Douching? Don't! The Vagina Does a Good Job of Cleaning Itself

Vinegar, Japan
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What is Douching?

Douching is the act of cleaning of the vagina. Women from different cultures use different techniques and products to douche. Some use plain water, others water and vinegar. Still others employ various antiseptics or other solutions. Douching may involve simply rinsing with the cleaning liquid. It could also include forcing liquid at high pressure into the vagina using a bag or other device.

Depending on what techniques and products are used, the potential risks of douching will vary. Plain water and simply rinsing are the safest bet. Still, even this mild type of douching is not recommended by most physicians. In contrast, douching with any technique that is likely to force liquid through the cervix and up into the uterus is particularly risky.

Note: Medicinal douches prescribed by a physician are a separate issue. If your doctor prescribes a medicinal douche, you should use it as directed

Why Shouldn't I Douche? Is Douching Bad?

Basically, douching is bad for your health because it disturbs the normal chemical and microbial balance of the vagina. This can potentially lead to BV or other bacterial infections. Douching also may force pathogens up through the cervix causing uterine infections.

Douches don't only disrupt the vaginal flora. The chemicals used in many over-the-counter and homemade douches also may irritate or inflame the skin.

This could make an existing infection worse. It could also make a woman more susceptible to a new infection.

Many women douche because of a strong or unusual vaginal odor or discharge. This is particularly dangerous if these symptoms are the result of an infection such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis.

If you have such an infection, douching could force the organisms into the uterus where they are more likely to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection linked to infertility.

In fact, douching is a major cause of secondary infertility. Secondary infertility occurs when a couple who have successfully become pregnant in the past are no longer able to conceive a child. Douching also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy. As such, it's an activity that it's probably better to avoid.

But My Vagina Smells Funny!

If your vagina has developed a strong or unpleasant odor, the answer isn't douching. Instead, you should talk to a healthcare professional. A change in vaginal odor can be the sign of certain STD infections or other vaginal health problems. Douching not only isn't a way to treat STDs, it can actually make them worse. In contrast, a doctor can help you figure out how to handle vaginal odor in a healthy way. That could involve anything from STD treatment to changing the kind of underwear you wear.

If your vaginal odor changes, it's important to find out why. A change in odor doesn't necessarily mean you have an STD. However, you'll probably want to treat it if you do. Doing so will address the problem, if there is one, at the source. That's a better choice than just masking the change with perfumes or temporary fixes. 

Sources:

Aral, S. O.; Mosher, W. D., and Cates, W. Jr. Vaginal douching among women of reproductive age in the United States: 1988. Am J Public Health. 1992 Feb; 82(2):210-4.

Kendrick, J. S.; Atrash, H. K.; Strauss, L. T.; Gargiullo, P. M., and Ahn, Y. W. Vaginal Douching as a potential risk factor for tubal ectopic pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1997; 176:991-7.

Merchant, J. S.; Oh, K., and Klerman, L. V. Douching: a problem for adolescent girls and young women. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1999 Aug; 153 (8):834-7

Onderdonk, A. B.; Delaney, M. L.; Hinkson, P. L., and DuBois, A. M. Quantitative and qualitative effects of douche preparations on vaginal microflora. Obstet Gynecol. 1992 Sep; 80(3 Pt 1):333-8.

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