If you have a vagina, you may have heard that wiping from front to back is the best technique when cleaning up after using the bathroom. It may even be something you have been practicing for as long as you have been sitting on the toilet. Drying from front to back helps keep you and your vagina healthy.

According to Tamika K. Cross, MD, FACOG, a board-certified ob-gyn based in Houston, it has to do with preventing the transmission of bacteria that live in the urinary tract, vagina and around the anus.

“I think it’s important to know that we all have bacteria in our body,” explained Dr. Cross. “There are good bacteria and bad bacteria. The bacteria that live in the vagina are not the same bacteria that are in your bladder or urinary tract, and they are not the same bacteria that are in the rectum or around the anus.”

When wiping back to the front (a method not recommended), you may be able to move bacteria lying around the anus to the vagina or urethra, which the Mayo Clinic explains may contribute to vaginal infections and urinary tract infections, such as UTIs.

This is why front-to-back wiping is so commonly stressed.

Of course, there are many other hygienic rules that must be followed when it comes to maintaining good vaginal health, including wearing breathable underwear. It is also important to remember that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so there is generally nothing you need to do to clean the inner area. When it comes to bathing and cleansing the vulva, some experts note that you generally only need hot water or hot water and fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap.

If you have any questions about wiping – or vaginal hygiene in general – never hesitate to contact your doctor for clarification and advice.