Myths About Vaginal Health
Abundant myths, misperceptions and misinformation circulates as "common knowledge"
when it comes to women's health. This is of such confusion and concern to women
that ABC's popular morning show, "The View" asked Dr. Donnica to discuss this
topic on air (10/15/04). Below is a summary of what Dr. Donnica had to say about
debunking three of the more common myths about the vagina.
First, many women mistakenly think that any vaginal odor is a bad
thing. This is FALSE. Most women have a "normal" vaginal odor which is not
offensive and which varies during their monthly cycle. This can vary based upon
personal hygiene, hormone levels, birth control pill use, recent intercourse,
an imbalance of the normal vaginal bacteria and yeast, or with vaginal infections.
How do you know if a vaginal odor is abnormal? If it is markedly different than
usual or has a strong fishy smell, it could indicate an infection such as bacterial
vaginosis or an STD called trichomoniasis. Foul odors may also indicate the
presence of a foreign body such as a forgotten tampon.
Speaking of tampons, many women mistakenly--and unnecessarily--worry that it's
possible to "lose" something in your vagina. This is FALSE. While many
women have had difficulty removing objects they inserted into their vaginas
(e.g. tampons, diaphragms, cervical sponge contraceptives, etc.), don't panic:
it's not "lost". The vagina is a closed ended channel: while sperm can enter
the cervix and blood can get out, nothing bigger can get from your vagina through
your os, or the opening of your cervix. If you have difficulty removing something
like a tampon, usually a change of position--and a dose of relaxation--will
help. If worse comes to worse, your gynecologist or an ER doctor can help.
One of the concerns that women have when they have difficulty removing tampons
is Toxic Shock Syndrome. Another common myth is that only tampons can cause
Toxic Shock Syndrome. This is FALSE. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is caused
by toxin-producing strains of the common bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus. It
is a systemic condition characterized by sudden onset of fever, chills, vomiting,
diarrhea, muscle aches and a rash which rapidly progresses to severely low blood
pressure and ultimately, shock. This is such a rare condition that the last
incidence data were collected by the CDC in 1987: in the United States, it affects
two out of every 100,000 women 15-44 years of age. Of those, 1 in 20 cases (5%)
are fatal. This condition got a tremendous amount of publicity in 1980 because
it affected young menstruating women who were using a new brand of highly absorbent
tampons for prolonged periods of time; these tampons are no longer available.
But anyone can get TSS: 45% of cases are in men. Other risk factors include
people with postoperative wound infections; people who have had nasal surgery
or injuries requiring nasal packing; and kids who scratch skin infected with
chicken pox. The bottom line is that concerns about TSS are no reason
to avoid tampon use. Tampons should be changed every 4 to 8 hours during the
day; they can be safely used overnight. Be sure to remove your last tampon at
the end of a period! Be sure to remove your old tampon before inserting a new
For more myths about the female reproductive system, click
Created: 10/18/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.