Douching is cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or other cleansing 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 and 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 then 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 odours.
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 mucous production. This fends off infections.
For starters, douching will not reduce the risk of simple vaginal or other sexually transmitted infections.
In fact, the risk becomes higher. It’s also 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 douching.
When you douche, you inevitably interfere with the healthy bacterial balance in the vagina.
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Douching is linked with bacterial and fungal vaginal infections.
If you 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 STIs and even HIV.
Long-term effects include vaginal dryness and irritation, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Newer studies have even linked douching with an increased risk of gynaecological 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.
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. Don’t fall for the temptation to douche, you may just worsen the situation.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist.