The word “douche” means to wash or soak. Douching is washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. Most douches are sold in stores as prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. The mixtures usually come in a bottle or bag. You squirt the douche upward through a tube or nozzle into your vagina. The water mixture then comes back out through your vagina. Douching is different from washing the outside of your vagina during a bath or shower. Rinsing the outside of your vagina with warm water will not harm your vagina.
In the United States, about 1 in 5 women between ages 15 and 44 report using vaginal douches. There are multiple reasons that women will douche.
- clean the vagina
- rinse away menstrual blood after monthly periods
- prevent odor
- prevent sexually transmitted disease
- prevent pregnancy
These are all myths.
While some women say douching makes them feel cleaner, there is actually very little scientific evidence of the benefit from douching. Douching can be linked with and lead to many different health problems. It is recommended by medical providers that women do not douche.
Why should women not douche?
Douching can change the necessary balance of vaginal flora (bacteria that live in the vagina) and natural acidity in a healthy vagina.
A healthy vagina has good and harmful bacteria. The balance of bacteria helps maintain an acidic environment. The acidic environment protects the vagina from infections or irritation.
Douching can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This can lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. If you already have a vaginal infection, douching can push the bacteria causing the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This can lead to other serious medical problems.
What problems are linked to douching?
Health problems linked to douching include:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is an infection in the vagina. Women who douche often (once a week) are five times more likely to develop BV than women who do not douche.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection in the reproductive organs that is often caused by an STI
- Cervical cancer, douching at least once a week has been linked to a possible increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Vaginal irritation or dryness
Douching can can also be linked to problems with pregnancy:
- Trouble getting pregnant. Women who douched at least once a month had a harder time getting pregnant than those women who did not douche.
- Higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. Douching may increase a woman’s chance of damaged fallopian tubes and ectopic pregnancy.
- Higher risk of early childbirth. Douching raises your risk for premature birth. One study found that women who douched during pregnancy were more likely to deliver their babies early.
Researchers are studying whether douching causes these problems or whether women at higher risk for these health problems are more likely to douche.
Should I douche to get rid of vaginal odor or clean the inside of my vagina?
No. You should not douche to try to get rid of vaginal odor or other vaginal problems like discharge, pain, itching, or burning.
Douching will only cover up odor for a short time and will make other problems worse. Call your doctor or nurse if you have:
- Vaginal discharge that smells bad
- Vaginal itching and thick, white, or yellowish-green discharge with or without an odor
- Burning, redness, and swelling in or around the vaginaPain when urinating
- Pain or discomfort during sex
These may be signs of a vaginal infection, or an STI. Do not douche before seeing your doctor or nurse. This can make it hard for the doctor or nurse to find out what may be wrong.
What is the best way to clean my vagina?
It is best to let your vagina clean itself. The vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.
If you are worried about vaginal odor, talk to your doctor or nurse. But you should know that even healthy, clean vaginas have a mild odor that changes throughout the day. Physical activity also can give your vagina a stronger, muskier scent, but this is still normal.
Keep your vagina clean and healthy by:
- Washing the outside of your vagina with warm water when you bathe. Some women also use mild soaps. But, if you have sensitive skin or any current vaginal infections, even mild soaps can cause dryness and irritation.
- Avoiding scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays. These products may increase your chances of getting a vaginal infection.
Can douching before or after sex prevent STIs?
No. Douching before or after sex does not prevent STIs. In fact, douching removes some of the normal bacteria in the vagina that protect you from infection. This can actually increase your risk of getting STIs, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Can douching after sex prevent pregnancy?
No. Douching does not prevent pregnancy. It should never be used for birth control. If you had sex without using birth control or if your birth control method did not work correctly (failed), please contact your doctor right away to discuss the the next steps.
In short, you should not douche. Talk with your Macarthur ob gyn doctor if you have any questions, but trust your body’s own processes to maintain your vaginal health.