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vagina, vaginal discharge, vulva

Teen Vogue’s Problematic Summer Vagina

Teen Vogue wants women to have their “Best Summer Vagina Ever,” and no that is not a recommendation for a Yankee Candle to take to the beach.


The title alone is an issue because it suggests that A) everything in the genital tract is the vagina and B) that “summer vagina” is a thing.

It’s not.

A lot of people on Twitter nagged at me about my early dismissal of the article. They thought it had good information and just the title was wrong. I could see how someone might think that, but actually most of the article is spectacularly wrong. This highlights the issue of having good information mixed in with the bad. If you are not an expert how would you know? If some of an article sounds reasonable I suspect many readers are more likely to give everything the benefit fo the doubt. It also highlights why magazines need fact checkers.

Here’s why I think Teen Vogue’s “Summer Vagina” don’t mean a thing. 

It Promotes Hypervigilance

This introductory paragraph is quite irksome:

While you might think there’s little difference in the TLC she gets during the other seasons, OB-GYNs note that in the summer it’s especially important to pay attention to any symptoms, changes, and funkiness you notice south of the border.

Women, especially teens, don’t need the idea planted that vaginas are temperamental or funky and that during the summer things can go horribly wrong. Vaginal neglect is not a thing. Vaginas function quite well in all seasons. Really. I run a clinic for vulvovaginal disorders and we are no busier when it is hot. 

The only possible issue that women might have during the summer months is with their vulva if they start a new hair removal technique or do more hair removal. This can lead to ingrown hairs, injuries, and an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

If summer vagina were a thing that only modern wipes and salves could cure I don’t know how we survived the cradle of civilization. My understanding is that is a pretty warm part of the world. 

It’s a vagina, not a barometer

Teen Vogue says, “The heat of the summer can make your vagina drier, causing it to be sensitive and temperamental. Add to that a moist bathing suit and your vag just might have a vaginal panic attack.”

No really, they wrote that. On purpose.

A vagina cannot dry out because of the heat. I mean…I can’t even…

Vaginal dryness or the sensation of vaginal dryness (because those are two different things) can be the result of low estrogen, be a medication side effect, and even be from a yeast infection. However, the ambient temperature and a wet bathing suit have zero impact on the vaginal ecosystem. This tidbit about a dry vag came from OB/GYN Dr. Sherry Ross who just wrote a book on “intimate health.”

The only way you could temporarily dry out your vagina from heat would be aiming a hair dryer inside. And for the love of everything that is holy don’t do that!

The vagina maintains a steady temperature because it is inside your body and human body temperature only rises with the outside temperature when someone is suffering from heat stroke. Women are not poikilotherms. The vagina maintains moisture because it is constantly producing discharge. 

Sigh.

A wet bathing suit cannot change your vaginal pH

The following information apparently also comes from Dr. Sherry Ross, “Sitting in a wet bathing suit can upset the pH balance of the vagina and irritate all areas of the vagina. The vagina loves a warm and moist environment for entertaining an infection. The disruption of the sensitive pH balance can cause yeast or bacterial infections.”

The vagina is normally moist and warm. If being moist and warm caused infections it would be a serious design flaw. Folds of skin that rub together can chafe and lead to overgrowth of bacteria and yeast, but that is in the groin or sometimes the labia. Neither of those areas are the vagina.  

To see this from an OB/GYN in a magazine aimed at young women is painful. This is the kind of damaging information that leads women to think their normal discharge is excessive. This is the kind of information I undo every day in the clinic. 

The vaginal pH is maintained by estrogen, lactobacilli (good bacteria), and glycogen (a storage sugar that comes from the surface epithelial cells of the vagina). None. Of. These. Are. Affected. By. A. Wet. Bathing. Suit. 

Teen Vogue and Dr. Ross also know that bathing suits don’t actually go inside the vagina, right?

