As women become more comfortable publicly talking about topics that were previously taboo—such as period products, pelvic floor exercises, and lube—there’s been no shortage of people trying to monetize the conversation. Now, lifestyle brands that discuss wellness trends with verified health benefits (like mindfulness meditation and yoga) in the same breath as those without scientific evidence (think: healing crystals) are diving into the women’s health sphere (1, 2). In this post, we get to the bottom of the top women’s health myths floating around today.
Myth #1: You should deep-clean your vagina with douches or vaginal soaps
Women have long been told that their perfectly natural bodily functions are undesirable (where are all the scrotal cleaning products?), and this well-known myth is just one way that companies make money off the idea that vaginas can’t be clean and healthy all on their own. In 2019, U.S. consumers spent $42 million on products designed to make vaginas smell like, well, anything other than a vagina (3).
Your vagina is self-cleaning, and it doesn’t need the help of any special soap or douche. Using any cleaning product on the inside of your vagina can disrupt the balance of healthy bacteria and alter pH levels, making it easier to develop infections or skin irritation (4, 5, 6). Side effects of douching can include bacterial vaginosis, vaginal irritation, yeast infections, problems during pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease (6).
It’s normal for your vagina to have a smell, and for you to find different kinds of cervical mucus on your underwear during different phases of your menstrual cycle. Neither one of those things is a sign that your vagina isn’t clean (7). Plus, when you try to change or cover up your body’s natural functions, you can miss changes in your vaginal odor or cervical mucus that may indicate that something is wrong (6, 7).
Myth #2: Vaginal steaming can cleanse and heal your reproductive tract
Vaginal steaming, also referred to as V-steaming or yoni steaming, involves sitting over very hot water and letting the steam drift up to your vagina. Usually, the water is infused with herbs, such as mugwort. This tradition dates back to ancient medicine practices, and now it’s gained new popularity among spa-goers and wellness bloggers. People who recommend this practice claim that it cleanses or detoxifies your uterus, cervix, and vagina. Other alleged benefits can range from easing menstrual cramps and symptoms of menopause to “balancing hormones” and treating infertility (8, 9).
There is no scientific evidence to back up any of the health claims of vaginal steaming. First of all, as discussed above, your vagina does a great job of cleaning itself. Practices like this can upset the delicate balance of bacteria in your reproductive tract and cause adverse reactions. Second, vaginal steaming comes with some not-so-pleasant potential side effects, including an increased risk of vaginal infection and severe burns to the vaginal lining and cervix (8, 10).
Myth #3: Jade eggs can improve your pelvic and hormone health
Jade eggs, also called yoni eggs, are just what they sound like—egg-shaped jade stones. They’re marketed as a product that you can hold inside your vagina to exercise your pelvic floor and help you connect with your feminine energy. Essentially, the egg is meant to help you do Kegel exercises, aka tightening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles that sit beneath your uterus, bladder, and large intestine (11). Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles is actually beneficial and may help prevent urine leakage, improve bowel control, and even help improve orgasms for some people (12). However, inserting jade eggs into your vagina probably isn’t the best way to do this.
Jade, like other rocks, is porous, which means it can accumulate bacteria that could cause irritation or infection when introduced to your vagina (13). You don’t actually need anything in your vagina to do Kegel exercises properly, but if you wish to use some sort of Kegel trainer, it’s best to use an easy-to-clean one made of medical grade silicone or plastic (12, 13).
Myth #4: Natural oils are better for you than lubes
You try to make healthy choices when it comes to the foods you put in your body, and it only makes sense to do the same when it comes to choosing your lube. While using natural lubes is an admirable goal, it’s important to note that just because an oil is safe to eat doesn’t mean it’s safe to put in or around your vagina. Household oils, including olive oil and coconut oil, could clog your pores and lead to breakouts and irritation in your genital area. Additionally, any oil-based lubricant can weaken latex condoms and reduce their effectiveness (14, 15).
When you’re looking for lube, avoid any that contain parabens or small penetrating chemicals, such as glycerin (16). Other than that, the main things to think about when you’re choosing between silicone-based, water-based, or oil-based lubes are your personal preferences and allergies (as well as your partner’s) and whether you’re trying to conceive.
Myth #5: Wearing an underwire bra can cause breast cancer
This myth probably started with a 1991 study published in the European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology. In this study, researchers found that premenopausal women who didn’t wear bras had half the breast cancer risk of premenopausal women who did wear bras. However, the study’s authors stated that the relationship was likely due to differences in breast size among the women who wore bras versus the women who didn’t, meaning that cup size, not bra-wearing habits, may be a risk factor for breast cancer (17). There’s still no scientific evidence that wearing a bra, underwire or not, increases someone’s chances of developing breast cancer (18).
As long as there are women who are concerned with doing what’s right and healthy for their bodies, there will be people trying to convince them to spend money and buy into alternative health practices. Next time you see your favorite celebrity touting the latest women’s health product and you feel tempted to give it a try, consider having a quick chat with your doctor before pulling out your credit card.