6 Common Myths About Vaginal Health, Debunked By A Gynecologist

Say it with me: Vaginas are not dirty.

by Becca Strassberg
Originally Published: 

If you took a quiz on basic female anatomy and vaginal health right now, would you ace it? The average menstrual cycle is 28 days. The average gestational period is 40 weeks. There’s the vulva, the labia, the clitoris. Oh! The uterus. The urethra. What’s missing?

Short answer: a lot. A lot is missing. For a part of your body you may think you know so intimately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding vaginas and overall vaginal health. For example, did you know there’s no such thing as “normal” when it comes to vulva shape and size? It’s important to know you can still be in excellent health even if your vagina looks different from someone else’s or from photos on the internet, since, as Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MD, OB/GYN, and adjunct professor at New York Medical College says, “everybody has a slightly different anatomy.”

In partnership with Monistat, Dr. Dweck helped Bustle debunk the most common myths surrounding vaginal health. Keep reading to learn how to keep your vagina in good health, what not to believe on the web, and more.

Myth #1: Changing Your Diet Is The Only Way To Stop Chronic Vaginal Infections

First and foremost, Dr. Dweck warns against absolute statements: “To say the treatment for every and all yeast or vaginal infection is based on diet ... it's just misleading and can potentially be dangerous.”

However, while diet is not the end-all-be-all cure that social media can make it out to be, there is a lesson to be learned from this one. According to Dr. Dweck, consuming excessive sugar or being deficient in certain vitamins (particularly vitamin D) has been linked with recurrent and persistent yeast infections. “Anything that is harmful or detrimental to the general immune function can really predispose you to certain infections,” says Dr. Dweck. “But to claim that [a change in diet] is the only treatment ever needed for persistent or recurring vaginal infection, that's just not true.”

Myth #2: Bacterial Vaginosis & Yeast Infections Are The Same Thing

False! The rules for distinguishing the differences between the two may not always be hard and fast, but they’re a great place to start. “A yeast infection is typically going to have a thick, white, non-foul smelling discharge. A bacterial vaginosis or bacterial overgrowth infection is typically going to have a gray, thin, fishy-smelling discharge,” says Dr. Dweck. Additionally, both can cause itching and irritation due to hormone changes — but it’s when you put all the symptoms together that you’re able to have a better understanding of what’s going on.

Still not exactly sure what’s going on with your body? You can always visit the Monistat Symptom Checker to get more information and find out if you might have a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or another issue you should talk to your doctor about.

Myth #3: Steam Is A Great Way To Clean Your Vagina

One scroll through the #vaginalsteam hashtag on social media and you’ll be inundated with videos of people sitting or squatting over basins of hot, steaming water — which is often infused with a specific mix of herbs that are believed to help “clean” the vaginal area. Trendy (and simultaneously ancient) as the practice may be, there’s actually no scientific evidence that points to vaginal steaming as an effective way to clean your vagina. In fact, Dr. Dweck says the patients she’s seen who’ve tried the practice have experienced issues like burns or irritations to their vaginal area.

The only benefit that the practice may provide? Warmth, which Dr. Dweck says can be achieved in much more accessible ways. “Warm water, massage, or maybe even a heating pad or pack [is going to] feel great,” she encourages. “It brings blood flow to the area, it's helpful for swelling and irritation, [and] it's comfortable.”

Myth #4: The Groin Area Is A Naturally Dirty Part Of The Body

Let’s just get to the point with this one: “I want to make it perfectly clear [that] the vagina and vulva are not dirty,” says Dr. Dweck. “They don't need vigorous cleaning. Your body has ways to take care of that.” For those times when you do want to safely cleanse your vulva and external vaginal area, using the right product is key. A pH-balanced cleanser like Monistat Maintain Feminine Cleanser is formulated to gently cleanse away odor and discharge, as opposed to traditional body washes and soaps that could cause irritation.

Myth #5: Vaginal Discharge Is Never Healthy

Again, these absolute statements are almost never correct. Here’s the truth: If you’re experiencing clumpy discharge (think: a texture like cottage cheese) or it if has a strong, unpleasant odor, definitely talk to your doctor. But that clear-ish, white discharge that people with vaginas experience throughout their cycle is totally normal, according to Dr. Dweck. “Most people have a natural, normal discharge that varies throughout the cycle,” she says. “When you’re ovulating, you’ll mostly notice an [uptick] in natural vaginal secretions during the mid-cycle, just before ovulation is going to occur. [Then again] after ovulation until the menstrual flow begins,” she says, noting that the drier time tends to be after menstruation until ovulation.

Myth #6: You Need A Prescription To Treat A Yeast Infection

Not all the time; seeking treatment could be as simple as taking a trip to your local pharmacy for a product like Monistat 7 or Monistat 3 (but if this is your first yeast infection, definitely consult your doctor). Both products treat multiple strains of yeast, and while they differ in dosage and strength, what Dr. Dweck loves about both is the anti-itch cream that’s included in each kit. “It’s very soothing on contact, and because it’s a vaginal treatment, it aims directly at the area of concern.”

Now that you’re armed with the expert intel you deserve, please keep in mind my friendly reminder to not believe every trending piece of health advice you read on the internet. (Except this article. This one is legit, promise.)

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