Vaginas can handle ejaculate (a pH of 7.2-7.8) and blood (a pH of 7.4 and often for days at a time) and within hours the pH is back to normal (3.5-4.5). Does Dr. Ross really mean to suggest that a little water on the vulvar skin can affect the vaginal pH in a clinically meaningful way and yet ejaculate and blood inside the vagina do not?

Wet bathing suits do not cause pH imbalance or yeast infections. If you are wearing tight, wet clothes you may get some vulvar irritation which could be mistaken for a vaginal yeast infection, but vaginal yeast infections are almost always a vaginal event. External yeast infections on the vulva, which are much less common, are also not due to wet bathing suits. 

Don’t put wipes in your vagina, ok?

Dr. Gupta has some sensible advice about packing toilet paper for hikes. 

Dr. Ross, however, wants women to consider “vaginal hygiene wipes.” while backpacking.

(Hyperventilates).

DO NOT CLEAN THE INSIDE OF YOUR VAGINA WITH A WIPE. THIS IS QUITE LITERALLY ONE OF THE WORST THINGS YOU CAN DO. TEEN VOGUE, YOU ARE NOT HELPING ANYONE HERE. THIS ALSO PROMOTES THE IDEA THAT A VAGINA NEEDS CLEANING. IT DOES NOT. YES, I AM YELLING.

Dr. Ross then suggests that these wipes are beneficial and needed because they will remove “unwanted bacteria that can cause an infection” And she suggests they are hypoallergenic.

Skin bacteria on your vulva does not cause vaginal infections. A shaving or waxing injury could lead to a skin infection, but that doesn’t seem to be where Teen Vogue is going. We do not recommend using VULVAR wipes to prevent vaginal infections because yeast and bacterial VAGINAL infections are from a VAGINAL source. I know I am being repetitive. Sorry. 

Wipes are definitely a source of vulvar contact dermatitis and are completely unnecessary. Again, a gynecologist promoting wipes reinforces the destructive and false idea that the vulva and vagina are dirty. 

You know what does cause a vulvar infections? Chronic dermatitis from wipes that irritate and disrupt the skin barrier. This lets bacteria enter the skin. 

Bug Spray on Your Underwear

I have run a vulvar diseases clinic for 25 years and the only bug bites I have ever seen on the vulva are from pubic lice. Can you get a vulvar big bite? Sure. Is it a huge issue? Likely not.

I wouldn’t spray my underwear with bug spray. If there are that many bugs maybe sleep with pajamas or mosquito netting?

 

It’s not “highly unlikely” that you will sunburn your vagina Teen Vogue it is impossible

The doctors give fine advice here. If you are sunbathing nude apply sunscreen everywhere that you are exposed.

I am hoping Teen Vogue can explain that rare case of vaginal sunburn because I gotta know.

 

Sand, OMG, am I right?

I have definitely seen sand trapped vaginally in younger pediatric patients, but kids bury themselves in sand a lot. Over the age of of five or six most people know to shake the sand out of their clothes. Dr. Millheiser fortunately gives sound advice. If you get some sand vaginally, yes, it will come out on its own and a “quick rinse in the shower or bath” should be enough to get it off your skin. 

 

Other information

If you have sensitive skin I agree with avoiding hotel soaps. Planning for STI protection and contraception while traveling is also super important, but sadly given less time than the dreaded heat induced dry vagina. 

The parting information about hydration is also wrong. Drinking lots of water will not “keep your vagina happy,” it will just make you pee more. Also, emptying your bladder less frequently on an airplane will not cause bladder infections. To be sure I double checked with a friend who is a board certified urogynecologist (bladder expert).

This was his reply:

 

Savage, but accurate.

A recent review on urinary tract infections in the NEJM says there is no association between urinary tract infections and “frequency of voiding” and “delayed voiding habits.” 

Then there is common sense. If bladder infections were more common among people who had the opportunity to empty less frequently we would see many more among female surgeons, nurses and teachers.

