Dear Doctor, What's douching and should I consider doing it once in a while?


Dear Rachael, Douching is cleaning of the inside of the vagina with water or other cleansing fluids. It is a common practice, with some studies estimating that about one in every four women douche regularly.

Douches are sold as prepackaged mixtures of water and vinegar, baking soda or iodine. The mixture is squirted upwards into the vagina, then it flows outwards.

Douching is not necessary, and is unhealthy. Just washing the outside of the vagina is good enough, and that is all that you require.

Why do some women douche you may ask? Some just feel 'dirty' inside. Others erroneously think they need to wash their insides after sexual intercourse — to prevent infections or pregnancy. Yet others have reported the need to wash off vaginal odours.

Well, all these and whatever other reasons are wrong. The vagina is self-regulatory, with an acidic environment maintained by a natural balance of bacteria and mucous production. This fends off infections and reduces irritation. For starters, douching will not reduce the risk of sexual infections. In fact, the risk becomes higher. It is useless to try to prevent pregnancy by douching. What you need is effective contraception.

The vagina has a natural odour which changes as the day advances, and with your cycle. Any odour that appears unnatural requires a gynaecological 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.

Douching is linked with both bacterial and fungal vaginal infections. If you already have an infection, douching can push up the infective organisms into your uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. You may end up with pelvic inflammatory disease, which is a serious condition. You also get predisposed to sexually transmitted infections and even HIV.

Long term effects include vaginal dryness and irritation, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Newer studies have even linked douching to an increased risk of gynaecological cancer.

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 only or with a mild soap.

Avoid heavily scented products as they may increase irritation and predispose you to infections. Let the inside of the vaginal clean itself. The mucous that gets produced washes away blood, semen and vaginal discharge.

If you are worried about an odour, discharge or unusual irritation, then you should see your gynaecologist. 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, literally, since you may end up worsening your symptoms and predisposing yourself to other risks. Vaginal douching is never recommended

— Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist. You can reach him on

douching;vagina cleaning