Appointments are for an allocated amount of time and are usually scheduled according to what the patient says they need to be seen for," says Twogood. "When a patient tacks on a complex issue at the end of the appointment, it may not be addressed as thoroughly as needed."
8. Using Soap Around Your Vagina
Like douching, soaps can negatively affect the pH balance of your vagina. "Using soap advertised just for the vaginal area isn't necessarily the wisest choice, despite what the commercials say," says Greves. "A simple unscented soap, like Dove soap, is best when used sparingly."
9. Skipping Your Annual Exam
"An annual exam is one of those simple precautionary measures you can take to ensure you’re taking care of your health," says Zamora. "Cervical cancer is one of the most slow-moving — and therefore most treatable —cancers that exist. It’s easily detected during a patient’s annual pap smear, which makes scheduling your annual exam critical."
10. Worrying About The Appearance Of Your Vagina
No need to stress about what you look like down there before heading in to the doctor. "No woman is alike and we've seen it all," says Scott. "There is no need to worry about what you look like down there, unless it is a change for you or associated with other symptoms. Shave, wax, or go au natural — it doesn't matter to us!"
11. Using Medicine Not Prescribed To You
Doctors really don't like when someone uses medication that's not prescribed them, whether it’s their own and leftover from something else or from someone else. "Medication by prescription can have significant side effects that the average person may not consider when using it (interactions with other medications for example)," says Dr. Raquel Dardik, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health over email. "In addition, it can make their actual condition worse, such as using antibiotics for a bladder infection when the bacteria is resistant or not sensitive to what they chose."