Bodies are complicated, and if we just rely on chats with our friends or what we see on the internet, we're inevitably going to get it wrong sometimes. There are a number of health myths that OB/GYNs hear the most, and although some are harmless, others could prevent you from taking care of yourself properly. It's hard to keep up on what's true and what's just an old wives tale, but when in doubt, your doctor is always going to be the one to separate fact from fiction.
"We live in a culture [...] where our knowledge is based on quick snippets of information, or what I call overhearing an 'elevator conversation,'” Dr. Michael Cackovic, OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Because of our busy lives, we instead rely on these methods to gain our information and beliefs."
Because we don't learn much about our health in school, and we only see our doctors once or twice a year, it should come as no surprise that there's a lot of mystery and misinformation when it comes to how to best take care of ourselves. Luckily, there are some OB/GYNs out there looking to set the record straight. Here are seven women's health misconceptions that they hear the most.
1. You Need To Do Something To Clean Your Vagina
Whether it's using a douche or even just scrubbing with soap, cleansing your vagina or vulva is not necessary, and it can actually cause harm. "The vaginal environment is a relatively stable ecosystem, and anything put inside can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria," Dr. Cackovic says. The vagina is self-cleaning, and using soaps or other products can lead to possible infections.
2. You Can Get An STI From A Toilet Seat
Although toilet seats can be gross and prone to germs, thankfully, STIs cannot be passed from them. "The organisms that cause STDs die when exposed to air," Real Self contributor Dr. Courtenay Poucher, OB/GYN, tells Bustle. "They must be passed from bodily fluid to bodily fluid. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t clean or use protection on the seat." And if you're unclear overall on all the ways STIs can be spread, sources like Planned Parenthood can help.
3. Birth Control Causes Infertility
Many women fear getting on the birth control pill because they believe it will make them infertile, but there's no truth to this urban legend. "The mere fact that one missed pill could result in pregnancy tells us that fertility is only temporarily halted and will return promptly," Dr. Kim Langdon, OB/GYN at ParentingPod.com, tells Bustle. "There are countless benefits of taking the Pill including the preservation of fertility by decreasing endometriosis proliferation, [and] reducing the chance of ovarian cysts that can rupture and lead to surgery and scarring. Less scarring means less chance of infertility and ectopic pregnancies."
4. You Shouldn't Work During Pregnancy
Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you have to press pause on your life. "Although 90 percent of doctors utilize bed rest in their practice, no study has ever supported this," Dr. Cackovic says. "In fact, the evidence shows that women on bed rest actually deliver earlier than woman who are active." There are obviously specific circumstances that might require bed rest, but unless your doctor says otherwise, it won't decrease the risk of premature birth.
5. Cervical Cancer Is Hereditary
Unlike many other types of cancers, cervical cancer is not considered to be hereditary and is instead caused by certain risk factors, specifically the human papilloma Virus (HPV). "It is not like breast cancer," Dr. Cackovic says. "The risk factors are mostly environmental: smoking and HPV/unprotected sex." Although cervical cancer may run in some families, researchers suspect it has to do an with an inherited condition that makes it harder to fight off an HPV infection, according to the American Cancer Society.
6. Every Visit To The Gynecologist Includes A Pap Smear
Just because you are getting a vaginal exam does not necessarily mean you are automatically getting a Pap smear. "A Pap smear is a specific test done to test for cancer or pre-cancerous changes of the cervix, and it requires a pelvic/vaginal exam," Dr. Poucher says. "However, vaginal exams are done for many different reasons, many of which don’t involve the Pap smear test." If you do want a Pap smear during your visit, make sure you ask for one.
7. Nursing Mothers Can't Get Pregnant
Many women think that because they are nursing and might not have a period, it's not possible to get pregnant. "Although nursing can suppress ovulation and make pregnancy less likely, it is far from an effective form of birth control," Dr. Poucher says. "It is important to use effective birth control even while nursing if you are not ready to add to your family."
If you're ever in doubt, you should never feel afraid to go to your doctor to clear something up. OB/GYNs hear all sorts of misconceptions, but they are here to help you take care of your health.