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Ditch Feminine Hygiene Products to keep your Vagina Happy and Healthy

Ditch Feminine Hygiene Products to keep your Vagina Happy and Healthy | Jo Divine

New research funded by The Eve Appeal and EC Horizon 2020 and led by Professor Martin Widschwendter at University College London (June 2019) has found that women with fewer protective ‘good’ bacteria in the vagina may be at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer.

We all have “good” bacteria in our vaginas, maintaining the pH between 3.8 and 4.5, an acidic environment which not only keeps our vagina healthy, prevents and reduces infections like thrush, it also prevents “bad” bacteria from travelling further up our gynaecological tract to our womb and ovaries.

Previous research has found that when we get infections from this ‘bad’ bacteria and it travels from our vaginas further up our gynae tract, they can cause a number of problems, often starting with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID causes inflammation in our womb and Fallopian Tubes which may lead to infertility, premature labour, and now possibly cancer.

This new research found that women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer had much less “lactobacilli”, the good bacteria,in their vagina than women who had not been diagnosed.

The team also found that women at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, from having the BRCA1 gene mutation, also had much lower levels of these ‘good’ bacteria.

Clearly there are other contributing factors to why some women develop ovarian cancer but this may be a new indicator that can be used when screening for risk.

Keeping your vagina happy

In recent years we have been deluged with hundreds of feminine hygiene products, vulva make up, detox sticks and bags, vagina tightening products, perfumed condoms, poor sexual lubricants, bath bombs, skin bleaching products for your vulva, vagina and anus, CBD tampons and sexual lubricants and vaginal moisturisers that women are bombarded with from well known brands, celebrities, influencers, high street shops, online websites and beauty brands. The myth that our vaginas need to be scoured, scrubbed, disinfected, detoxed, tightened, bleached and smell of roses or lavender needs to be debunked.

Many women do experience a myriad of vagina health issues, from itching, soreness, discharge, vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy, the majority of which should be diagnosed and treated by your GP. Many women are too embarrased to speak to their GP so turn to the heaving shelves on the high street in well known retailers and online to buy a product they think will alleviate their symptoms. However many women have no idea the products they are using are actually contributing to their symptoms, exacerbating them and prolonging their existence.

Embarrassment plays a huge role in women not seeking medical advice or believing that these sexual health issues are a normal part of owning a vagina and vulva.

Vaginal health issues can occur ar any age but particularly as we get older and go through the menopause. Many women have never had an issue with vaginal dryness and vaginal lubrication and some have no idea what is happening to their vagina. Some women experience vaginal atrophy which is so much more than vaginal dryness ( it is also under reported due to embarrassment or believing it is normal) but many women consider using a sexual lubricant as being seen as a failure when it can really enhance sexual pleasure.

Research by the University of Guelp in Canada found that 95% of women use feminine hygiene products in the form of douches, washes, wipes, and lubricants to keep their vagina clean and smell lovely, yet many of these products can be detrimental to vagina health.

Some women may have been using these products to overcome an existing infection, such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis, rather than seek medical advice due to embarrassment and the convenience of buying such products over the counter. This is potentially putting their health at risk if it is a more serious issue such as Lichens Sclerous or Vulval Cancer so any changes need to be checked by your GP.

Many vulval skin conditions can be diagnosed by your GP or vulval dermatologist and treated/ managed with prescribed topical treament and emolliants.

They found that women who used gel sanitizers were eight times more likely to have a yeast infection and almost 20 times more likely to have a bacterial infection.

Women using feminine washes or gels were almost 3 ½ times more likely to have a bacterial infection and 2 ½ times more likely to report a urinary tract infection.

Participants using feminine wipes were twice as likely to have a urinary tract infection, and those using lubricants or moisturizers were 2 ½ times as likely to have a yeast infection.

My personal experience

After meeting my now husband at 23 we starting using sexual lubricants

However I had no idea that these products were contributing to the recurrent thrush, bacterial vaginosis, cystitis and urinary tract infections I experienced and would destroy our sex life during the next 17 years.

This is because they contain glycerin which creates a sugary environment for thrush to thrive, glycols which irritate the tissues of the vagina, parabens which are oestrogenic and have no place in our bodies and are not pH balanced for vagina health, thus disrupting vagina pH and causing bacterial vaginosis.

