Many know of Dr. Jen Gunter for her take-downs of bizarre wellness trends, such as vaginal steaming or jade eggs. While many of her rebukes are humorous, the San Francisco-based gynecologist really wants to educate women about their bodies and debunk bad and even dangerous myths about women's health.
“It is so hard to spot the misinformation,” she told TODAY. “Women should be demanding facts and they should be demanding quality information. They should be free to do whatever they want with their bodies. But they should always been vigilant as to why people are giving them what information.”
To help women understand their bodies, Gunter has written, The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina — Separating the Myth from the Medicine, which will be published September 2019.
“All of this information was rattling around in my head and I wanted to share it,” she said.
The book contains loads of information about women's health, everything from vaginal odor to sexually transmitted infections to pelvic floor physical therapy to menopause. To preview it, Gunter shared with TODAY items she banned from her medicine cabinet. The full list can be found in the book.
“Douches are like cigarettes for your vagina. They offer zero health benefits and increase the likelihood of getting an STI,” she said.
That's wrong. Douches make it easier for bad bacteria to flourish and the good bacteria — primarily lactobacillus — to die off, causing possible infections. A douche that allegedly is supposed to help women control odor actually can cause it, said Gunter.
Many women worry about controlling vaginal odor. Vaginas, like penises and scrotums, have a natural odor that's perfectly normal and healthy. Convincing women that a natural smell is offensive isn't good health advice.
"It is a way to put women down for this intimate part," she said.
Some women use flushable wipes to clean their anuses and cleansing wipes for their vaginas. Like douches, these wipes can disrupt the good vaginal bacteria and lead to soreness, itchiness and odor.
“Wipes can be irritants,” Gunter explains. "If you develop an irritation from wiping, then the inflammation could cause some subtle changes in odor."
The only time women need wipes is if they have rectal incontinence. Leaving feces on the skin can also irritate it —and cause to odor.
3. Itch medication with benzocaine
Loads of things can cause vaginal itching and women will do anything to feel less uncomfortable. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted infections, sperm, menopause hormonal changes and contact dermatitis can all cause itching.
Many turn to itch medications with benzocaine, which they think will help. Sadly, benzocaine often makes itching worse because it has irritants.
“Benzocaine doesn’t seem to have any value,” Gunter explained. “With benzocaine women get a temporary improvement and they think it works. But then it gets worse and they put more on and it gets worse and they get so inflamed.”
It can get so bad that women need a doctor's help. One of Gunter's patients used itch medication with benzocaine, which caused her vulva to become so swollen she needed a catheter to urinate.
For women who need an over-the-counter fix, lidocaine causes less irritation.
But Gunter encourages women to see their doctors if they have an itch: a doctor can properly diagnose and treat the cause of the itch, not just the symptoms.
4. Old razors and rusty, dirty tweezers
It’s only natural that when a woman spies an ingrown hair in her thigh or bikini line, she grabs her trusty tweezers to dig it out. While there's no shame in grooming and hair removal, Gunter wants people to be smart about it.
“There are a lot of genital track injuries from grooming,” she said.
- Always use clean tweezers, new razors and shaving cream or gel. That reduces the number of injuries and infections that can happen.
- The safest way to groom pubic hair is by using trimmers to keep hair shorn above the skin. If shaving, use new, fresh razors with shaving gel or cream.
“If you are going to shave, do it after the hair follicle is wet,” she said. “The most important thing is minimizing trauma because trauma causes inflammation and it is going to cause the hair follicle to swell shut and make it easier for bacteria to get in.”
Gunter admits she’s terrible at always using new razors, so she waxes. She encourages women to consider waxing and sugaring — a paste of sugar to remove hair in a similar way to waxing — if they, too, forget new razors.
But, Gunter really wants women to make informed choices whether they're about hair removal, bathing, itching or using the bathroom.
"Women don’t get the right information and what they get is passed down from others not doing it correctly," she said. "We don’t teach women these important things."