This should go without saying, but because it apparently doesn’t, here goes: don’t stick random items into your vagina. Tampons, certified body-safe sex toys, physician-approved devices, and certain bodily appendages should really be the only things that go in there.
“But what if I have weird discharge or a funny smell?” Great question. Contrary to what Gwenyth Paltrow would like you to believe, some doctors actually do know how to treat vaginal problems. Just think about how great we are at treating yeast infections. You can pop down to your local pharmacy and grab a three-day pack of Monistat and boom—infection gone. Most other infections can be easily resolved with a short course of antibiotic cream that your doctor can prescribe. And yet people insist on shoving other items up there, like their vaginas are walls at which to throw medicinal spaghetti.
The latest spaghetti monstrosity to hit the pages of Etsy and Amazon alike are called oak galls. Galls are abnormal tree growths that form when wasps lay larvae in branches. Surprisingly, some trees find insects growing inside them irritating, so they grow a hard ball around the larva. The little worms then feed off that growth until they emerge. At some point in history, women started grinding up these round protrusions and sticking the powder inside themselves. This might seem like an odd choice of an item to put in your body, but it does have some medicinal properties (maybe…). A few studies have found that oak galls, or manjakani as they’re also known, have some antibacterial properties. Women in India, Malaysia, China, and parts of the Middle East have used them for centuries to treat infections for that reason, because after childbirth it was not uncommon for new mothers to end up with postpartum bacterial infections or other strange vaginal discharge.
Somehow over the years that idea became muddled and we went from “use this antibiotic plant to kill harmful bacteria” to “use this plant to tighten your vagina.” Maybe its use by new mothers became associated with women trying to return their privates to a pre-baby state. It’s unclear. What is clear is that oak galls probably don’t tighten your vagina and even if they do, they have enough potential side effects that you should avoid them anyway. Like douching, trying to clean out your vagina when it has nothing wrong with it just messes up the normal, healthy bacteria living there. Heck, you can get bacterial vaginosis from having sex with a new person, and we’re evolutionarily designed to have sex with people. Vaginal flora can be in a surprisingly delicate balance—don’t go screwing it up with random herbs. Vaginas can mostly take care of themselves.
Inserting ground up bits of oak gall will, at best, do nothing. At worst, it will give you a raging infection. The galls contain intense astringents, which dry out and irritate your vagina. Disturbingly, some of the oak gall sellers advocate for drying out your vagina, as it will increase friction between you and a male partner’s penis. Technically that’s true—it would increase friction. It would increase friction to the point that you could get abrasions inside of your vagina. Is that what you want? Think about how painful rug burn is. Now picture that inside of you. Even if it did help your vaginal muscle tone, internal rug burn doesn’t seem worth it.
Besides, there are other ways to tighten things up if you’re really worried. Kegels, for example, actually do strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and can not only make your vagina feel “tighter,” they can give you better orgasms. And incidentally, having orgasms helps tone your pelvic muscles too. So the choice is yours: have more orgasms or shove an irritant inside of you. It’s a real puzzler.