By Shamilla Kara and Dorothy Kengoma
“So many women approach me seeking a solution for itchy as well as smelly and dry female reproductive organs. Others are curious to know what effect bathing warm water and using soap have on a woman,” reveals Najjuko Ziwedde, popularly known as Ssenga Mumbejja, a renowned herbalist and specialist in bedroom affairs. “A great deal, if it concerns a woman’s sex life,” I tell them.
According to Ziwedde, warm water and soap are detrimental to a woman’s sex life and ultimately, her marriage.
On the contrary, reproductive health experts say bathing warm water presents no problem for a woman.
However, Paul Kiondo, a gynaecologist, says: “When used on the private parts, antiseptic or strong medicated soaps increase vaginal discharge, killing friendly bacteria and spurring itching.”
Strong soaps, therefore, kill some organisms, thus making way for the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
According to Ziwedde, women should not bathe warm water, especially to clean their private parts. “When a woman washes with warm water, it reduces the elasticity of her vaginal walls, making them weak.” She adds that women should only bathe lukewarm water just before sex, as this helps them keep warm.
However, Dr. Pius Okong, a gynaecologist, says: “This is a myth and there is no scientific evidence to support it.”
Stella Twinamatsiko, an occupational therapist at the Ministry of Health, adds that when a woman bathes cold water, she should wait for a few hours before going to bed to allow her body regain its warmth.
Adding her two cents to the issue is a 70-year-old resident of Kirombe, Luzira, a suburb in Kampala, only identified as Beatrice.
She advises women not to bathe warm water because “it gradually kills one’s sexual desire”. “It is only old women who are widowed or those that have lost interest in sex because of old age that can bathe warm water or use soap to wash their private parts.”
Twinamatsiko adds that warm water kills useful bacteria that naturally exist in the vagina.
She says the bacteria are meant to keep the vaginal walls clean and moist. Subsequently, a bad odour arises when the area is not well-protected.
On the contrary, Okong argues that bathing warm or cold water does not damage the skin or private parts.
However, he cautions against inserting unhygienic substances such as herbs and rock salt (which are used in some parts to hasten recovery after childbirth). This, he says, promotes growth of bad bacteria in the private parts, which can result in infections.
Why women must go slow on soap
Unlike the diverse arguments on the use of warm water to clean the private parts, both the local experts and gynaecologists agree that when used, soap destroys the useful bacteria, drying up the area, thus making it susceptible to infections like candida and urinary tract infections.
According to Ziwedde, if a woman must wash her vagina using soap, for instance during her menstrual periods, she should use it sparingly and only on the vulva.
Medical experts add that the vagina is self-cleansing and all you need is water to wash the vulva, using the fingers to clean between the labia to wipe away dirt.
The vaginal pH is acidic and, therefore, helps to kill unhealthy bacteria and keep healthy bacteria at good levels.
The vagina cannot adjust fast enough to a sudden change in pH. Some soaps may have a different pH and ingredients, thus differing effects, the experts add.
According to Okong: “Vaginal douches reduce vaginal secretions because they contain strong solutions that are made for cosmetic purposes. This harms the vaginal lining yet, like saliva, vaginal secretions are natural and should not be tampered with.”
Vaginal douching involves rinsing out the vagina with a solution of water and vinegar that is sprayed into the vagina with the purpose of trying to smell good.