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Recently, my sister visited the gynecologist for the first time. And everything was looking pretty good down there. Thank God. The doctor even complimented my sister on her relaxation skills. But when the gyno noticed that my sister had applied powder down there, in preparation for her vagina being bared for a virtual stranger to see, she frowned before issuing a warning.

She held her hand up in a ‘stop’ motion and said, “And don’t put powder down there. It’s not natural.”

My sister conceded that point. She could do without powder. And then the doctor hit her with another zinger.

“You really shouldn’t be putting anything down there but water.”

“Not even soap?” My sister asked, assuming she’d made an oversight.

“Just water.”

“Well, I sweat a lot down there.”

“Just water. Your vagina cleans itself.”

“Ok…” My sister said okay but that was not a point she was willing to concede.

The doctor went on to explain that putting anything down there, even soap, can possibly lead to infection.

We’ve known about our vaginas for some time. We even learned that the vagina is so miraculous it cleans itself. How beautiful! But while we were learning all of those fun facts, it necessarily didn’t negate years and years of training and paranoia that our “jelly pum pum,” and later our “fishy” could literally get to a point where it smelled like the latter.

The maternal side of my family is Jamaican and cleanliness is second only to God, particularly bodily hygiene.

The only way I can describe it, is that we were shamed and frightened into making sure our bodies, and specifically our vaginas, were clean. And that clean included soap. Now, was this the best way to teach hygiene? Shame and fear about your own body? Probably not. But I’m proud to say that the legacy of clean has been successfully passed down.

Now that I’m older, I understand that my vagina is so kind that it saves me quite a bit of time, doing a lot of the work herself. But the residue of shame and the irrational fear that my vagina will somehow end up smelling putrid, make it almost impossible for me to forgo the use of soap entirely.

I’ve been washing almost everything with soap for years and soap has never caused an infection. Partially because I don’t put it inside my actual vagina. Just the vulva. And in the areas where I do apply soap, I make sure to rinse and then dry thoroughly.

Soap has been and will continue to be my friend.

But I am curious about how the other side lives.

Have any of you received similar advice from your gyno about abandoning the use of soap; and more importantly, if any of you have decided to make that lifestyle change, how is it working out for you?

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