It is possible that a woman could develop pelvic muscle spasm from prolonged sitting and this could be mistaken for a bladder infection (the symptoms can be identical). It is also possible that the stress of traveling could impact the immune system increasing vulnerability to infections, but no, an airplane ride does not put you at risk of a bladder infection because you are too grossed out to use the toilet. Facts matter, well, they do to me anyway. 

 

Given how much Teen Vogue butchered Summer Vagina I can hardly wait to hear how we should prep them for fall. Hopefully, some pumpkin spice wipes and advice on how to extract dry leaves from the vagina will help us all keep those finicky girls in check so every woman can enjoy her Best Autumnal Vagina Ever. 

Discussion

50 thoughts on “Teen Vogue’s Problematic Summer Vagina

  1. Thank you for meticulously debunking this pile of myths!

    Posted by neverwintersand | May 31, 2018, 11:23 pm
  2. I was actually told that ‘hanging on a bit’ to your urine is a good thing for women and UTIs, to give our short urethra a really good flush out.

    Posted by Big Red Dress | May 31, 2018, 11:37 pm
  3. What a spectacular load of nonsense. Next, they’ll be telling us to shove ice cubes in there to help with the heat, or something like that.

    Posted by raunchel | June 1, 2018, 1:44 am
  4. Jen, Thank you so much for writing this article!! I really appreciate your clarification of so many commonly discussed mis-truths. Also the mere title and idea of this article is indeed very absurd. As a young woman though, I do hope that teen vogue’s motive was to normalize the idea of young women discussing and acknowledging their vagina’s and vaginal health as being an important topic that we should feel open to discuss without shame. I grew up in the USA, and these topics were relatively taboo when I was a teenager. So I’m really hoping the intentions of the magazine were pure, but I guess I’ll never know. But anyway, HELL YES we need more accurate information to be disseminated, and I really would love to see your response to this article get more attention, or to be brought to the attention of young women/girls who read the original article.

    Posted by Ellen G Avery | June 1, 2018, 1:57 am
  5. I hope you sent this to Vogue in a letter to the editor too.

    Posted by Susanna Levin, NP | June 1, 2018, 4:21 am
  6. I had a good laugh at the vaginal panick attack when you first mentioned it on twitter.

    Posted by LindaLibraLoca | June 1, 2018, 4:54 am
  7. Pumpkin Spice Latte douches for all! You know damn well this will come up; either in Teen Vogue or Gwenyth will have it! For God sake!

    Posted by Kate | June 1, 2018, 5:07 am
  8. I did my wheezy laugh throughout your article. My wheezy laugh is the highest score I give when something strikes me as hilarious. Right to the very end, Autumnal Vagina, extracting dry leaves…stop it my side hurts.
    Thanks for all that you do! A Winnipegger.

    Posted by Debra | June 1, 2018, 8:02 am
  9. I adore your writing. As an internist who specializes in eating disorders who is chronically debunking bullshit sprayed around about food and body associations, your perspectives are fabulously fresh and real and scientific! Thank you!

    Posted by Jennifer Gaudiani, MD | June 1, 2018, 9:10 am
  10. Geez. Clearly whoever wrote that “article” is unclear that the vagina is INSIDE. I hate that my 16-year-old granddaughter may be getting misinformation like this. I went to review the book by Dr. Sherry and saw she thinks the vagina is outside the body, too. Scary!

    Posted by diannaobrien | June 1, 2018, 10:08 am
  11. I just looked Dr. Ross up on Amazon. She has written whole chapters about the necessity of washing the vagina. I hope she is in practice somewhere, where none of my grands or great grands are.

    Posted by Ellie | June 1, 2018, 11:02 am
  12. Love your comments! May I steal them? I think I need a link to your blog on my clinics website Girl! Glad you’re putting some truth to balance the junk these folks put out there

    Posted by Rosa Cisneros | June 1, 2018, 11:35 am
  13. :Journal of Old Wives Tales *snicker*

    Posted by Demodocus | June 1, 2018, 1:02 pm
  14. Good grief, wipes indeed? I don’t recommend anyone use face “cleansing” wipes never mind fanny wipes (yes, I’m British!)

