Mythology surrounding the vagina has existed since the beginning of time (examples include “vagina dentata” or toothed vagina — which appears in ancient folklore — or menstrual blood killing crops and dulling steel), and while education around the female reproduction system certainly has made some great strides, a lot of misinformation still exists when it comes to your intimate area. In fact, even vagina-owners might still believe some of these common misconceptions. As part of July’s focus on the vagina, TZR set out to separate fact from fiction, and asked a couple experts to weigh in and debunk some of these myths.
Unfortunately, bodies don’t come with an owner’s manual, so it’s understandable that many people believe incorrect — and even potentially harmful — things about their own anatomy. Misinformation could be a result of a lack of information or education, or as some believe, it could be a result of the sexual oppression of vagina owners and their bodies (as argued in the seminal text, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm by Anne Koedt). In any case, in 2021, one can only hope that the understanding of this once mythicized body part/s is becoming better understood, so that individuals can live without shame and be more in charge of their health.
One step towards this ideal is setting the record straight about some common myths once and for all. TZR asked two top gynecologists to weigh in on everything from ways to “wash” your vulva to whether or not there is an ideal appearance for your down-there parts — and some of the answers might surprise you. Ahead, find out the truth about seven often-accepted beliefs, and get to know yourself just a little bit better.
Truth Or Myth: You Can Make Your Vagina Taste "Sweeter" By Eating Certain Foods
From downing pineapple juice to avoiding garlic and onions, there’s a common belief that certain foods can affect the taste of your vagina. And according to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, this one is actually true. “Just like perspiration, many secretions are in part diet dependent,” she explains. But it’s not exactly what you think. For the most part, the scent or “taste” of the vagina is dependent on your pH. Changing your diet (particularly avoiding things like red meat, dairy, and sugary foods) can make a minimal difference, but Dr. Dweck says that one of the best things you can consume to get a healthy odor and taste is plain old water. “Hydration status has a big part in this as well,” she adds. “The less hydrated one is, the more pungent all secretions will be.”
Truth Or Myth: Vaginas "Stretch Out" After Vaginal Birth Or Sex
There are so many misconceptions when it comes to the body post-childbirth — and of course the process does come with a lot of real changes. But the common belief that your vagina will “stretch” out from giving birth, or a lot of sex for that matter, isn’t exactly accurate. “The vagina is an incredible structure and is quite forgiving after childbirth and sex,” says Dr. Dweck. Barring any trauma, things should return to their original state. However, the gynecologist does add that elasticity and tone can change due to hormonal changes and age.
If you want to improve tone, Dr. Jenn Conti, OBGYN at Stanford Healthcare and Modern Fertility Medical Advisor, says focus on strengthening your pelvic floor. “The apparent tone of the vagina is actually more related to the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, the levator ani muscles,” she explains. “These muscles often take a hit with pregnancy and giving birth, and benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy work. But the idea that the vagina actually stretches out is false.”
Truth Or Myth: There Is An Ideal "Look" For Vaginas
From pornography to the mainstreaming of vaginal cosmetic surgeries, some may find themselves questioning if their own private parts are not just “normal” but desirable. But Dr. Dweck is quick to shut down the idea of an ideal vulva appearance. “No two vulvas/vaginas are identical,” she says. “There are variations in shapes, sizes, and pigments. These also can change over time. There are congenital anatomic variants that may need to be addressed, but this is the exception.”
Truth Or Myth: STI's Always Have Symptoms
Dr. Dweck argues that if you’re sexually active, getting tested for STIs during your annual exam is important — because there are, in fact, some that may go under the radar. “In fact many people have absolutely no symptoms, for example, with chlamydia,” she explains. “This is why we test all [people with vaginas] routinely during an annual exam so treatment can be offered even for those with no symptoms. Thankfully, many STIs reveal themselves with growths, discharge, odor, pain, or abnormal bleeding.”
Truth Or Myth: Douching Is The Best Way To Clean Your Vagina
According to Dr. Dweck, it’s time to ditch the idea of douching for good. “In fact douching can introduce bacteria into the pelvic cavity to cause pelvic infection and alter the vaginal biome and cause imbalance and infection,” she says. So if you’ve been using this method to clean your vagina, you could be doing more harm than good. And Dr. Conti adds, “The vagina is a self-cleaning organism — there's no benefit in putting anything in there for the purpose of cleaning it.”
Truth or Myth: Vaginal Pain During Sex Is Common & Nothing To Worry About
Both doctors agree, pain during sex could be due to a number of factors. While many reasons are benign, pain could also be a symptom of underlying issues that are affecting your health as well as your sex life. “Pain may occur episodically due to dryness, infection, anatomic abnormal (like a cyst or fibroid or endometriosis), or stress but should not be persistent, worsening, or continuous,” Dr. Dweck says. “If so, please check in with your gyno.” And while it’s important to get checked out, it’s not always necessary to panic, Dr. Conti explains. “Most of these root causes are 100% treatable,” she adds.
Truth Or Myth: Inserting Garlic Or Yogurt Into Your Vagina Can Naturally Relieve Yeast Infections
While you may have heard (or read) that certain DIY remedies can be effective, Dr. Dweck warns that inserting any food into the vagina can actually make matters worse. “[This] increases risk of infection, irritation, or worsening infection/symptoms,” she says. As for the argument that the probiotic in yogurt can balance the bacteria down there, Dr. Conti is quick to shut that down. “The lactobacillus strain in yogurt is not the same as the lactobacillus strain found naturally in the vagina, and does not work to fight off infection like many online stories may perpetuate.” Your best bet if you think you’re suffering from a yeast infection (or any infection, for that matter) is to talk to your doctor.