Vaginal douching: What to Know!

Woman douching

Ever heard of using plain yogurt, or a mixture of Stoney and Lemon Twist, or cinnamon and milk? Well, these are some of the ‘remedies’ that have been recommended to help women douche and get their vaginas to be ‘tight and clean’.

Some people might be shocked by this, but these are just some of the extremes that people go to.

Let’s start off by understanding what douching is.

Douching is cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or other cleaning fluids. It is a fairly common practice, with some studies estimating that about one in every four women regularly douches. Douches are sold as prepackaged mixtures of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. The mixture is squirted upwards into the vagina, then washes outwards. Douching is not necessary and is unhealthy. Just washing the outside of the vagina is good enough, and is all that you require.

Why do some women douche? 

Some just feel ‘unclean’ on the inside. Others erroneously think they need to wash their insides after sexual intercourse or to prevent infections or pregnancy. Yet others have reported the need to wash off vaginal odors. Well, all these and whatever other reasons are mistaken. The vagina is self-regulatory, with an acidic environment maintained by a natural balance of bacteria and mucus production. This fends off infections and reduces irritation.
ALSO, READ Do you need to clean up your vagina after sex, and if so, how? Find out!

For starters, douching will not reduce the risk of sexual infections. In fact, the risk becomes higher. It’s useless to try to prevent pregnancy by douching, what you need is effective contraception. The vagina has a natural odor that changes as the day advances, and with your cycle. Any odor that appears unnatural requires a gynecological review, not misguided douching. When you douche, you inevitably interfere with the healthy bacterial balance in the vagina. This worsens anything that you were trying to remedy.

What Health Risks Can Douching Cause?

Once a recommended medical practice, vaginal douching is now known to upset the natural pH of the vagina. The vagina naturally maintains an acidic environment with a pH level of 3.5 to 4.5. This acidic environment is favorable to the healthy bacteria that naturally grow in the vagina and unfavorable to harmful bacteria that might try to move in.

Douching with vaginal wipes, soaps, and perfumes raise the pH level of the vagina. An elevated pH means that the healthy flora of the vagina may struggle to survive, while harmful bacteria begin to thrive.

This elevated pH level caused by vaginal douching can cause immediate health problems for a woman, including:

Vaginal Dryness: Douching may remove or alter the natural mucous of the vaginal walls.

Bacterial Vaginosis: A painful inflammation of the vaginal tissue, bacterial vaginosis occurs when harmful bacteria flourish in the vagina, which is more likely if the natural, healthy bacteria are washed away with douching.

Yeast Infections: Yeast grows better in less acidic environments.

Douching can also put women at risk for longer-term health problems. In fact, the US Department of Health and Humans Services notes that women who douche are more likely to have a sexually transmitted disease. Douching can send the harmful bacteria of these infections higher into the reproductive system. Often, women can have chlamydia or gonorrhea without having any symptoms.

Women who douche also have an increased likelihood of developing the pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause long-term pain in the pelvic region and increase a woman's chances of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Some research suggests that even if a woman who douches regularly doesn't have PID, she will still take longer to conceive than women who don't.

Douching at least once a week has also been linked to a possible increased chance of developing certain types of cancer — including cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.

So what should you do if you feel compelled to douche for whatever reason? 

Just resist the temptation, and don’t do it. Wash the outside of your vagina with warm water or mild soap. Avoid heavily scented products as they may increase irritation and predispose to vaginal infections. Let the inside of the vaginal self-clean. The mucus that gets produced washes away the blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.

ALSO, READ Vaginal Health: Signs That Something is Wrong!

If you are worried about an odor, discharge, or unusual irritation, then you should see your gynecologist. These may be signs of a vaginal infection or some other condition. You will need a thorough assessment to make a diagnosis, and recommendations for a specific remedy. Don’t take matters into your own hands, all you may end up doing is worsening your symptoms and predisposing yourself to other risks. Vaginal douching is never recommended.

How to Care for Yourself Without Douching

So what is the best way to clean your vagina besides douching? The answer is actually to do nothing. Your vagina, like a self-cleaning oven, is meant to clean itself. The more you interfere with its process by douching or using strong soaps or soaps with fragrance, the more likely you are to experience irritation.

If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should contact your OB/GYN provider immediately:
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Off colored discharge that may or may not have an odor
  • Painful urination
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Redness, burning, and or swelling in or around the vagina
These are not normal processes of your vagina but are signs that you have some type of infection. Douching will not solve the issue but merely mask the symptoms and make it difficult for your OB/GYN to determine the underlying cause.
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