By Toni Brannagan
ICYMI, last Monday was Menstrual Hygiene Day. Although, we’ve been celebrating all month long – and we’re gonna keep the party going. #NoLimits
We’re committed to supporting menstruators around the globe this month, next month, and well, until every person with a period has the resources and education to manage their menstruation in a hygienic way.
Not to be a broken record, but empowerment begins with education – and seriously, who couldn’t use a refresher on menstrual hygiene basics? As a recovering serial Google-r, I’ll be the first to point out that there’s a toooon of misinformation you have to wade through to be in the know (who knew literally everything was a symptom of pregnancy?). Point being? It’s always best to consult an expert when you can.
So after asking y’all for allll your menstrual hygiene questions on Insta, I hit up Alyssa Dweck, MD, a New York gynecologist, to help me set the record straight on some of your most frequently asked Q’s (note: I condensed all the queries about washing our vaginas, but believe me when I tell you there were A LOT).
1. Okay, so how should people be cleaning their vaginas?
You might already know this, but vaginas clean themselves. Dr. Dweck suggests cleansing your vulva with warm water and mild soap – but only externally. If you’re sensitive, she also recommends avoiding products that contain glycerin (which might make you more prone to yeast) and harsh/heavy fragrances (can cause irritation).
And seriously, any products in general are only needed externally. No vigorous cleaning is necessary, so cleanse gently with either your hands or a soft washcloth.
2. Why no soap?
Like I said, your vagina can do its thing all on its own, but Dr. Dweck warns that douching is not just unnecessary, but can also be actually problematic. Using products to mess with your V’s ~flow~ may prompt irritation and infections by altering your pH levels down there.
3. But if I can’t use soap, how am I supposed to control the smell??
If you’re cleaning your vulva properly (warm water and mild soap!), you should be good. If you really feel like you need to control your odor – you might have an infection and should probz give your gyno a call.
4. How do I avoid UTIs? What about yeast infections?
For UTIs: Pee after and before sex! In general, don’t hold your pee in – take bathroom breaks regularly. Wipe from front to back. Don’t hang out in wet or sweaty workout clothes or bathing suits. Opt for underwear made of breathable fabrics like cotton. HYDRATE!
For Yeast Infections, pretty much all of the above, plus: You might not like this one, but avoid a high sugar diet. Don’t take antibiotics unless you need them.
And if you learn one thing from this entire blog post, avoid harsh and fragrant feminine hygiene products!
5. What is considered normal discharge? What about abnormal?
First things first, you won’t know what’s normal or abnormal if you don’t look to begin with. Yup, sorry, that means checking things out down there. If you’re aggressive about tracking your cycle, you should notice more between ovulation and your period, and it should look kinda like egg whites.
According to Dr. Dweck, you should definitely hit up your gyno if you spot any of the following in your panties: fishy or foul odor, blood in your discharge when you’re not on your period, and any unusual colors accompanied by pain, itching, irritation, or redness.
6. Does the discharge sitting in a menstrual cup allow bacteria to accumulate and cause other problems?
Nope! If you clean and change your menstrual cup as advised (at the very least, every 8 hours), you shouldn’t fear infection more so than using any other period product.
7. I left my tampon in for too long. Do I have toxic shock syndrome?
A couple symptoms of toxic shock include red hot rash, high fever, and flu-like symptoms – but let’s break down the fear behind TSS.
Toxic shock syndrome is cause by is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, not specifically your tampons. If you’re using them properly, there’s no reason to be scared of tampons. Dr. Dweck recommends using one with the least absorbency for your flow. You should also set yourself a reminder, so you’re never using one for longer than 8 hours at a time.