The Downside of Douching
Douching is the act of forcing water or some solution into the vagina. It is usually done with plain water or some combination of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. Douching may involve either rinsing or forcing the liquid at a high pressure into the vagina using a douche device.1
It is estimated that between 20 to 40 percent of American females between the ages of 15 to 44 douche regularly. Many females douche because they mistakenly believe that douching provides physical benefits, including cleaning the vagina, eliminating odor, avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or preventing pregnancy. However, most physicians do not recommend any type of douching. This is because douching may in fact have negative consequences such as an increased risk of infection. Females should only douche when instructed to do so by their physician.2
Douching and Cleaning the Vagina
Douching should not be used to clean the vagina because it is a self-cleaning organ. The vagina creates a natural mucus that it uses to wash away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.2 It is full of beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli, the same bacteria found in yogurt. These bacteria keep the vagina at a steady pH (acidity) of around 4—the same acidity as lemon juice. Douching can disrupt the natural balance of lactobacilli in the vagina, leading to an increased risk of bacterial infections.1 Douching may also irritate or inflame the skin of the vagina. This also increases the risk of infection.1
Many females worry that their vaginal odor is offensive to their partners. These females may be squeamish about receiving oral sex (or engaging in any sex) without first "freshening up." However, the smell of perfume and flowers emanating from the vagina may be much more surprising to their partners and may actually be a turn-off.
Simply washing the vulva with warm water and a mild soap daily should be enough to keep the genitals clean. Scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays should also be avoided. The chemicals used to create these scents can irritate the vagina.2 It is natural for the vagina to have a mild odor.3
Contact your physician right away if you experience any of the following symptoms
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Thick, white, or yellowish-green discharge
- Burning, redness, or swelling in or around the vagina
- Pain during urination
- Discomfort during intercourse
These may be the symptoms of an infection and should be checked out immediately by a healthcare professional. Do not douche prior to the appointment since this can mask symptoms and make it more difficult for your physician to make a diagnosis.2
Douching Does Not Treat Infections
Douching will not get rid of a yeast infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Instead, douching will only cover up the symptoms and cause further health problems. A female may believe that her infection is “cured” once the visible signs of her infection are gone. This can lead to an increased chance that she will unintentionally put her partner at risk of contracting her hidden infection.2
Douching may also increase the risk of infection. The vaginal walls are lined with very thin, delicate skin, and douching can irritate and inflame this skin. The main symptom of irritation—redness—is caused by the rupturing of tiny blood vessels and capillaries. These ruptured blood vessels are now highways that open the body to bacterial and viral infections. If a female has a vaginal infection, douching may push the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This may increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is caused by an infection in the reproductive organs above the cervix and may increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy and infertility.2
Douching is Not a Good Method of Contraception
Some people believe that douching effectively prevents pregnancy by washing out the sperm. This is not true. Douching should never be used as a form of contraception.2 Douching has, however, been linked to infertility and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the developing fetus grows outside of the uterus. It may also make it difficult for a female to become pregnant in the future.3
1. Boskey, Ph.D. Elizabeth. "Why Women Should Not Douche." About.Com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 04 Jan. 2015. <http://std.about.com/od/riskfactorsforstds/a/doucheoverview.htm>.
2. "Douching Fact Sheet." Women's Health. Office on Women's Health, 16 July 2012. Web. 04 Jan. 2015. <http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/dou....
3. Thompson, Dennis. "Do Women Need to Douche?" EverydayHealth.com. Everyday Health Media, 16 July 2009. Web. 04 Jan. 2015. <http://www.everydayhealth.com/sexual-health/women-and-douching.aspx>.
Last Updated 14 January 2015.