The problem with health messages about vaginas is that they’re usually shrouded in awkwardness and ambiguity.
As a result, many women stay silent about their routines, which can lead to some less-than-ideal practices.
For one mum, who recently posted on popular parenting forum Mumsnet, an unusual post-sex hygiene routine has other women horrified.
In a post titled, ‘To douche with tea tree oil before a smear test?!’ the woman explained that she has a Pap smear coming up, so mentioned to some friends she was going to pick up some tea tree oil. When they asked what it was for, the woman said it was to clean her vagina before the appointment. Her friends were shocked, and it made the woman feel “weird”.
“I occasionally do it after sex too,” the woman wrote.
“To me, it’s like giving my teeth an extra good brush, flossing, mouthwash before seeing dentist. Just preparing myself, you know?”
She also added that she’s been using tea tree oil for years, and hasn’t had any problems with her vagina.
Other women on the forum, however, were very concerned.
Many pointed out that the vagina is self-cleaning, and the practice messes with the natural balance of bacteria. Posters identifying themselves as medical professionals reiterated this advice, urging the woman to clean only with water.
“As an ex practice nurse who’s taken plenty of smears – please stop putting tea tree up your vag! You risk really damaging your mucosal membrane,” read one comment.
LISTEN: Apparently, soap isn’t great for your lady bits. Jessie Stephens has found a healthy alternative, though. Post continues after audio.
According to OB/GYN Nancy Herta, who recently spoke to Glamour, the vagina really is quite good at cleaning itself. “It’s a delicate balance that makes the vagina hostile to bacteria,” she said. “If you put stuff in there that changes the pH, you can allow bacteria to overgrow.”
In terms of making sure your vagina is clean after sex, Herta said that, indeed, discharge can change and give off a faint scent after sex. “The sperm can change the pH,” she said. “But the vagina will take care of that.”
Ultimately, you don’t need any tea tree oil near your vagina. And you definitely don’t need to stress about being ‘fresh’ before a Pap smear – a quick cleanse of the exterior is completely fine.