After using KY jelly, KY liquid, Durex lubricants and a couple of brands I can’t remember the name of I often felt itchy, sore and it would sting when I had my post coital wee. Over time I came to identify sex with these infections and would get a feeling of dread each time we had sex that I would end up on the toilet all night with cystitis or itching the next day with thrush. This in turn lead to vaginismus, a condition whereby the muscles of the vagina tense, making penetrative sex painful.

I didn’t tell my husband for a long time and would endure painful sex because I really wanted to have sex with him and I felt so frustrated at my body behaving in this way. Sometimes penetration would not be possible and sometimes we could have sex, then my vagina muscles would tighten, making it feeling painful.

Products such as canestan were not available to buy over the counter so I would buy a pot of probiotic yoghurt, only available at the local health food shop, dip a tampon in it beleiving it would restore the good bacteria and put it in my vagina, really not sure it helped and it was very messy!

I would get a prescription for canestan or antibiotics from my GP, treat the infection, then go back to using the poor lubricants and get another infection.

Even when I finally got a diagnosis of vaginismus when I turned 30 and was told to relax to make sex feel less painful and iron the gusset of my knickers to kill thrush from a gynaecologist, not one doctor asked me about my sex life or what lubricants I was using.

In addition to using lubricants, I also tried to overcome thrush and bacterial vaginosis with using the limited range of feminine hygiene products available in the chemist which actually exacerbated the problem because they contain the same ingredients as the lubricants.

Choosing Skin safe Lubricants

When we founded Jo Divine, our online sex toy company in 2007, we sourced YES organic lubricants to sell as they are skin safe, being glycerin, glycol, parabens free and pH balanced.

These lubricants transformed my vagina health almost overnight, my vagina and bladder health improved, which in turn, made the vaginismus disappear because sex felt great and really pleasurable. We have been using these products for the last 11 years and recommend them to all our customers and the healthcare professionals I work with across the UK who recommend them to their patients too.

As a sex toy retailer we hear so many women say I get thrush, BV, cystitis, urinary tract infections and discover they are using unsuitable products including KY, baby oil, Vaseline, coconut oil, hand cream, sudocrem, germolene, Bio Oil, olive oil or other well known and supermarket lubricants or have been advised to use KY or vaseline by their GP or cancer nurse. Some products on prescription contain the aforementioned ingredients too.

I have also spoken to and advise men who experience the same stinging, burning and itching issues that women face.

This is an issue because many couples who try a lubricant that causes irritation are put off using anythign else because they think all sexual lubricants are the same so sex continues to feel uncomfortable or painful or they simply give up on their sex life.

Many women who experience vagina health issues become detectives to discover what products work for them including myself. Whilst many women think about what they eat and put on their hair and skin they give no thought to what they put inside our vagina and on their vulvas and grab any thing that is slippery and they think is fine to use for sex.

The knowledge of many healthcare professionals is lacking, with some recommending poor products, even those not designed for vaginal use. It is frustrating to hear a gynaecologist say all lubricants are the same so it does not matter what you use.

Ditch the Intimate Hygiene Products

Nearly every week I get sent an email or tagged on social media about yet another product people want me to promote or sell.

This is why as a former nurse and a sexual health and pleasure I am passionate about vagina/vulva health. From telling people about my sexual health experience and writing extensively about the impact that many products have upon vagina/vulva health, I also raise awareness about the numerous celebrities, companies, influencers and beauty brands promoting their own intimate hygiene products and treatments that are detrimental to vagina health.

I really hope with this new research more attention will be made to the vast number of products aimed at our vaginas which potentially can harm our good bacteria but I think change will be a long time coming when the feminine hygiene industry is forecasted to be worth $33.5 billion worldwide by 2022, according to analyst Allied Market Research. The same report found that ‘internal cleansers’ were the fastest-growing product category. We just need to wash our genitalia with water!

While this fast growing industry continues to sell these products women will continue to think they need them, especially when their favourite celebrity, beauty brand or TV doctor is touting them and while women continue to buy them, brands will continue to make huge amounts of money. This includes high street retailers now jumping onto the sexual wellness train yet clearly demonstrating they do not care about your vagina/vulva health because they are selling poor sexual lubricants. If they really cared, they would not sell these products but they are doing so because they make money.

