What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Growing up, I expectantly looked forward to my golden years of fantastic, uninhibited sex: post-coital glows, cuddles, and walks of shame which, secretly, I would be actually quite proud of. In reality, this romanticized ideal of an adult sex life is very, very off. In fact, there is a price to pay for wonderful, carefree sexual gratification. On the erstwhile TV shows of my youth, not one word was mentioned about the evil, soul-destroying, and potentially crippling effects that lots and lots of sex can have on your poor vagina.
I was 18 years old the first time cystitis hit me. I was also confused and distressed. No one had warned me that this might happen! It wasn't long after that that I first encountered thrush. Personally, I would take that itching, messy, gotta-stick-a-wire-brush-up-there irritating experience over a burning, nauseating UTI anytime. Honestly, though, I'd rather not have either.
Anyone who has experienced any sex-related vaginal health issues is probably fully acquainted with popular remedies. Long suffering veterans will scoff at cranberry juice (too much sugar), salts (don't waste my time), feminine washes (I. Can't. Even.), and remembering to pee after sex. Some of these work, some of these don't, some of them are just full nonsense, and none of them did me good when an unusual combination of sex, horseback riding, long-haul flights, and stress brought on the mother of all yeast infections.
This is not a pretty story; it involves discharge, an unholy aroma, more discharge, and, frankly, extreme embarrassment. It also went on for weeks. Doctors were dismissive and, I swear, I went through an entire liter of natural yoghurt. Not to eat mind you, I'm talking about applying it directly to the problem. My friends may laugh at me (until one of them gets an attack, then it's all "give me that f*cking yoghurt!"), and I'm not suggesting them as a cure, but I am quite a fan of trying out foodstuffs as remedies. Growing up in a household where the first port of call was always a natural remedy, I soon learned the efficacy of everyday products. It's also worth mentioning that the difference in time between reaching into the fridge and trying to get a doctor's appointment is about 100 years to a desperate woman.
In my search for a cure, I came across an unusual suggestion. A number of sites recommended inserting garlic into your vagina to promote improved health downstairs. As a big believer in garlic (and knowing full well I had an entire bulb of it just downstairs), I looked into the idea further. Garlic is often cited as a superfood in terms of healing; most people are familiar with its uses against colds and flu and even improving heart conditions. Its super-good-for-you qualities are due to the allicin compound found in garlic, which also happens to be considered antifungal (an excellent start when dealing with a yeast infection).
That night, I crept downstairs and peeled myself a fresh clove of garlic, one that looked about the right size. All the research I had done suggested that it's best to slightly crush the garlic to release the all important allicin, which I duly did with a clean knife blade. I also took some sensible precautions as recommended by a number of women. First, I threaded a string through the clove using a needle, essentially creating a stinky little tampon that could be easily removed. (No one needs to visit the emergency room with garlic stuck up their fanny, no one.) Secondly, I wrapped the garlic in a light fabric to prevent burning.
Even with these precautions in place, I have to admit that I was apprehensive about how the garlic might irritate my already much-upset vagina.
But up it went.
Even the experienced naturopath in me was a little incredulous that I was pushing a clove of garlic up near my cervix. As with so many problems, it is best to sleep on this one and remove it in the morning. I only made it through to about three in the morning.
I have to admit that the experience wasn't exactly physically uncomfortable. There was a mild burning sensation, but no pain. Really, it was comparable to using a tampon. However, I just could not push the thought from my mind that I had garlic stuck up my fanny. Even sleeping, I was aware of it as a "foreign object." I also could not shift the thought of what generally occurs when food is left in warm, damp environments. Did I need to be setting up a composting site inside my vagina?
It reached a point where I just couldn't take it anymore, I was freaking out. So out it came, and I just told myself that the residual oils would keep working. I can't say that the next day brought a new, infection-free dawn or that my vagina glowed with renewed feminine health, but it didn't feel bad. But, the symptoms did subside within a week, though I won't go as far as to say the garlic had much of anything to do with it.
I have since met other women who have also tried this, some swearing blind that it was so effective that they frequently stuffed a few cloves up there for maintenance purposes. Others related horror stories of extreme burns, or, as I feared, embarrassing trips to hospital to remove the foreign object. In my experience, the concerns that attached to the whole process outweighed the benefits. Maybe it was simply those strange fears that come upon you in the dark of the night. Or perhaps I'm more "squeamish urbanite" and less "hardy earth mother" than I had previously supposed? Either way, I can't honestly say that I will be repeating the experiment. I think I'll just keep enjoying sex and keep a big tub of yoghurt to hand instead.