What is a douche?
Many women use a douche to try to get rid of vaginal odor and believe that doing so helps to keep the vagina clean.
While as many as 1 in 5 women between 15 and 44 years old are thought to practice douching regularly, it can have unpleasant and even dangerous consequences.
- Douching is used to flush out, rinse, or clean any body cavity.
- There are alternative and safer ways to ensure the vagina stays healthy and clean.
- Douching can mask underlying health problems and make them worse.
Why are douches used?
A douche is filled with water and squirted into the vagina.
Image credit: Shattonbury~commonswiki, 2004
The primary use of douches is by women to wash the vagina.
Vaginal douching involves filling a bottle or bag with water and squirting this upward into the vagina.
Women sometimes choose to mix the water with other fluids, such as vinegar, or to buy douching products that may contain ingredients, such as baking soda, iodine, antiseptics, or fragrance.
Women state that they use a douche for the following reasons:
- to get rid of unpleasant odors in the vagina
- to prevent pregnancy
- to wash away bodily fluids, such as menstrual blood or semen
- to reduce the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection
Despite this, douching has not been shown to achieve any of these aims.
Is douching safe?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology state that women should not use douches.
The vaginal flora is the bacteria in the vagina. This keeps the vagina healthy and prevents infection. A woman's vagina is 'self-cleaning' and can maintain the correct pH balance without interference.
Douching can remove good bacteria from the vagina. Using a douche can change its pH balance, allow bad bacteria to multiply, and infections, irritations, raw skin, and more severe complications to occur.
Risks of douching
Douching can cause more harm than good. The potential for complications, some of which may be severe, is dependent on the reasons a woman decides to douche in the first place.
There are some risks with douching including infections and cervicitis.
Douching is not a valid form of contraception. However, using a douche can make it more difficult for a woman who is trying to conceive.
Also, women who douche on a regular basis may have a more complicated pregnancy.
Pregnant women may experience:
- early childbirth
- increased likelihood of miscarriage
- ectopic pregnancy
There is a common misconception that douching can help prevent vaginal infections or get rid of them. However, the opposite is true.
Douching regularly can increase a woman's chances of developing a vaginal infection. Disrupting the vagina's natural pH balance can result in yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
In fact, women who douche are five times more likely to develop vaginosis than those who do not.
Using a douche when an infection is already present is also more likely to make it worse and spread to other parts of the reproductive system.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease or PID is usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection. It affects the reproductive organs and can reduce a woman's chances of getting pregnant.
Women who douche regularly increase their risk of PID by 73 percent.
Cervicitis occurs when the cervix becomes irritated or inflamed, and it can cause itching, pain, and vaginal discharge. It is another condition that is usually contracted via a sexually transmitted infection. However, douching also increases the risk.
While a natural vaginal odor and some vaginal discharge are both perfectly healthy, it is essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a more serious problem.
Signs to look out for include:
- vaginal discharge that has a strong smell
- vaginal discharge that is white, yellow, or green
- vaginal odor that does not go away after a few days
- pain or a feeling of discomfort during intercourse
- pain when urinating
- redness or swelling or a burning or itching sensation in or around the vagina
If a woman notices any of the above, it is advisable to seek advice from a doctor.
Is douching necessary?
A woman's vagina is self-cleaning and will get rid of semen, menstrual blood, and other bodily fluids on its own. Cleaning with a douche or any hash or disruptive cleaning method is likely to cause damage to the vagina, which in some cases, could be severe.
A woman who is worried about vaginal odor or abnormal discharge should contact her doctor to discuss the issue. Using a douche to eliminate these concerns could mask underlying issues and may lead to more severe complications if left untreated.
Alternatives to douching
Keeping the vagina clean is simple. The easiest way is by washing with water when bathing or showering. A non-fragranced wash can be used, or one designed for vaginal use that will not upset the natural pH balance of the vagina.
When washing, a person should gently hold the outer folds of the vagina back and rinse or splash with water.
Do not scrub the area and avoid getting soap or washes inside the vagina. If using a wash, the individual should make sure to rinse thoroughly afterward and gently pat dry with a clean towel.
Preventing vaginal odor
Safely reducing vaginal odor may involve drying the vagina and surrounding area carefully.
While the vagina has a natural odor, for some women the odor seems unpleasant or embarrassing.
Every woman's vaginal odor is different, and activities such as sex and exercise can change how the vagina smells.
There are ways to reduce vaginal odor safely. These are:
- Hygiene: Keeping the vagina clean by regularly washing with water or soap that does not contain harsh chemicals.
- Clothing: This should be made of breathable materials, including cotton underwear, and not be worn too tight. A person should avoid fabrics, such as satin, silk, and polyester that restrict airflow and may encourage bacteria to grow.
- Drying: It is important to dry the vagina and surrounding area carefully and thoroughly to avoid excess moisture, which can lead to infection and odor. If using deodorizing products, these must not be used on the inside of the vagina
- Avoiding harsh cleansers: Not using harsh cleansers, such as douches, in the vagina can help prevent odor from occurring over the long-term.
By following the above advice, the pH balance and good bacteria in the vagina should remain undisturbed, and infections and odors are less likely to occur.