Last updated: Feb 13, 2009
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Kim Warp
Va-jay-jay, bajingo, cha-cha, down there. Given our reluctance to even say the word “vagina,” its no wonder that myths about this body part often go unchecked. Youve heard that douching is bad and cotton panties are good—those are true.


But what about all those other health “factoids” concerning odor, medications, and peeing? Here, the real story.

Myth: Your vagina should smell like orchids

Debunked: Its normal to smell a little sweaty or have a mild sour-milk scent from lactobacilli (a kind of healthy bacteria in the vagina that encourage a weakly acidic yet protective pH level).

“Were taught that were supposed to be odorless or smell like flowers, but we dont smell like
flowers—and we dont smell bad,” says Elizabeth Stewart, MD, director of the Vulvovaginal Service at Harvard Vanguard Medical Association and author of The V Book. New odor-reducing, fresh-and-clean products hit the market every year, all with subtle sexual appeal. Dont fall for it. You dont even need soap to keep your vagina clean and happy. Warm water is totally adequate for good hygiene (although a gentle product could be used).

Myth: If a trimmed bikini line is good, totally bare is even better

Debunked: Pubic hair cushions and protects your vagina from friction and infection. Removing all your hair or leaving just a landing strip can lead to significant irritation—from the removal process itself and from rubbing against underwear or jeans. That friction can cause invisible microabrasions that give bacteria on the skin an opportunity to sneak into the bloodstream. “People think less hair is good,” says Melissa Goist, MD, an OB-GYN at The Ohio State University Medical Center, “but thats only if you have lice or crabs.” Going bare might also increase transmission of skin-to-skin sexually transmitted infections like herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV). Still want to dare to be bare? Dr. Goist suggests shaving with a new razor every time and using warm water and shaving cream to limit the risk of infection.
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Kim Warp
Myth: Anti-fungal and anti-itch meds treat the same problem

Debunked: Anti-itch creams may temporarily relieve itching, but they cant get rid of yeast, says Adelaide Nardone, MD, a gynecologist in New York City and clinical instructor of OB-GYN at Brown University. “To cure a yeast infection you need an anti-fungal like Monistat or Gyne-Lotrimin, or the prescription Diflucan,” she says. “Thats not to say you cant use an anti-itch cream, but use it in conjunction with an anti-fungal medicine.” Youre not sure if its really a yeast infection? Theres no harm in trying a nonprescription yeast med, but Dr. Nardone recommends seeing your doctor to rule out infections such as bacterial vaginosis.

Myth: If my vagina doesnt look like a Playboy models, I need surgery

Debunked: Dr. Stewart has seen thousands of vaginas and insists that there is no ”normal” when it comes to vaginal beauty. “Some women have big, fat labia, some have little thin labia. What you see in Playboy is not the be-all and end-all.” There may be a legitimate need for labioplasty: Your lips may stick out prominently, causing abrasions or discomfort during sex or physical activity. If this is the case, seek medical advice from a board-certified gynecologist or plastic surgeon with labioplasty experience. But the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says theres no data supporting the aesthetic procedures ability to enhance sexual function or self-esteem. There are, however, risks of infection, altered sensation, pain, and scarring.


Myth: Its best to wear panties to bed

Debunked: Sleeping with underwear on increases moisture in the genital region, practically welcoming yeast to multiply. “Air is good, moisture is bad,” says Laurie Swaim, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN practicing at The Womans Hospital of Texas. And some women who sweat a lot at night while wearing underpants may develop a vulvar skin condition similar to jock itch. Try going commando or wearing loose pajama bottoms. Avoid thongs, too. If you must don panties, make sure theyre loose fitting and have a breathable cotton crotch.

Myth: Bubble baths are sooo relaxing and totally harmless

Debunked: Enveloping yourself in sugared-pear-mist bubble bath could bring on problems like bacterial vaginosis (BV). Soaps, bubble bath, even sperm (which has a higher pH than bubble bath) are all alkaline, unlike your slightly acidic vagina. They alter the pH and create the perfect environment for BV to develop, says Deborah Larkey, MD, an OB-GYN at Columbia St. Marys hospital system in Milwaukee. Stick with bath salts or oils, which are non-alkaline and wont disrupt the pH. If you notice a strong fishy odor or creamy gray discharge, get tested for BV. Its actually the most common lower-genital-tract syndrome among women of reproductive age and has been implicated in preterm delivery.
Myth: Eating sweets causes yeast infections

Debunked: Our vaginas are not bread machines. Yes, yeast feeds on added sugar in baking, but sugar in your diet from cookies or dairy products wont hurt your vagina. “Yeast infections have nothing to do with sugar intake,” says Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. At the same time, eating healthier may lower your risk of developing the itchy condition. Shoot for a high-fiber diet with at least three servings of whole grains, three servings of fruit, and five servings of veggies a day.

Myth: Only older women have to worry about leaking pee

Debunked: Many younger women suffer from incontinence, too. In fact, urologist Michael Safir, MD, co-author of Overcoming Urinary Incontinence: A Womans Guide to Treatment, says that in his office the average age of women who report stress incontinence (leaking when you laugh or exercise) is 45, with some in their 20s and 30s. Women in their childbearing years may experience leakage, particularly after multiple vaginal deliveries, which weaken critical areas of support.

Other risk factors: prior pelvic surgery, obesity, and a family history of stress incontinence. Regardless of your age, “you shouldnt accept leakage,” Dr. Safir says. “No guy would put up with that.” Ask your gyno for tips on pelvic-floor exercises (Kegels). If those dont help, it may be time to find a urologist; she can perform a simple, 30-minute outpatient procedure that dramatically reduces leakage, Dr. Safir says.