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Keep These 10 Things Away From Your Vagina

No, seriously. To avoid irritation, infection and more down there, call these things a ‘don’t.’

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Salini Perera
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Your vagina can be a sacred space. A happy space. And a sensitive space.

While there are certain products that we often use down there, like non-irritating lubricants (you’ve tried those, right?), there are other items that are just not a good idea if we want to avoid infection and irritation.

In fact, the vagina is designed to clean itself, so we don’t need to go overboard to help. And, as Cleveland Clinic confirms, “maintaining a healthy vulva and vagina will help prevent infections and discomfort.”

So before you pick up that random product from the self-care aisle, or try a home remedy that could have you hollering instead of healing, check out this list of things to keep away from your vulva (the outer part of the female genitals) and vagina (the inner part). 

Here are 10 products to avoid.

Scented soaps and feminine products. Fragrances may smell nice, but their ingredients can cause irritation. When it comes to bathing, you can just use warm water to wash the vulva and dry yourself thoroughly with a clean towel, Cleveland Clinic confirms. If you’d like, you also can wash the vulva (outside the vagina) with a mild, non-irritating soap. But aim to keep your feminine products fragrance free.

Douches. It’s normal to have some vaginal discharge, and changes to discharge can be hormonal. So douching to “clean out” the vagina can be unnecessary and harmful. (An exception may be if your health care provider recommends it.) That said, if you ever notice any vulvar changes that aren’t typical for you, like a change in discharge smell or color — or if you feel itchiness, burning or another unpleasant sensation, especially over time — it’s a good idea to talk with your health care provider, as these can be signs of an infection (such as a yeast or bacterial infection) or another condition that may need treatment. (For instance, pain in the genital area also can be a sign of a condition like vulvodynia.)

Petroleum jelly or similar emollients. Vaginal tissues can thin as we age as things can get a little drier. But, as Cleveland Clinic notes, it’s not recommended to use these emollient products vaginally. Plus, oil-based products, including petroleum jelly, can actually damage latex condoms if you’re using them. If you’re feeling dry down there, instead talk to your health care provider about whether a vaginal moisturizer or other treatment may help and, if so, which would be best. And if you want or need more lubrication during sex — because why not? — look into natural lubricants like those from Sliquid, Sustain and Good Clean Love. (If you’re using lubrication with condoms, you can check the label to confirm compatibility. Sustain, for instance is compatible with natural rubber latex but not polyurethane.)

Brand new, unwashed underwear. Wash new underwear before you wear it, Cleveland Clinic advises. You never know who handled it or tried it on before you. Plus, washing it first can help dilute some of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

Underwear washed in scented or harsh detergents. Just take care when you do the laundry, as the additives in scented soaps can be irritating. A solution? When you wash your underclothes, use a mild soap whenever possible.

Nylon or other synthetic underwear. If you wear lacy underwear for special occasions, we understand. But ideally, you’re regularly wearing cotton underwear, a natural fabric, as opposed to man-made fibers, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to vulvar irritation. And if you’re really gung-ho, you may even want to stick with white cotton undies.

P.S. There are some debates about whether thongs are problematic, but studies haven’t shown that thong underwear causes yeast, bacterial or urinary tract infections. That said, if you’re prone to irritation, or dealing with pain (remember: talk to your provider if so), you may want to skip thong styles. This one is a personal choice. 

Mismanaged sex toys. Yeah, we said it. You don’t want to use sex toys that haven’t been cleaned properly between uses, including using toys vaginally that have just been used anally. That’s a possible way to pick up bacteria or other pathogens. Also be careful about sharing sex toys during the act or using them without covering them with a new condom for each act, as these toys also can transmit sexually transmitted infections. Instructions for cleaning and using these products can vary depending on the material type, and more. So read the directions for your toy and find more general info here.

Foreign objects. If it’s an item that was never intended to be down there, just don’t do it. That includes housewares and other items that you should just keep to their original purpose. You don’t want to risk injury, infection, irritation or anything else. So if you need some excitement, consider a toy designed for just that.

Food and drinks. Put the dessert down. While you may want to enjoy sweets like honey or icing on a pastry, it’s not a great idea to put food near your lady parts. Also a bad idea? Fruits and vegetables, anything you’re allergic to, alcohol and spicy or hot foods (temperature-wise). Ouch. Tell your partner, too. This one is a no.

Ill-fitting or damaged underwear. Who wants to be adjusting themselves all day? Not us. Plus, wearing underwear that fits properly and that you like may actually help you feel better about yourself. (That’s how cute shoes can work, right?) And since it can be a good idea to replace underwear that you wear regularly on an annual basis, take this as a sign to treat yourself.