Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB-GYN and pain medicine physician, has made it her mission to discuss on her blog what she considers nonsensical stories about women’s reproductive health.
Last month, she addressed YouTube videos that she said erroneously and dangerously claim that inserting a peeled cucumber inside a woman’s vagina will cleanse it.
“Apparently some women are peeling cucumbers, inserting them vaginally, and then twisting them around for up to 20 minutes to refresh or cleanse or flush or something,” Gunter wrote. “This wasn’t some weird Facebook thing one person did once. I Googled ‘cucumber vagina cleanse’ (God help me, I did) and WAS HORRIFIED.”
Gunter called the idea that vaginas are “dirty” and need to be cleansed “misogyny dressed up as healthcare and I am having none of it. Vaginas are not dirty.”
‘A self-cleaning oven’
A woman’s reproductive system is made up of many interconnected parts, as Our Bodies, Ourselves explains.
Externally there’s the vulva, including mons pubis, which is covered with pubic hair.
There’s also the clitoris underneath the clitoral hood, the inner and outer lips, and the opening for the urethra, where urination occurs.
The internal part of the vulva is called the vagina, or the birth canal.
Toward the back of the birth canal is the cervix, which is the beginning of the uterus.
Although we may wash the exterior of the vulva while we are bathing, as we would any other exterior part of our body, the interior of the vagina should not be cleaned, experts say.
“One of [the vagina’s] best features is it’s like a self-cleaning oven,” Dr. Angela Jones, a board-certified OB-GYN in New Jersey, told Healthline.
Jones warns her patients that products claiming to clean the vagina don’t actually work and in fact may upset the pH balance — or the amount of good bacteria — in the vagina.
“You don’t need to use douches and all this other crap that’s on the market,” she said. “Whether it’s soaps, douches, lotions, potions, and elixirs, it’s really a waste of money.”
Bringing in bacteria
And that “crap” includes cucumbers, which not only won’t clean a vagina, but actually may introduce bad bacteria and subsequent infection.
“Using a vegetable internally puts a person at risk of making the situation worse — and most women don't have a problematic situation to begin with,” wrote Carol Queen, PhD, staff sexologist for Good Vibrations, a women-founded sex store, in an email to Healthline.
In her blog post addressing the YouTube videos, Gunter pointed out that cucumbers and the soil in which they grow are teeming with microorganisms. That includes possibly fungi.
“No, a little wash in the kitchen sink isn’t going to sterilize a cucumber,” Gunter wrote.
Jones noted that there could be trace amounts of poisons on the cucumber as well.
“Just rinsing a cucumber off doesn’t do the job in regards to ridding it of all the germs, pesticides, insecticides, etcetera, that are on the cucumber,” she said.
Not everything that can be inserted into the vagina, of course, is dangerous.
Speculums are sterilized before they enter the vagina and both male and female condoms are prepackaged to prevent contamination.
Additionally, sex toys like dildos or vibrators are “made from materials that aren’t going to introduce infection into your body,” Jones noted.
And sex toys, of course, should be cleaned regularly.
Cucumbers might feel “refreshing” in a beauty mask — but there’s nothing they do to help your vagina or vulva if there are health issues.
In that case, a woman needs to visit her OB-GYN and find out whether she has a yeast infection, an STD, bacterial vaginosis, or something else entirely, and get instructions on how to treat it.
What’s most important to the health of the vagina is prevention.
The vulva and vagina “have their own habitat” and itchiness occurs when the balance is upset, explained Jones.
“Don’t give yourself an environment down there that’s conducive to infection, like yeast infections,” she said.
Jones warned against wearing tight clothes, especially ones which aren’t made from breathable fabrics.
She suggested removing workout clothes and underwear immediately after exercise, so as not to trap the sweat.
She also recommended going commando at bedtime and “letting your girlfriend breathe at night.”
In addition to keeping vegetables out of the vagina, Jones warned women who are trying to spice things up in the bedroom to keep food products in the fridge.
She discouraged “all the extra stuff during sex... like syrups. You know, people use a lot of foods during sex. Yeast loves sugar.”
‘Misinformed, selling a product, or both’
Education about the vagina and how it works is essential to keeping it healthy.
As Gunter wrote on her blog, “Vaginas are a great self-contained ecosystem and do not need any additional support from vaginal vegetables to stay healthy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed, selling a product, or both.”
All the experts who spoke to Healthline underscored that interference from anything other than what’s recommended by a medical professional often does a vagina more harm than good.
“Women who think there's something wrong with their perfectly natural genitals need better information, not a new way to change a part of their body that is not in need of change,” wrote Queen.