Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an OB/GYN and author, is an expert on several aspects of women’s health, but she also seems to have a (perhaps unintentional) specialty in telling us What Not to Put in Our Vaginas. In a piece for the New York Times—one that was literally called “Here Are Things Not to Put in Your Vagina”—she warned against lemon juice, yogurt, and sea sponges. For her own website, she wrote “What You Shouldn’t Put in Your Vagina,” which nixed Vicks VapoRub, makeup sponges, and an Etsy-generated abomination that involved tree bark and ground-up wasp larvae.
And, just yesterday, she posted a nine-tweet thread that explained why garlic cloves weren’t meant to be vaginally inserted, either.
Before we get to Dr. Gunter’s tweets, the idea that garlic can be used to cure a vaginal yeast infection isn’t a new one, but it is one that has made its way around the internet often enough that even Monistat addresses the rumor on its website.
“In some circles, garlic is revered for its detoxifying qualities. For those that subscribe to garlic’s medicinal use, they believe it can be used to treat yeast infections by inserting it into the vagina,” Monistat writes. “In reality, inserting any foreign object in the vagina may cause further complications or even worsen an infection. There is no scientific proof that garlic can cure a yeast infection, so don’t put yourself at risk.”
If you’re someone who can’t or won’t be swayed by the BLATANT PROPAGANDA from BIG YEAST, then maybe Dr. Gunter can help. In her Twitter thread, she wrote that many “vaginal garlic aficionados” slide a clove into nature’s pocket because they believe that allicin, a sulphur compound present in garlic, has antifungal properties. That’s technically not wrong, but garlic has to be cut or crushed in order to produce allicin—and Dr. Gunter really doesn’t advocate turning your vagina into a DIY jar of Christopher Ranch.
“For garlic to even have any medical effect it has to be crushed or chopped, so putting [a] whole clove in your vagina will do nothing except expose your inflamed vagina to the possible soil bacteria (like Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes botulism) that still could be clinging to the garlic,” she previously wrote on her website. “It is not easily removed with washing.”
Gunter also says that, although yeast infections are reasonably common, not everyone who “self-treats” for those symptoms actually has one, so congratulations, you’ve turned your most sensitive orifice into Gilroy, California for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.
And again, although it’s easy to dismiss this idea, or question who would possibly do such a thing, it’s also a surprisingly widespread home remedy. In an interview with Scientific American, Dr. Paul Nyirjesy, the director of the Drexel Vaginitis Center, said that as many as 10 percent of his patients had tried using garlic as a cure for a yeast infection. “But I can't recall a single patient who told me that she used garlic and she thought it was helpful,” he added.
Both Dr. Gunter and Dr. Nyirjesy have referenced either of two studies that examined the effectiveness of garlic as a potential vaginal yeast treatment, and neither were conclusive. The first, which was published in The Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, compared the use of the antifungal cream clotrimazole to a garlic-and-thyme cream. Sixty-four women who all had symptoms of a yeast infection were treated with one cream or the other and, according to the study authors, all of the women were “identically improved,” regardless of what they’d been prescribed.
The researchers seemed content to shrug and say “YOU’RE ALL CURED,” but Nyirjesy pointed out that no follow-up studies or examinations were performed to see if any of the women suffered subsequent infections after discontinuing the garlic and thyme cream.
The second study investigated whether oral garlic supplements could be used to reduce vagina yeast counts but—spoiler alert—it didn’t work. “This study provided data for sample size calculations in future studies on the antifungal effect of garlic, but provided no evidence to inform clinical practice regarding the use of garlic in vaginal candidiasis,” the authors concluded.
It’s not just garlic, and it’s not just weird Facebook groups that advocate for this kind of thing. Earlier this year, Marie Claire UK posted an article that listed several things women could do to “kickstart” their periods, including putting parsley in one’s vagina. “Parsley can help to soften the cervix and level out hormonal imbalances that could be delaying your cycle,” the article said, a claim that prompted several gynecologists to respond with a near simultaneous “DO NOT PUT PARSLEY IN THERE EITHER.” ( Marie Claire quickly deleted the article, calling it “misguided.”)
“There are only a few things that should go in your vagina and vegetables generally aren’t one of them,” Dr. Sheila Newman, a New Jersey-based OB/GYN, said at the time. “There are ways to manipulate your menstrual cycle and avoid having your period at certain times but they should be discussed with your gynecologist.”
And as “misguided” as the idea of filling our vaginas with parsley or garlic or other herbs or whatever sounds, it could be less about being misinformed or uneducated than it is about the near-eternal stigmatization of women’s health problems. It’s easier, less invasive, and less embarrassing to go to the supermarket than it is to go to a doctor. And even in a clinical setting, we can (and have been) shamed, criticized, and questioned about everything from our sexual activity, to our appearance, to whether or not we’re even experiencing our symptoms after all.
If something out-of-the-ordinary is happening down there, let’s all try to ask a medical professional about it, and hopefully it will be someone we trust and feel comfortable with.
And let’s all try not to put garlic ANYWHERE other than in our own mouths between now and then.