BODY LOVE Set your V free.
You might assume that anyone under age 40 is more likely to call someone a douche than to use one. But you’d be wrong. Recent data from the CDC shows that 1 in 5 U.S. women ages 15 to 44 use vaginal douches. Their reasons include wanting “to be clean/fresh” (84 percent), “to prepare for sex” (54 percent), and “to clean up after sex” (70 percent), according to a separate new study.
Unfortunately, one hundred percent of these people have underestimated the innate power of their lady parts. The vagina doesn’t need scrubbing, polishing, or rinsing hacks. It doesn’t require diluted ammonia, lime juice, a swish of body soap, or any of the other surprising products women told researchers that they squirt “up there” to stay fastidious. Vaginas, magical organs that they are, are born with incredible selfcleaning abilities. They don’t need your help. In fact, trying to tidy up your vag isn’t just a waste of time and money, it could also be harmful to your health, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s because cleansing of any kind can wreak havoc on the delicate internal structure, leaving you vulnerable to infections or worse. Allow us to explain...
Meet your MICROBIOME
You’ve probably already heard of the gut microbiome, that accumulation of intestinal bacteria that is increasingly being linked to everything from your mood to acne. Turns out, the vagina has a microbiome too—and it’s also a key player in your overall wellness.
In a healthy vaginal microbiome, the lactobacillus bacteria strain reigns supreme, producing lactic acid that keeps your vaginal
ph level slightly acidic. That, in turn, makes the entire area less hospitable to organisms that cause odor, irritation, itching, and infections, says ob-gyn Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University. Cases in point: Research shows that women with thriving vaginal Lactobacillus are less likely to contract HIV than those who are missing a bunch of the bacteria. They’re also able to kick human papillomavirus (HPV) infections much faster.
What wipes out Lactobacillus and other beneficial strains? You guessed it—soap, douching solutions, and quirky home remedies like lime juice. All these disrupt your vagina’s fragile ph balance, making good bacteria feel less at home and leaving the door open for destructive germs to take over, says ob-gyn Caroline Mitchell, MD, director of the vulvovaginal disorders program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that, ironically, women who douche often are five times as likely to develop bacterial vaginosis, or BV, a smelly, painful condition that affects nearly one in three young women. It’s the most common vaginal infection in those of childbearing age, according to the CDC. (Bacterial vaginosis can up your odds for pelvic-inflammatory disease, a reproductive tract infection that may cause fever, pain during sex, and bleeding between periods. If left untreated, it can even damage your fertility.)
Other microbiome bombs include antibiotics (they wipe out good bacteria along with the bad and encourage vaginal yeast to multiply) and lubes made with parabens (the preservatives that prevent contamination before you open the bottle may also kill helpful bacteria inside you). Unwashed sex toys or a penis that hasn’t been cleaned after anal sex can also sabotage your V-zone’s microbiome, says Dr. Millheiser. Oh, and inserting any food into your vag is a no-no— that whipped cream bikini is hot... until some gets inside you and wrecks your ph balance.
leave her alone
Seriously, in almost all cases, your vagina is already cleaning itself (even as you read this!). “Just leave it alone,” confirms Dr. Millheiser. “It’s perfectly capable of getting the job done.”
If you insist on lending a helping hand, try sleeping in cotton underwear or going commando at night. This helps stop moisture-loving bad bacteria from infiltrating the vagina and crippling its healthy microbiome. Snacking on probiotic-rich dairy products like kefir and yogurt may also support a strong ph balance, which is especially helpful if you’re taking antibiotics. And go easy on your vulva—i.e., your outer genitals—as well. All you really need to wash it is plain warm water. If you must, a gentle, fragrance-free soap is okay, says Dr. Millheiser. And that’s it.
Don’t dull your sparkle by over-sanitizing.