Douching: Don't Do It
The expert OB/GYN physicians at Gainesville's All About Women discuss the myths and facts of douching
There's a myth among some American women that douching can solve a variety of problems: it safely cleans the vagina and can prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and vaginal odor.
In fact, douching does not prevent any of these women's health problems — rather, it can cause serious health complications.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women not douche, but despite this recommendation, it’s estimated that 20 to 40 percent of women aged 15 to 44 douche. Nearly half of these women douche every week.
Continue reading to learn the many reasons why OB/GYNs recommend you avoid this out-of-date practice.
What is Douching?
Douche is a French word that means to wash or soak. Douches are often bought prepackaged in stores and contain a mixture of water and vinegar, iodine, or baking soda, or they may even contain a chemical mixture. These mixtures are squirted into the vagina using a tube or nozzle.
Once a recommended medical practice, 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.
Water has a pH level of seven, significantly higher than the vagina. Thus, douching with just water only raises 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.
Health Risks of Douching
This elevated pH level 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.
- Strong odors
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. In particular, women who douche may have more extreme cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea.
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. You can read more about these STIs, which can cause infertility, in our article on chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Women who douche also have an increased likelihood of developing 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.
Caring for Yourself Without Douching
Your vagina is meant to clean itself, and 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. You can effectively clean yourself with warm water and a washcloth, and mild soap if necessary.
If you are 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 your problems but merely mask the symptoms and make it difficult for your OB/GYN to determine the cause of your problem.
All About Women's experienced and compassionate OB/GYN physicians (/preventive-care-services.html), nurses and staff in Gainesville and Lake City are here to address concerns you might have with douching or its associated risks (...as well as all of your other women's health needs from the first gynecological exam through menopause —/well-women-care.html).