Lady parts don’t come with an owner’s manual, so you’re left having to rely on a combination of sex ed, discussions with doctors, and NSFW chats with friends. With all that noise, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Many vagina-related misconceptions come out during annual gyno appointments, and Alyssa Dweck, M.S., M.D., FACOG, coauthor of The Complete A to Z for Your V: A Women’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina, says she’s basically heard them all. Now, she’s setting the record straight on four myths she has to dispel all the time.
Myth: Vaginal discharge? Must be a yeast infection.
Dr. Dweck says she clears up this one “about 10 times a day.” Many women believe that yeast infections are at the root of all vaginal discharge. Yes, yeast infections are extremely common—3 out of 4 women will get one at some point, according to the Office on Women’s Health—but there is a slew of other reasons to experience discharge, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), STIs, irritation from a chemical found in things such as lubricant, body wash, or fabric softener, or even an allergy to semen! Also, before you freak out: “A small amount of clear or cloudy white fluid passing each day from your V is totally normal,” writes Dr. Dweck in the book. “And don’t fret over a small difference in the amount or color because it usually changes throughout your menstrual cycle.” If you’re unsure what’s causing a reaction, get checked out by your gynecologist. If it does turn out to be a yeast infection, Dr. Dweck suggests turning to OTC treatments such as Monistat.
Myth: Condoms are foolproof protection against HPV.
Nope, sorry. You probably know that wearing condoms helps to prevent the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV), but it won’t stop you from getting it 100 percent of the time. That’s because HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, not through fluids like some other STIs. So while a condom helps, it doesn’t completely eliminate the risk. To get the best protection, make sure to avoid these eight condom mistakes. (Related: How a Cervical Cancer Scare Made Me Take My Sexual Health More Seriously Than Ever)
Myth: The pill will mess with your fertility.
You know your friend who has been on the Pill since she was 17 and now she’s newly married and has convinced herself all those years on birth control are going to make it hard to conceive? Well, send her this story because Dr. Dweck says there’s no truth to this strangely common theory. If someone experiences weakened fertility after years on the Pill, it’s not the hormonal BC to blame. It’s most likely just the natural decrease in fertility that comes with age. By age 35, your fertility starts to drop off, and, as we previously reported (Is the Extreme Cost of IVF In America Really Necessary?) by 40 your chance of getting pregnant drops to just 40 percent. However, Dr. Dweck says that for women who originally decided to take the hormonal birth control for health reasons such as debilitating cramps or effects of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the symptoms they were trying to thwart could end up being behind difficulties to conceive later in life. But, again, this is not directly related to birth control.
Myth: You can’t use tampons if you have an IUD.
When discussing birth control options, Dr. Dweck says she’s encountered many women who are hesitant to get an IUD because they think they can’t use tampons. (Yes, really.) In reality, removing a tampon will *never* bring the IUD out with it. Simply put, biology won’t allow for it. The string of an IUD lies in the uterus and hopefully, you know that a tampon is inserted into the vagina. “It would take an awful lot of talent for someone to pull out or dislodge an IUD just from using a tampon,” she says. (Here’s what you should consider about IUDs when making the choice.) In other words, don’t let your period protection preference factor into your choice of birth control method.