Centuries ago, physicians thought that women getting a higher education could harm their reproductive systems. They also argued that women could only get pregnant if they had consensual sex. Oh, and who could forget the old wives’ tale that suggested vaginas had… teeth.
Luckily, we’ve come a long way since then. Although, even in the 21st Century, women’s sexual health is still clouded in mystery; questions like “Can I get pregnant on my period?” “My vagina smells, do I have an STI?” often feel awkward or embarrassing to ask.
Here, Dr. Fiona Cleary lends her expertise to help us debunk some of the most common myths about feminine hygiene that some of us don’t always feel comfortable talking about.
Myth 1: Vaginal discharge means you have a yeast infection.
According to Dr. Cleary, vaginal discharge can be normal.
“The vagina’s discharge will change throughout a menstrual cycle due to different hormone levels,” she tells us. “Normal discharge doesn’t have a strong odor and generally is clear/white.”
However, as Dr. Cleary explains, if your discharge changes color or smell, or if you have associated changes like itchiness, pain, or changes to your period, you should see your GP.
Myth 2: If your vagina smells, you have an STI.
No, not always.
Some people may notice a smell to their own discharge – and Dr. Cleary reassures us that this is normal. She does advise that if it changes in smell, ask your GP to check it out.
Myth 3: You should wash your vagina with soap.
It seems like a no-brainer… Not washing your vagina with soap sounds… weird, right? Wrong. “The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so you shouldn’t wash your vagina with anything other than water,” says Dr. Cleary.
This is because if you use soap and other scented products to disguise smells, it could make it worse.
“Using soaps could alter this environment, meaning that bacteria or fungal organisms can overgrow, causing infections like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV),” she says.
Don’t know what BV is? Approximately 28 percent of American women suffer from BV, yet many are not aware of the condition. It’s more common than thrush, and while its symptoms usually come in the form of a thin white/grey discharge and a fishy odor, in some women, BV can also show no signs at all.
Fortunately, BV is easily treated with antibiotics or a new, behind-the-counter, non-antibiotic treatment. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for more information.
Myth 4: You can’t get pregnant when you have your period.
Actually, you can. “It is rare,” Dr Cleary begins, “however, you can get pregnant on your period.””Sperm can live in the body for up to five days and so could catch an egg when you ovulate after your period.”
Myth 5: There is something wrong with you if you don’t orgasm.
Did you know one in three women find it hard to orgasm with sexual activity?
“There are many causes including medical reasons, medications, recreational drugs, emotional and physical reasons,” says Dr. Cleary.
“Don’t feel shy to discuss with your GP or sexual health clinic to see if there are any ways to improve sexual pleasure.”
Myth 6: You will always get symptoms if you’ve contracted an STI.
Incorrect. Dr Cleary says many STIs can be asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms — especially in women.
Her suggestion to avoid STIs altogether? “Get a sexual health check every time you have a new partner,” Dr. Cleary explains.
“A sexual health check includes a simple urine test and/or vaginal swab. If you’re at risk of infections transmitted through blood (like hepatitis or HIV), a blood test will be ordered as well.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.