Vaginal Douching

Amanda Olson - DPT
By Dr. Amanda Olson, DPT, PRPC

Table of Contents

What is Douching?
What Popularized Douching?
Can You Clean Your Vagina by Douching?
How to Safely Clean the Vagina?
Why Should Douching be Avoided?
How Prevalent is Douching?
What Are the Health Problems Associated With Douching?
Can Douching Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Does Douching Help With Vaginal Odor?
Can Douching Cause Pregnancy Complications?

What Women Should Know About Douching

Douching is a process in which water or fluid mixture is used to cleanse or flush out the vagina. According to reports, approximately one in four U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 douche. However, this practice is not recommended by doctors. There are a number of health issues that can be caused by douching, such as a higher risk for vaginal infections or sexually transmitted diseases. It can also lead to difficulties conceiving. 

What's Douching And How Does It Work? 

Douche is a French word that translates to "wash" or "soak." As mentioned above, it describes the process of using water of a fluid mixture to clean the vagina.

The majority of douches you'll see on store shelves are prepackaged mixtures in a bottle or a bag. Common ingredients include water, baking soda, iodine, and vinegar. The liquid is squirted into the vagina using a nozzle or a tube. The mixture exits through the vagina as well. 

The process of douching is different from cleaning the exterior of the vagina when you're showering or bathing. You won't harm your vagina if you clean it on the outside using warm water. However, douching can put you at risk for a number of health issues. 

Because of this, doctors generally advise against douching. 

What Popularized Douching? 

Many people are surprised to know that douching has been around since the early 1800s. Initially, it was used as a type of contraception. Maurice Eguisier, an obstetrician in France, was the creator of the first modern device for douching. Even though there wasn't any evidence that showed douching was effective, it was used to promote vaginal hygiene and as a type of contraceptive. 

Can I Clean My Vagina By Douching? 

Doctors advise against douching. It's possible to clean your vagina without any sort of douche. The body is designed to flush out and clean the vaginal area naturally. If you smell an unusual odor, or if your vagina seems irritated, that's a sign of a problem. 

You're at a higher risk for infection or sexually transmitted disease when you douche. 

How To Safely Clean The Vagina 

Ideally, you should trust your vagina to keep itself clean. The vagina is self-cleaning and produces mucus that can wash away many substances, from semen to blood to discharge. You can clean the outside of your vagina with warm water. 

Speak to a doctor or another medical professional if you have concerns about vaginal odor. However, you should be aware that even a clean vagina that's perfectly healthy will have a mild odor over the course of the day. Your vagina may have a stronger or musky scent if you've been engaging in physical activity, but this isn't abnormal in any way. 

You can make sure that your vagina stays healthy and clean by following these simple steps: 

Use warm water to clean the exterior of your vagina. If desired, you can use mild soap as well. However, if you have any sort of infection or skin that's on the sensitive side, even a milder soap could lead to irritation. 

Stay away from products that are scented, such as sprays, powders, and even scented tampons or pads. Any scented products can put you at greater risk for developing an infection.

Why Douching Should Be Avoided 

The majority of doctors suggest that women avoid douching. The vagina needs to maintain the proper balance of healthy bacteria and acidity. Douching can get in the way of that balance. 

Ideally, the vagina should have both helpful and harmful bacteria. When there is an appropriate balance of bacteria, the vagina is able to remain acidic. This helps to reduce the risk of infection and other types of irritation. 

When you douche, you can eliminate healthy bacteria in the vagina and cause more harmful bacteria to develop. This could cause bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection. If you have an infection already, douching could cause harmful bacteria to be pushed into your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. 

This could cause you to develop PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), which is very serious. 

How Prevalent Is Douching? 

Reports say that approximately one in four U.S. women between the ages of 15 and 44 practice douching. 

These studies showed that douching is more common for teens. The same reports indicated that women who are Hispanic or African-American are more likely to douche. 

There is no evidence to show that douching is healthy. However, there is evidence that connects douching to health issues. 

What Are The Health Problems That Have Been Linked To Douching? 

Some of the health problems associated with douching (source) are: 

  • Vaginal infections, like bacterial vaginosis. Women that practice douching at least once each week are five times more likely to experience bacterial vaginosis than women that avoid douching. 
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, an STI-linked infection that affects the reproductive organs. 
  • Issues with pregnancy, such as ectopic pregnancy or preterm labor. 
  • Sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. 
  • Dryness or irritation in the vagina. 

Experts are still trying to determine whether women who have increased risk for these types of issues douche more frequently or if these issues are actually caused by douching. 

Can Douching Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases? 

Whether you douche prior to sex or afterward, it does nothing to prevent STDs. As a matter of fact, douching actually removes some of the bacteria in your vagina that can protect you against infection. This can put you at increased risk for a number of sexually transmitted infections. For example, the risk of HIV transmission is increased. 

Can Douching Eliminate Vaginal Odor? 

If you're trying to get rid of odor or deal with other issues, such as itching and burning in the vagina or unusual discharge, douching won't help. Douching could mask an odor temporarily. 

However, in the long run, it will actually worsen these problems. You should contact a doctor or another professional any of the following symptoms: 

  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge 
  • Itching accompanied by a thick discharge that's white or yellow-green 
  • Swelling, burning, or redness in the vaginal area 
  • Pain or increased discomfort during sexual intercourse 
  • Pain during urination 

All of these symptoms are indicators of a sexually-transmitted infection or vaginal infection. Instead of douching, you should see a medical professional. If you douche ahead of your appointment, it will be more difficult for the person treating you to diagnose the problem. 

Can Douching Prevent Pregnancy Or Cause Issues? 

The practice of douching can make it more difficult for women to conceive. It can also cause numerous issues during pregnancy, including: 

  1. Difficulty conceiving. Women that douche once monthly or more have a harder time conceiving than women that don't douche. 
  2. Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy. Women that douche are at increased risk for ectopic pregnancy or damaged fallopian tubes. An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy in which the fertilized egg attaches to the fallopian tube rather than the uterus. If it isn't treated, it can be fatal. It can also make it more difficult for women to conceive in the future. 
  3. Increased risk of preterm labor. When you douche, your risk of early childbirth is higher. According to one report, women that practiced douching while pregnant were more likely to give birth before their due date. This puts both mother and baby and risk. 
  4. Douching after sex cannot prevent pregnancy. Douching should not be used as a form of birth control. If you had unprotected sex, or if your method of birth control failed, you can prevent pregnancy with emergency contraception. 

If you are not on birth control, you should discuss options with a medical professional.