How much do you remember about your sex education class? Maybe an awkward conversation featuring a condom and a banana, followed by a swift assembly on the joys of menstruation. Maybe you explored relationships and the act of sex itself. Across the UK, our understanding of sex is fairly diverse dependent on where we grew up. But with one of four adults are unable to correctly label a vulva, it’s fair to say that for most of us, there were gaps.
As someone approaching their thirties, I can safely that while my sex education left plenty to be desired, I came of age around the same time as the internet - or at least, the internet as we know it. Plugging gaps in my own understanding was as simple as asking Jeeves and I could read around my own education enough to understand what information I was missing.
Nowadays there are a plethora of educators out there, especially on TikTok where hashtags relating to the words 'sex education' have over 70 million views. But, with so many educators out there, it can hard to spot the ones we should be listening to.
I sat down with Dr Sarah Welsh from Hanx, a doctor of gynaecology and vulval health expert, to get her thoughts on some popular TikTok sexual health trends and how advisable they actually are...
1. Womb cleansing and womb detoxing
Often sold as 'pearls' or capsules, womb detoxing and cleansing involves a 'natural' suppository being inserted into the vagina. These suppositories are filled with herbs that you’re supposed to leave in your vagina for a few days. They claim to cure period pain, alleviate cramps and cleanse your vagina. The side effects include burning, cramping, itching and excessive discharge.
'Your vagina is self-cleaning, so douching or womb detoxing will affect the delicate PH of your vagina,' notes the Dr Sarah. 'That makes it harder for you to fight off infections such as thrush. As far as I can see, there’s nothing in the ingredients list that would make me think this product can be useful,' she adds.
Sarah also highlights that we shouldn’t ignore any side effects. 'It’s trying to normalise the abnormal. Burning, cramping, itching and unusual discharge are all signs of infection and something you should go get checked out.'
Dr Sarah’s verdict? 'Definitely not.'
2. Yoni Eggs
The Yoni Egg is another TikTok trend that’s fast gaining traction. According to Goop, Yoni eggs harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice. And, according to Goop shoppers, they can improve your sex life and reduce period pain.
'Depending on where you purchase this, a lot of these eggs are crafted out of porous materials, which means bacteria can be absorbed into them. Which can, again, throw off the PH balance within your vagina,' the gynaecologist explains. 'While technically, an improved pelvic floor can increase female pleasure, there are plenty of products that have been rigorously tested to improve this.'
Goop doesn’t offer specific instructions, but some women on TikTok recommend leaving the egg in for at least a day. 'We only recommend tampons to be kept in for up to eight hours, so, I really wouldn’t recommend leaving anything in your body for that long. As far as I can see, there are far safer products out there with clearer guidelines,' the doctor advises.
The other issue is that several TikTok users have commented that they’ve struggled to remove the egg. 'I would recommend going straight to A&E if this happens,' urges Dr Sarah. 'You don’t want to risk infection or abrasion.'
Dr Sarah’s verdict? 'Again, I wouldn’t recommend it.'
Another trend sweeping TikTok, especially throughout lockdown, has been that of DIY abortions. While this in itself is an issue ('pills by post' abortions continue to be available in the UK), many of the methods recommended are more likely to cause harm. Ibuprofen and cinnamon are two common culprits that are often suggested to cause an 'instant miscarriage.'
'We don’t recommend ibuprofen in late-stage pregnancy, simply because there’s a small risk to the baby’s health. But, other than that, I’m not sure where this information has come from. Neither ibuprofen nor cinnamon can cause a miscarriage,' clarifies Dr Sarah. 'However, if you’ve found out that you’re pregnant and it’s unwanted, there are steps that you can take to do this safely. Visit your GP as early as possible and you’ll have access to support,' she notes.
Dr Sarah’s verdict? 'This quite simply does not work and is not true.'
4. Vaginal steaming
Vaginal steam currently has more than 2.8 million views on TikTok. The process involves squatting over a mix of herbs and hot water, with the process designed to 'improve the smell of your vagina.' It’s also been claimed to 'improve period pains and fertility' as well as cleanse your 'uterus'.
'Firstly, like your vagina, your uterus just wants to be left alone. As the steam is going to be going into our vagina, we really don’t want to be adding herbs and other things in there. As a self-cleaning organ, your vagina does its own thing, anything like the above will upset the delicate PH balance. It definitely cannot hep with fertility issues.'
Dr Sarah’s verdict? 'Go for a facial instead. Your vagina doesn’t want to be steamed.'
Sarah suggests that if you’ve got questions about a product, ask your GP or nurse practitioner before you give any of these products a go. You can also head to Brook's website, School of Sexuality or the HANX blog, where many of these questions are covered.
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