    Posted by Bendy Beauty | June 1, 2018, 1:27 pm
  15. Maybe this summer the new bathing suits are the embodiment of the old joke about bikinis getting so tiny they would soon be two bandaids and a cork? It might explain the sand.

    The journal of old wives tales. 😆

    Thank you so much for debunking all the nonsense and providing real information.

    Posted by mkaufmann2009 | June 1, 2018, 4:36 pm
  16. I’m saving the idea of a vaginal panic attack for the next time I really want to get out of something.
    But ye gods – well done Teen Vogue way to make self conscious teenagers even more self conscious.

    Posted by iolantheviolet | June 2, 2018, 1:33 am
  17. Excellent work, as usual. Thanks!

    Posted by MAM | June 2, 2018, 6:04 am
  18. You should write this as a letter to the editor of Teen Vogue.

    Posted by Shelley Binkley MD FACOG | June 2, 2018, 9:10 am
  19. But what about our winter vaginas? Some nice furry knickers to keep them warm, perhaps? Or just follow my great-grandmother’s advice. She was very strict about us never sitting on stone steps, or we’d die of a ‘woman’ problem.

    Posted by heidi ruckriegel | June 3, 2018, 4:30 am
  20. You used the word poikilotherm to make a joke.

    Marry me?

    Posted by The Great Unwashed | June 3, 2018, 8:06 pm
  21. I have never, ever used any kind of vaginal wipes or cleaning product, and yet have managed to never have my vagina stage a revolt like described in the Teen Vogue article. The two urinary tract infections I did have( which both tried to kill me thanks to no symptoms and blood poisoning), were caused by a bad angle on a ureter on a transplanted kidney. Not a rogue vagina.

    Posted by unseeliepixie | June 3, 2018, 10:30 pm
  22. And surprisingly for Teen Vogue, who are usually more on it about these things, they make no distinction between care of in-house and retrofit vaginas. Vaginas created by surgical upcycling do have different care needs from ones grown in-house. As do vaginas on people taking testosterone. But none of them need chemical intervention, summer or winter.

    Posted by Womandrogyne | June 4, 2018, 3:00 am
  23. Glad someone else feels the need to correct this sort of crap. Brilliant!

    Posted by Tim | June 4, 2018, 2:22 pm
  24. Bravo, as usual. How distressing that an OBGYN is spewing such garbage, to say nothing of the fact that Teen Vogue, which purports to be pro-woman, is promulgating it. I wonder, with your stature and credentials, whether you have attempted to contact Dr. Ross or the editors of Teen Vogue directly. Why not ask for an opportunity to debunk that article in a column in Teen Vogue itself? Its readers, who I imagine are young and impressionable and probably already beset by body issues and loads of misinformation, need to hear the truth from a reliable source.

    Posted by David Balashinsky | June 5, 2018, 4:57 pm
  25. “for the love of everything that is holy”

    ISWYDT

    Posted by Irene | June 9, 2018, 3:58 pm
  26. What an absolute pearler of an article. Sending it on to my teens now.

    Posted by AngryTardis | June 10, 2018, 12:43 am
  27. Dr. Gunter, did you see this? PZ of Pharyngula is going to do an abortion live chat, and is looking for a woman to co-host: https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2018/06/11/who-wants-to-do-a-live-chat-about-abortion-on-saturday/ Any chance you’ll do it?

    Posted by Wehaf | June 11, 2018, 4:06 pm
  28. I can’t believe this sheit is real!

    Posted by Erin @Splitmom | June 18, 2018, 9:01 am
  29. Holy jeez, bug spray on underwear?! They do know that most mainstream bug spray contains DEET, right? I get antsy with that stuff anywhere on my skin, let alone my lady parts.

    Posted by Sophia | August 1, 2018, 9:50 pm
  30. That “Dr Sherry” link you provided was a fake page you made, right? I don’t want to live anymore if such people and books exist.

    Posted by @discoverwithdani | September 14, 2018, 7:36 pm

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