Q: I've heard that vaginal cleansers (such as ones made by Summer's Eve) are unsafe to use. Is this true? If so, what would be the correct way to cleanse the vulva?
A: You're right that many studies have found that vaginal cleansers are not only unnecessary for feminine hygiene, but can also be quite dangerous. Vulvas naturally clean themselves, so there is never a need to clean out the vagina.
Within the vagina, there are many "healthy" forms of bacteria. These normally fight off bad bacteria and viruses, keeping the vagina healthy and clean. However, if a woman "cleans out" her vagina by using Summer's Eve or other vaginal douches, this can flush out all of that good bacteria, which leaves the vagina vulnerable to infections. Studies show that using douching or vaginal cleansing products leads to much higher rates of bacterial infections (such as yeast infections), pelvic inflammatory disease, and even cancer. What's more, women who douche regularly are also more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, such as HPV, have pregnancy complications, such as preterm pregnancies. All of this is due to vaginal cleansing products getting rid of the natural, beneficial bacteria that is present in the vagina.
If a woman's vagina does have a prominent, unpleasant odor, she likely has a vaginal infection and should see a doctor for treatment. Mild odors are most often caused by a collection of sweat in the public area. This can be easily solved by taking a regular shower.
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Answers provided by Dr. Ross Avilla
Dr. Ross Avilla has been teaching Human Sexuality since 2013 and has a PhD in psychology from UC Davis. Dr. Avilla is not a clinician and all information and advice offered on this website is for educational purposes only.