We have just been on a beach holiday in Italy with our almost two year old girl. For a whole week she'd happily run around on the beach, sit and play with the sand, or go in the water, all the time completely naked. For us parents (and more generally in our cultures, i.e. in central and northern Europe) it was completely natural to let her be naked.

Until one day a lady seeded some doubt in my mind. She approached us and said we are in the wrong by not having our daughter wear some swim panties, because (unlike boys') girls' genitals are more susceptible to infections, inflammations, or similar, caused by sand (but not by going in the water?!). She may have meant that the sand can go up through the vagina if no panties are worn.

Is this viewpoint a reasonable cause for concern (for future beach holidays)? Anyone any ideas about this?

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    I would not be surprised if sand would get on the inside of those swimming panties if she wiggles her bottom while sitting in the sand wearing them. That would severely reduce the protective effect against sand and also make wearing them uncomfortable. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 21 at 11:26
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Prepubertal girls are more susceptible to vaginal infections due to

  1. Lack of estrogen - leads to thinning of the vaginal mucosa
  2. Lack of pubic hair to protect the area
  3. Lack of labial fat pads

Source: Pediatrics Clerkship, University of Chicago.

Note that, under Etiology, the above source also lists "Foreign bodies".

Sand can be an irritant:

If an irritant is found to be the cause, it’s important to avoid it in the future, whether it’s [...] or sand (from a sandbox or a day at the beach).

Source: A to Z: Vaginitis, Conneticut Children's Medical Center

There does even exist the term sand box vaginitis:

For the child with "sand box" vaginitis caused by sand between the folds of the labia and vagina, snug underwear and cleansing of the vulva will suffice.

Source: Lavery, J. P., Sanfilippo, J. S.: Pediatric and Adolescent Obstetrics and Gynecology, New York, 1985, p. 231

I'm no medical professional but one could conjecture that a bathing suit would better protect a toddler's genitals from irritants like sand. However, regarding the bathing suit:

Good hygiene habits to teach children:

  • Change your child's bathing suit as soon as finished swimming

Source: Vulvovaginitis, Cincinnati Children's

The reason:

Don’t sit in wet clothes. Yeast thrives when it’s warm and damp.

Source: Preventing Vaginitis, Saint Luke's

Conclusion:

Sand can be an irritant and "transport" infectious agents. Prepubertal girls are more at risk since their genitals are not so well protected. It makes sense to try to prevent sand from getting there and a bathing suit probably provides protection. However, a wet bathing suit is also a potential risk factor.

You may ask your pediatrician, too. Also check if she got any problems so far. A possible solution might be to make sure she either wears something when playing in sand or sits on a small mat (thanks to @Pam for the suggestion), but perhaps not when she wants to swim.

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    A compromise might be a little (neoprene) mat to sit on. It won’t keep all the sand out (but will reduce the quantity of sand in contact), but it won’t keep the water in either (a flat mat will often dry faster than a swim suit in that area). – Pam Jul 21 at 18:06
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    Brava! Lovely to see a well researched answer. I can only give this one upvote, but would love to give more. :) – anongoodnurse Jul 21 at 19:37
  • Thank you for the well researched answer! I will also ask our child nurse on the first opportunity. – iulia Jul 24 at 17:17

Do adult women on nude beaches have problems with sand? Given the number of times that books make reference to wild lovemaking on the beach of some tropical isle, I suspect that while uncomfortable, it's not a big deal.

Another analogy is the effect of sand in other parts of the body -- mouth, nose. The general problem with sand is when it's trapped and can't be gotten rid of. Being naked on the shore means I can walk into the water and rinse it off. Being in some sort of covering means that sand is trapped between the covering and the skin, and continues to rub.

In general I would be far more worried about pollution in the water -- either sewage, or chemicals, than I would worry about sand. And far more concerned with what she puts in her mouth. (5 day old lobster claw...)

  • @AnneDaunted Suggest you write your own, better answer. (And you did! Good for you! I upvoted it. But... Too much of medical research is very badly done. Parenting is mostly about common sense and seeing things from various perspectives. – Sherwood Botsford Jul 21 at 17:19
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    I wish more people used the literature and available sources to answer questions. "Parenting is mostly about common sense and seeing things from various perspectives." Are you saying what you believe about little girls playing in the sand is better than the pediatricians' research and experience? It sounds like it. "Given the number of times that books make reference to wild lovemaking on the beach..." Good source. Also, I checked @AnneDaunted's sources (I'm a physician.) They are respectable, reliable pediatric sources, save one that is aimed at women. – anongoodnurse Jul 21 at 19:36

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