23/05/2016 5:06 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST

Ladies, There Is Nothing 'Unclean' About Your Vagina

And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Advice from the experts: leave it alone.
Getty Images
Advice from the experts: leave it alone.

Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Women's and the University of Melbourne, has a message for women:

Stop trying to 'pretty up' your vagina.

She also thinks the phrase 'feminine hygiene' is a marketing term designed to make women feel in some way unhygienic, and therefore "gets them to use certain products to keep themselves clean, which I don't think is actually necessary."

In short, according to Hickey, women are doing too much to their pubic area -- whether it's waxing, cleansing or, in some cases, cosmetically altering -- when a) there's actually no need to, and b) we could be doing ourselves more harm than good.

"In many cases, these products or procedures actually have the potential to do harm," Hickey told The Huffington Post Australia. "So for example, surgery to the vulva for cosmetic reasons can be quite harmful.

"One in 12 of every women who do that get a complication that can be quite serious."


As for products purported to 'cleanse' or 'refresh' your nether regions, Hickey says they are completely unnecessary.

"All parts of our body have their own ecosystem, their own balances of microbes, which basically keep them healthy," Hickey said.

"If you put products on them or in them, you change those environments and that has the potential to cause harm.

"So there's no reason why the vulva or vagina needs to have particular products. The vagina, for example, is a very sophisticated organ and has the ability to self clean. It doesn't need products, especially potentially irritating products with things with perfume in them.

"It is quite a sensitive area. Some women are sensitive to the perfumes in the soap and find they cause rashes or irritation. Instead, use plain water. Water's good."

esthAlto/Frederic Cirou
Forget fancy soaps, all you need is H2O.

According to Hickey, even waxing can be problematic, both in terms of the actual process and the fact it may result in women not 'liking' what they see.

"With a Brazilian wax, for instance, you are pulling all the hair out and thereby leaving the follicles open to infection," Hickey told HuffPost Australia. "The hair isn't unhygienic. It has a role, it has a purpose.

"The other problem that happens is by removing the pubic hair, it makes the vulva look very different. So that's created concerns around some women who worry their vulva doesn't look right, and that's actually fuelled the desire to get cosmetic surgery.

"And that's just because it looks different, because it's not covered in hair like it should have been in the first place."

Paul Hanson
Wax on... wax off?

But it's cosmetic surgery, unsurprisingly, which causes Hickey the most concern.

"The number of women seeking cosmetic surgery to the vulva has increased massively," Hickey said. "There's no way deformities of the vulva have suddenly increased. It's driven by cosmetic reasons -- though some people say pornography, but I don't know -- either way, not by medical reasons."

Hickey said labiaplasties -- operations which are mainly to reduce the size of the vulva -- are the most popular, but she is concerned that women aren't properly informed about the risks prior to going under the knife.

"We're talking risks of bleeding, infection, scarring, those sorts of risks," she said. "When if people just left it alone, it's fine.

"That would be my main message. Women should be more aware of their normal anatomy. Understanding these things have different names; the vagina is not the thing that's on the outside, for instance.

"Women need to be confident that abnormalities of those organs are really uncommon. They are not unhygienic or dirty, and they don't require special potions or products to keep them clean. In fact, using those products could be harmful."

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