It is also frustrating when I see perfumed condoms, intimate washes and wipes, lubes and vaginal moisturisers full of irritating ingredients in goody bags at womens health and medical events where we are talking about vagina/vulva health, it make no sense!

My own industry has created CBD (cannabidiol) lubricants and intimate products to boost your sexual pleasure whilst the menstrual product industry has created CBD infused tampons, supposedly to ease period pain.

CBD lubricants and tampons now seem to be on trend yet the clinical evidence is sparse, often anecdotal from people who have found it helped or very small sample groups. This is no basis for putting these products on your vulva and inside your vagina, especially for long periods of time.

The Food and Drug Administration has reported that most CBD products currently sold in the United States are unregulated and untested. The agency noted that its own testing has shown some products do not contain the amounts of CBD they claim to contain, while some CBD products contain toxic metals, pesticides, and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is the active part that will get you high.

The Food Standards Agency (FDA) in the UK has finally unveiled new plans to better regulate the cannabidiol industry and issue new safety advice for consumers. We can only hope this will also apply to intmate products too.

Bleaching products are the worst, perpetuating the myth that our vulva, vagina and anus need to look peachy pink, despite destroying our intimate health causing irritation, scarring and infection, fuelling racial bias yet are sold on some sex toy and sexual health websites and by high street brands who may say they care about sexual liberation and vaginal autonomy but clearly do not!

I’m always advising people to ditch bath bombs! I call them thrush bombs because so many people experience irritation or thrush after having a long soak in the bath with one of these! Often brands will try to rename their ingredients to hide the fact they are glycerin, glycol or parabens by adding a prefix to confuse customers. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a huge problem because it strips the skin of its natural oils which causes dry skin, irritation and allergic reactions. Inflammatory skin reactions include itchy skin and scalp, eczema and dermatitis. Other irritating ingredients include fragrances, dyes and glitter. Glitter can also get embedded into the walls of the vagina and tissues of the vulva and anus, leading to irritation and infection. There have also been instances where small children have tried to eat a bath bomb because it looks like a cake or sweet!

I wish I could just sweep all these products from the shelves in our high street and online retailers into the bin for good!

We need to educate future generations about their intimate health in relationship and sex education lessons and that there is no need to use these products.

Take A Vow

For Gynae Cancer Awareness Month 2019 Team Eve at the Eve Appeal are shouting about the need to educate everyone about their bodies. This means sex education for everyone everywhere to end the embarrassment so many women have about their vaginas and vulvas and lack of education that using these products can harm their intimate health. This is why we need to have the conversation with our family, friends and colleagues to normalise the use of the words vagina, vulva and clitoris so please all join the campaign to #takeavow and use the right words.

If you care about your vagina/vulva health, want to keep it happy and healthy and save money, then ditch the feminine hygiene products, think about what you are using inside your vagina or on your vulva, wash with water and choose a skin safe pH balanced glycerin, glycol, parabens free sexual lubricant or vaginal moisturisers.

Hope may be on the horizon as the FDA look to regulate the ingredients in intimate products, however what ingredients they will consider acceptable is currently unknown.

Useful Websites

Vaginal Atrophy Facebook Group – fabulous support group set up by Jane for women experiencing VA, offering their personal experience and advice as to what does work, what may work and what to avoid.
Vulval Cancer Awareness : www.lsvcukawareness.weebly.com this is a fabulous support group set up by Clare Baumhauer who had stage 3 vulval cancer for women with vulval cancer
Eve Appeal : www.eveappeal.org.uk
Vulval Pain Society : www.vulvalpainsociety.org
Pelvic Pain Society: www.pelvicpain.org.uk
Lichens Sclerosus : www.lichensclerosusukawareness.weebly.com
British Society for the Study of Vulval Disease : www.bssvd.org
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists : www.rcog.org.uk
British Association of Dermatologists : www.bad.org.uk
UK Lichens Planus : www.uklp.org.uk
British Skin Foundation : www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk
International Society for the Study of Vulval Disease : www.issvd.org
British Association for Sexual Health and HIV : www.bashh.org
Pelvic, Obstetric and Gynaecology Physiotherapy:https://pogp.csp.org.uk/
British Menopause Society: www.thebms.org.uk