It's not uncommon for gynecologists to have patients who believe myths about their bodies. Some women rush to buy the latest rose water spray to treat a weird smell coming from their groin. Others buy expensive probiotics to protect their vaginal microbiome.
Doctors want women to know this: Vaginas do best without supplements, perfumes or obsessive washing.
“Your vagina is great,” Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and author of the upcoming “Vagina and Vulva Bible,” told TODAY. “The whole area is designed to deal with crud. Every time you over clean it, over-pluck it, you are actually damaging the system that takes care of it.”
Gunter and other doctors shared the truth behind some other commonly held myths about women’s bodies:
1. Myth: Strip off your skivvies for bed.
The truth: There’s no evidence that wearing underwear — or not — to bed bolsters health.
“Your vagina and vulva don’t have lungs. In fact, it is a no-oxygen environment,” Gunter said. “You don’t need to air anything out.”
Latex or pleather underwear would cause excessive sweating, so Gunter recommended women skip sleeping in those. But it comes down to what women want: If women like sleeping with underwear on, they should do it. If they don’t, they shouldn’t.
2. Myth: Skip dessert to avoid a yeast infection.
The truth: Sugar is not to blame for yeast infections.
No woman wants a yeast infection and many will listen to any advice to prevent one. Too often, though, these recommendations are misguided. Doctors often urge women to eschew sugary foods to prevent yeast infections, but eating sugar doesn't change the glucose level in the vagina, unless a woman is insulin-resistant or has diabetes.
“Anyone who says sugar causes yeast infections doesn’t understand biology,” said Gunter. “It’s normal, yeast overgrowing. We don’t really know why."
The bacteria lactobacillus colonize the vagina and keep it healthy. Sometimes yeast overgrows and there’s more of it than lactobacillus. This imbalance can lead to a yeast infection — not too much sugar.
“Sugar doesn’t impact your vaginal health. Maybe your waistline,” explained Dr. Christine Greves, a doctor at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health.
Women attribute any itch to yeast infections, but irritants or other skin conditions, like eczema, more frequently cause itching and discharge. Gunter cautions women against rushing to buy over-the-counter treatments every time their vulva feels itchy.
“I see some wicked reactions … Anything can irritate you,” Gunter said. “Seventy percent of the time, you don’t have a yeast infection.”
3. Myth: Probiotics make your vagina healthier.
The truth: Your vagina is healthy as it is.
Having enough good bacteria in the vagina prevents overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria. So it’s only natural that women would think taking a probiotic would help. While it sounds like a good idea, the science just doesn't support it, noted Gunter.
Probiotics don’t have an impact on the microbiome of women’s vaginas. Gunter said the best way to have healthy bacteria is to eat a balanced diet. Experts agree that often, doing less is more.
“It’s OK to just let your vagina be because the vagina can take care of itself,” said Greves.
4. Myth: A smell is not normal.
The truth: An odor doesn't always mean there's a problem.
“If you have a smell after you are working out, that doesn’t mean you have an infection. It could just mean that the … glands in your groin are working,” Greves said.
But a strong odor could mean something is wrong.
“If you have a smell after intercourse, like a fishy odor, that can indicate that you have bacterial vaginosis and that should be addressed,” said Greves.
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the unhealthy bacteria outnumber the healthy bacteria in the vagina. It causes a distinct fishy smell, pain, itching and a white or gray discharge. Doctors treat it with an antibiotic.
A foul smell could also indicate that a tampon was forgotten in the vagina and needs to be removed.
“It is not super common. But I have definitely seen that,” Greves said.
5. Myth: It is healthier to trim your pubic hair.
The truth: It's a personal choice.
Women frequently wax, shave or chemically remove pubic hair and many believe this is healthier than letting it grow. But trimming pubic hair is a personal preference.
“That is a cosmetic choice. It doesn’t mean it is wrong, but it is not a medical choice you are making,” Gunter said.
Bottom line: If you're not sure about something you've read or something someone has told you, ask your doctor about it.