Cleaning vagina linked to increased HIV risk, study finds


Turns out there might just be such a thing as too much hygiene. Women in Africa who wash out their vaginas with soap or clean it out using cloth or paper are more at risk of contracting HIV, according to a new study in PLoS Medicine.

The international team of researchers looked at data pulled from 13 studies involving 14,874 women, 791 of whom ended up with HIV. The women reported whether they used any particular methods to clean, tighten or dry out their vaginas.

After controlling for age, marital status and the number of sexual partners the women had had in the past three months, the authors found women were about one and a half times as likely to acquire HIV if they used a cloth or paper to wipe out their vaginas, and one and a quarter times as likely to become infected if they used soap to clean it out.


Women who washed their vaginas with soap were also more likely to have bacterial vaginosis or disrupted vaginal flora (as in, a disruption in the normal, healthy balance of microbes that live in the vagina and protect it from disease).

The researchers could not establish a direct cause-effect relationship between these practices and the disease, but suggest that they could increase the risk of HIV by removing protective mucus, by causing inflammation or other damage, or by changing the level of acidity in the vagina (thus changing the environment to favor harmful bacteria growth).

In short: It’s probably best to leave the vagina alone. It can usually take care of itself.

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