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9 Vaginal health myths we need to stop believing

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Know the truth about your vagina for optimal health — and enjoyment

Mention the word "vagina" at the next party you attend and watch what happens.

I'm serious. I throw the word around like candy during a Fourth of July parade, and it's mostly to watch how people respond. The word itself is powerful enough to deflate or buoy a whole room. And any body part that is powerful enough to bring conversation to a screeching halt is bound to have some myths attached to it. Let's bust 'em — for the sake of female health and pleasure.

Myth 1: Vaginal odor is a hygiene issue

Most women will experience odor at some point in their lives, but it's not typically caused by improper hygiene. Odor is usually caused by changes to your pH levels — if your pH is whacked due to hormones, sex or menstruation, you're at increased risk of bacterial proliferation. Bacterial infections, in turn, are the most common cause of vaginal odor.

Your vagina might also smell like a vagina, and that's cool. It's not a hygiene problem.

Myth 2: The vagina is the entire thing

Nope. The vagina is one component of an intricate web that comprises the female reproductive system. It is 3 to 5 inches long, and connects a woman's uterus to the outside world. The labia majora, labia minora and the clitoris are often confused for the vagina — but they're not the same thing.

More: Why are we afraid of the word 'vagina'?

Myth 3: Regular sex decreases vaginal tone

Your vagina is a muscle. Regular exercise — whether it's sex or Kegels — can actually increase vaginal tone. The idea of a "loose" woman is a myth.

Myth 4: First intercourse hurts because it tears the hymen

Most women report that their first sexual experience hurt a little bit, and people tend to assume it's because sex stretches or tears the hymen. Chances are, however, that the pain was at least partially the result of awkward fumbling. Many women break their hymens in their adolescence during activities that are unrelated to sex.

Myth 5: Douching keeps things fresh

Douching may smell like a summer's evening, but it's also linked to vaginal infections, increased risks of sexually transmitted infections and difficulty getting pregnant. Don't douche. We've already covered that your vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina.

Myth 6: Urinary incontinence is for new moms and old ladies

It's a problem for many women, actually. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five young adult women, one in three middle-aged women and one in two elderly women struggle with urinary incontinence. Talk to your doctor if this is an issue you face — there's no shame, and it is super common.

More: Natural pain remedies so you can ditch the meds and go pill-free

Myth 7: Reduce sugar intake to prevent yeast infections

Unless you're depositing sugar directly into your vagina, this myth is bunk. Research has shown that sugar intake does not impact the levels of naturally occurring yeast found in and around your vagina.

Myth 8: Sexually transmitted infections are a sign of promiscuity

Sure, it's hard to get an STI without having sex, and no one is calling an STI a good thing. The fact is, however, that most sexually active women will contract an STI at some point in their lives, so it's hardly a malady of loose and craven women.

Myth 9: Vaginas are kinda weird

Vaginas are amazing, not weird. Over half of the human population has one, so let's get over it already, shall we?

More: 8 Things you should probably know about your vagina

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