Hygiene Habits Based on Cultural Beliefs Not Always The Safest

By Celines Valerio, Director of Community Engagement

I was around 8-years old when my mother handed me an American Girl book, three ‘tween girls, barefoot and wrapped in towels, smiling on the front cover. “The Care & Keeping of YOU: The Body Book for Girls” became like a rite of passage in my family after that. Any female in my family nearing pre-pubescence got the book and “the talk”.

Whether or not we felt ready to have “those talks” with our mothers at that age was beside the point. Giving that book was my mother’s and my aunts’ way of laying down a foundation for future conversations. As awkward as it initially felt looking through that book and seeing pictures of ‘tween and teen girls shaving their armpits or inserting a tampon, I look back on it now and acknowledge how incredibly helpful and important it was.

Habits of Culture

What wasn’t so helpful was additional “advice given to me about feminine hygiene, although I also gratefully acknowledge how well-intentioned it may have been.

I believe cultural practices heavily influence one’s perception of what feminine hygiene is and how it is practiced. Checking judgement at the door, hygiene perception and practices vary from culture to culture. They likely vary even more so from family to family, and as we have access to more medical and health information, hopefully improve generation to generation.

Mom and daughter talking in bedroom while daughter looks at her laptop

Like a Rose?

Some families practice showering every other day, while others suggest washing with feminine products two times a day and even more so if you’re on your menstrual cycle. When we grow up we make learn how to make our vaginas smell like flowers and perfume with wipes, scented pads or liners, douches, and even deodorant sprays for our panties. Too often women (and maybe men, too) are incorrectly taught to equate smelling good with being “clean”.

This month, Berks Teens is shedding some light on this important, and sometimes taboo, topic of hygiene.

Debunking the Douche

There is a considerable amount of research debunking the myth that using douches or feminine soaps is better for our vaginas, and yet it is still regular habit of many young and adult females.

A research article published by the Maternal and Child Health Journal in 2006 indicated that despite vaginal douching being linked to several reproductive health issues, it continues to be a common practice among women. It further found that almost 12% of women regularly douche and those who don’t douche are more likely to use other feminine hygiene products. The article made an important conclusion: most women start douching in their teens and this age group should be the focus of prevention efforts.

Vaginal Odor and Discharge is Normal

So, what are the alternatives? How do we assure that things are perfectly balanced between a field of roses and avoid the labels of “gross” or “dirty” in our hygienic habits? We asked our Co-County Wellness nurse practitioner Christine Morrison for some of her expertise and do’s and don’ts.

“Trying to deny vaginal discharge or make it go away is often what gets us into trouble!  Many teens and young women try to cover vaginal discharge with douches, sprays, or powder.  Some may try to “wipe out” their vagina with a cloth!  None of this is necessary,” says Chris, noting a clean smelling vagina is not necessarily a healthy one.

two women holding pads
  • Use only unscented liners.
  • If you are feeling moisture in the genital area, the pad needs to be changed (prolonged exposure to moisture can lead to infection).
  • Do not use the liner more than one time.
  • Do not wear the liner while sleeping.

     “The Vagina is a Self-Cleaning Oven”

    Here’s one of our favorites: “The Vagina is a Self-Cleaning Oven”. It may not be the visual you’re looking for but it is a pretty accurate description. Our bodies do so many amazing things to care for itself, and those are the conversations we should be having with kids.

    Here’s Chris’ “Three General Rules” for simple good vaginal hygiene are:

    1. Clean your genitalia daily when you shower or bath, gently and with a mild soap but nothing heavily perfumed, and water. If using a washcloth, it should be rinsed completely after washing and allowed to dry completely before next use.  Shower puffs can irritate fragile labial tissue. Remember when drying the genitals to pat dry.  Bath towels and wash cloths should NOT be shared and both should be laundered weekly in hot water.  It is NOT necessary to apply powder, sprays, or perfumes, as all of these can cause irritation which in turn can lead to infection.
    2. Remember to change pads and tampons frequently, to avoid infections. Make sure pads and panty liners are unscented.  If shaving pubic hair, use your own razor and change the blade about once a month.
    3. Avoid wearing underwear that does not have a cotton crotch. Thong underwear can often transfer bacteria into the vagina from the rectum.

    No Shame in The Vagina Game

    Berks Teens wants you to know that although using feminine hygiene products isn’t and shouldn’t be shameful in the least, just make sure your using safer products and that you have all the facts. A good rule of thumb is less is best when it comes to keeping it clean down there. Keep it simple, let it breathe, and reference your physician (not Google) with questions. Your vagina will thank you!


    Research Articles: Grimley, D.M., Annang, L., Foushee, H.R. et al. Vaginal Douches and Other Feminine Hygiene Products: Women’s Practices and Perceptions of Product Safety. Maternal and Child Health Journal 10, 303–310 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-005-0054-y

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