Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.
Steam baths. Weight lifting. Knitting. And just when you thought you'd heard of every activity it was possible to do with your vagina, another one has popped up: yogurt making.
Yes, you did read that correctly and no, we’re not having you on. Cecile Westbrook, a Ph.D. student from Madison, Wisconsin, attempted to make yogurt from her own vaginal bacteria.
A gross idea, that nevertheless fits in well with modern microbiology.
It's possible because a woman‘s vagina contains the organism lactobacillus – so-called friendly bacteria that help keep your gut and privates healthy. Lactobacillus also happens to be one of the bugs used to culture yogurt.
But just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. While there is certainly some scientific reasoning behind the idea given the presence of probiotics in the secretions, experts warn that it’s probably not the best idea to go making your own batch. Read on to find out why.
Home to millions
There is undoubtedly a playful aspect to Westbrook’s project, but there is some scientific logic behind it too.
Westbrook claims in an interview with a feminist blog that we know very little about vaginal flora, but that’s nonsense. If there’s one thing we all know about vaginas is that they have tons of bacteria. Like, millions.
Every vagina is home to hundreds of different types of bacteria and organisms. These organisms—collectively known as the vaginal community—produce lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other substances that keep the vagina healthy.
The vagina is a small world where organisms cohabit and make friends with each other, causing unending stress for women who think that there’s something wrong with the abundance of little creatures that live within them. It may be weird, but experts state these bacteria are normal, and for the benefit of our health we just have to learn to live with them.
Through the efforts of the human microbiome project, the genetic information of more than 400 vaginal bacteria has been mapped. The results are fascinating.
In microbial terms, the vagina appears to be very different from the rest of the body. Of all the body sites the vaginal microbiota shows the least diversity, both within and between women.
Lactobacillus dominates most vaginas. And not just one Lactobacillus, but one or two of only four kinds, which are also all closely related. Lactobacillus also happens to be what people sometimes use to culture milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Which one worked?
So, that is why Westbrook grabbed a wooden spoon, collected some of her lady juice, added it to milk, and let it simmer overnight. (Ever the researcher, she also had two controls: one with milk using regular yogurt as the starter culture, and one with just milk, nothing else added.)
The next morning, she woke up to a sizable sample which she, er, sampled.
According to Westbrook, when she ate her own yogurt, it didn’t taste that bad.
Actually, it tasted sour, tangy, and almost tingly on the tongue. It reminded her of Indian yogurt.
But that doesn't necessarily mean her vagina bacteria would have been able to create yogurt.
Making probiotics with one‘s vagina has turned out to be a bad idea. That’s all very hipster and microbrewery-like, but you have no idea what actually did the trick.
Larry Forney, a microbiologist from the University of Idaho, claims that when you collect vaginal secretions, you also collect everything that comes along with that – including positive and negative bacteria, infections, fungus, and more.
Sometimes this imbalance can cause yeast infections and other unpleasant nether times. You wouldn't want those organisms ending up in your breakfast. Even a healthy vagina hosts organisms that could be bad news if cultured, too.
The good, the bad and the ugly
First of all, Forney points out, while Westbrook‘s vagina probably carried a hefty amount of lactobacillus, it's possible that it may have also held a trove of other organisms, such as the nasty bacteria E. coli, which could actually throw off her digestive tract.
The conclusion is that the yogurt from Westbrook probably contained a mixture of various kinds of bacteria. Some of which may have been her own vaginal inhabitants, but a number of them may have originated from the wooden spoon, or from the air, or from the kitchen counter, or from underneath her fingernails. Ew.
What you’re using in your yogurt is no longer dominated by lactobacilli but other bacteria, some of which could be pathogenic, experts note. The FDA in the US warned the secretions "may transmit human disease".
While there is certainly some scientific reasoning behind the idea given the presence of probiotics in the secretions, experts have warned that it’s probably not the best idea to go making your own batch. You would not only be eating the potentially good bacteria, but also some potentially pathogenic ones as well.
Scientists cannot conclude much from the experiment Westbrook has carried out. The idea was nice, the execution poor.
It turns out that it’s not the best idea to snack on stuff you’ve found down there. And while some people admire Cecilia for her, er, resourcefulness, maybe don’t give up on your store-bought yogurt just yet.
In conclusion, vaginal probiotics are a no go. The FDA sums it up best, stating that vaginal secretions are not considered "food", and they may transmit human disease, a food product that contains vaginal secretions or other bodily fluids is considered adulterated.