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Keywords

intravaginal practices, postmenopausal women, vaginal microbiome

 

Authors

  1. Daniel, Gaea A.
  2. Hu, Yingtian
  3. Tsementzi, Despina
  4. Jhaney, C. Ileen
  5. Hu, Yi-Juan
  6. Yeager, Katherine A.
  7. Bai, Jinbing
  8. Dolan, Mary
  9. Bruner, Deborah W.

Abstract

Background: Evidence suggests that intravaginal practices (IVPs) women use to cleanse their vagina or enhance sexual pleasure may be associated with unhealthy changes in the vaginal microbiome (VM). However, the effects of these practices in postmenopausal women are unknown.

 

Objectives: The objective of this pilot study was to characterize the VM communities of postmenopausal women, identify types and frequency of IVPs, and explore associations between the VM and IVPs in postmenopausal women.

 

Methods: We analyzed the VM data of 21 postmenopausal women in Atlanta, Georgia, from vaginal swabs collected at a routine gynecological visit. 16S rRNA gene sequencing in the V3-V4 region was used to characterize the VM. In addition, we described the IVPs of these women, identified by using our newly developed instrument: the Vaginal Cleansing Practices Questionnaire. The associations between the VM and IVPs were explored by comparing the alpha diversities, beta diversities, and the relative abundances at both the community level and individual genus level.

 

Results: The most abundant known bacterial genus found in the VM samples was Lactobacillus (35.7%), followed by Prevotella (21.4%). Eleven women (52%) reported using at least one type of IVP since menopause. The most common type of IVP was soap and water to clean inside the vagina. The use of IVPs was not associated with any alpha diversity metric, including Shannon index, inverse Simpson index, and Chao1 index; beta diversity metric, including Bray-Curtis and Jaccard distances; nor relative abundances at the community and individual genus level. Sociodemographic factors were also not associated with any alpha diversity metric.

 

Discussion: Clinicians must assess IVPs and other vaginal and sexual hygiene practices of women of all ages to educate and promote healthy behaviors. More than half of the postmenopausal women in this pilot study use IVPs. Understanding the reasoning behind participants' use of IVPs and their perceptions of the possible effects of these practices will require further research. Although the small sample did not show associations with the VM, more extensive studies are warranted.