Vaginal douching is rinsing or cleaning out the vagina to flush away vaginal discharge or other contents. Most douches are mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. A bottle and tube are used to squirt the mix into the vagina.
The National Women’s Health Information Center, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, reported that up to 40 percent of women ages 15 to 44 still douche regularly.
They’re douching to rinse away leftover menstrual blood; to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases; to get rid of vaginal odors; and frankly, clean up down there.
Most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that women don’t douche. The vagina is self-cleaning and continually regulates its acidity. It creates mucous which washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge. Plus, it’s normal for healthy, clean vaginas to have a mild odor.
ACOG spokesman David Soper, MD told WebMD that douches are potentially harmful because they change the delicate chemical balance of the vagina, destroying the good bacteria called lactobacilli, which protect against infections.
WebMD reported from the National Women's Health Information Center that women who douche on a routine basis tend to have more problems than women who do not douche or who rarely douche. A statement by the group links regular douches with an increased risk of vaginal irritation, pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial infection, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), low birth-weight babies, and ectopic pregnancy.
According to the West Penn Allegheny Health System, an analysis of studies on douching published in the last 30 years, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers found that frequent douching may increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease by 73 percent and ectopic pregnancy by 76 percent.
It’s also myth that douching can prevent STDs or prevent pregnancy by flushing away semen.
Again from the National Women’s Health Information Center, douching may affect a woman’s chances of having a healthy pregnancy. Limited research has shown that douching may make it harder to get pregnant. In women trying to get pregnant, those who douched more than once a week took the longest to get pregnant.
The only time women should douche is when a doctor prescribes it as treatment for certain conditions like chronic yeast infections or bacterial infections.
Women should never douche to get rid of vaginal odor and discharge or stop pain, itching, or burning. Douching only covers up odor and could make other problems worse. Contact your health care provider if you have any of those symptoms as they could be a sign of a serious condition or sexually transmitted infection.
Reviewed June 20, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton