Chances are, if you have a vagina you have been told quite a few interesting and often incorrect things concerning its health and general upkeep.
There are tons of vagina-related misinformation floating around — especially on the Internet, where breathless essays about the supposed merits of regular douching are shared in 140-character intervals on a regular basis. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of this misinformation is the result of sexism, and more specifically, fear of female sexuality.
Basically, we were taught that our vaginas are unknowable, inherently filthy sex pockets. And I am here today to debunk those myths — not just for those of us who have fallen prey to the lies, but also for us frustrated vagina-owners who need a good laugh.
Lie #1: Discharge is “nasty.”
I didn’t even know this was a thing until that dreadful day when users on multiple social media platforms were sharing photos of their discharge-free panties with the hashtag #PantyChallenge. It was basically just another Internet-wide effort to shame women for perfectly natural bodily functions, but the sheer amount of people who thought normal discharge was something to be embarrassed about was alarming.
Discharge is your friend, vagina-havers. It helps to make sure that your pH is on point and any irritants are flushed out, much like the way tears keep your eyes clean. Discharge is also helpful because smelly or discolored secretions are your vagina’s way of letting you know that something is off.
Unfortunately, we are often taught to be ashamed of our vaginas, living in constant fear that they are smelly, undesirable mystery holes, which, incidentally, is where the next myth comes in…
Lie #2: Douching is a great idea.
One of my favorite vagina quips is “the vagina is self-cleaning. Like an oven,” because that sums it up right there. Because the fear of having a smelly vagina has been drilled into us for so many years, the appeal of washing out one’s vagina with vinegar or other perfumed concoctions has been treated by some like a perfectly OK part of personal hygiene.
The problem is that douching throws off the vagina’s natural balance of good and bad bacteria, which can increase your risk of contracting STIs and potentially cause infections like bacterial vaginosis, for example.
Lie #3: Using perfumed soaps in your vagina will keep it smelling fresh.
This is probably the most insidious vagina-related myth because it seems like a no-brainer. You wash the rest of your body with soap, why wouldn’t you use it on your nether regions?
Well, because, like douching, soap + vagina = killing off good bacteria and/or throwing off one’s pH. A general rule of thumb when it comes to washing the human vagina is as follows: soap on the outside, warm water on the inside. Just give it a whirl for a week and (*in my best Denzel Washington voice*) I guarantee you’ll notice the difference.
Lie #4: The vagina can permanently lose its shape if you’re too sexually active.
This frustrates me to no end because of the sheer cognitive dissonance it requires to convince oneself that the vagina is somehow capable of pushing out an ENTIRE HUMAN BEING, and yet, somehow, mere penises are supposed to be capable of rendering it irreparably out of shape.
According to science, “the average flaccid, pendulous penis is 9.16 cm (3.61 inches) in length; the average erect penis is 13.12 cm (5.16 inches) long. The corresponding girth measurements are 9.31 cm (3.66 inches) for a flaccid penis and 11.66 cm (4.59 inches) for an erect one.”
The average newborn baby born at 40 weeks is 20.16 inches long and weighs 7.63 pounds.
Come on, people.
Lie #5: Kegels are unnecessary unless you just had a baby.
Kegel exercises are incredibly good for you. They strengthen your pelvic floor, which holds the bladder, womb, and bowels in place, so it’s kind of important.
Factors like weight gain, age and, yes, pregnancy, can weaken the pelvic floor, which can result in problems such as urinary incontinence.
Lie #6: Women should never have pubic hair.
In 2012, I happened upon an Alternet piece titled “The Absurd Myths Porn Teaches Us About Sex.” In the very first paragraph, the writers shared the story of a young woman whose ex-boyfriend had been shocked that she had pubic hair because he had never seen a woman naked in real-life and thought that we simply did not grow hair down there. It’s a thought that still haunts me, four years later.
Pubic hair serves a host of purposes, from protecting the skin from friction to protecting your vagina from bacteria. I’m not one to shame anyone for choosing to/to not shave/wax/depilatory cream away whatever hair they want to on their own bodies, but the idea that a woman is unclean or abnormal for not removing pubic hair is ridiculous and harmful.
Lie #7: Pads are for children.
Months ago, I happened upon a great book titled “You Don’t Have To Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism,” in which author Alida Nugent detailed how she sometimes befriends other women by confiding to them that she still wears pads, and it was one of those great moments in a book reader’s life in which you instantly connect with the text on a spiritual level.
Listen, I know how to properly use a tampon. I have done it on several desperate occasions (being out of pads at a tampon user’s house, being guilt-tripped into taking two eight-year-olds swimming), but there is nothing I hate more than using one of those things. I’m pretty sure I just have a mental block about it, but I feel like a corked wine bottle every time I wear one.
I don’t care how many tampon commercials try to ply me with promises of carefree horseback riding or white pants wearing, or whatever. I don’t care how many times people try to mock me and tell me that I might as well be wearing a diaper. I am now, and will forever be, loyal to my winged sanitary napkins, y’all.
In short, good vaginal rules of thumb are as follows: Wash the inside of your vagina with water ONLY, do your Kegels, think critically before removing all of your pubic hair, be kinder to yourself about your vagina and last, but certainly not least, consult your gynecologist before blindly following any vaginal health advice you happen upon online.