Are Vaginal Douches Safe Or Not?
Vaginal douching is the process of rinsing the vagina by forcing water or another solution into the vaginal cavity. Vaginal douches are available over-the-counter from several manufacturers with a variety of fragrances. They are also available by prescription to treat certain conditions or prepare for procedures.
Why Do Some Women Use Vaginal Douches?
Women use douches for a variety of reasons that often relate to myths or misinformation. A woman may use a douche for these purposes, but it is not effective or recommended for most of them:
- To rinse away any remaining menstrual blood at the end of her period
- To avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases following sexual intercourse. However, douching is neither a contraceptive nor a preventative measure against STDs. It can, in fact, increase the risk of developing an infection.
- To reduce vaginal odors. Women with an unusual vaginal odor should see their clinician for proper diagnosis, as this may be a sign of infection. Using a douche may only complicate the condition.
- To feel "cleaner"
- To follow a doctor-prescribed treatment for chronic yeast infections or chronic bacterial infections. This is the only recommended use.
Is Douching Healthy?
Simply stated, the answer is no. Besides being ineffective for most purposes, douching can produce health problems:
- Douching may reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant during a particular month by approximately 30 percent. That's not enough to provide effective birth control, and it is an unacceptable reduction in fertility for women who want to become pregnant.
- Regular vaginal douching changes the delicate chemical balance of the vagina and can make a woman more susceptible to infections. Douching can reduce the beneficial bacteria in the vagina and lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Researchers have found that women who douche regularly experience more vaginal irritations and infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, and an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases.
- Douching can also introduce new bacteria into the vagina, which can spread up through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Regular users of vaginal douches face a significantly higher risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a chronic condition that can lead to infertility or even death if left untreated.
For these reasons, douching is no longer recommended as a safe or healthy way to routinely clean the vagina. The only safe and healthy way to clean the vagina is to let the vagina clean itself.
How Does the Vagina Clean Itself?
The vagina cleans itself naturally with its own mucous secretions. When bathing or showering, use warm water and gentle unscented soap to cleanse the outer areas of the vagina. Feminine hygiene products such as soaps, powders, and sprays are not necessary and may lead to irritation of sensitive tissues.
When to See Your Doctor
You should see your health care provider rather than use douching if you have any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal pain
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal burning
- A foul odor from your vagina
- Painful urination
- Any vaginal discharge that is different from your normal discharges, such as thick and white, cottage cheese-like, or yellowish-green
These symptoms can be indicative of a number of different conditions, from yeast infections to bacterial infections, STDs, and urinary tract infections, most of which are treatable with prescription medication. If you suspect you have a vaginal infection, contact your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.