Douching: Don't Do It Despite These Common Myths

The expert OB/GYN physicians at Gainesville's All About Women discuss myths, misconceptions, and facts about vaginal douching

There's a myth among some American women that douching can solve a variety of health and hygiene problems. Women mistakenly believe it safely cleans the vagina and can prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and vaginal odor.

On the contrary, douching doesn't prevent any of these women's health problems — rather, it can cause serious health complications.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women not douche, citing research indicating that women who do are at increased risk of PID (pelvic inflammatory disease).

Vaginal irrigator set and bicarbonate; Vaginal douche

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health:

In the United States, almost one in five women 15 to 44 years old douche. Doctors recommend that you do not douche. Douching can lead to many health problems, including problems getting pregnant. Douching is also linked to vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The National Institutes of Health similarly discourages the use of vaginal douching, warning women that:

Douching has been associated with many adverse outcomes including pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low birth weight, preterm birth, human immunodeficiency virus transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, ectopic pregnancy, recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, and infertility.

Despite these and many other recommendations to abstain from douching, it's estimated that 20 to 40 percent of women aged 15 to 44 douche. Nearly half of these women douche every week. Here at All About Women in Gainesville, Florida, our team of knowledgeable OB/GYNs advise all women to avoid this out-of-date practice. Continue reading this article to find out why.

What is Douching?

Douche is a French word meaning “to wash or soak.”

The NIH defines douching as “the process of intravaginal cleansing with a liquid solution. Douching is used for personal hygiene or aesthetic reasons, for preventing or treating an infection, to cleanse after menstruation or sex, and to prevent pregnancy.”

Douches can be found prepackaged in stores and contain a mixture of water and vinegar, iodine, or baking soda — or they may even contain a chemical mixture. These mixtures are squirted into the vagina using a tube or nozzle.

What Health Risks Can Douching Cause?

Once a recommended medical practice, vaginal douching is now known to upset the natural pH of the vagina. The vagina naturally maintains an acidic environment with a pH level of 3.5 to 4.5. This acidic environment is favorable to the healthy bacteria that naturally grow in the vagina, and unfavorable to harmful bacteria that might try to move in.

Douching with vaginal wipes, soaps, and perfumes raises the pH level of the vagina. An elevated pH means that the healthy flora of the vagina may struggle to survive, while harmful bacteria begin to thrive.

This elevated pH level caused by vaginal douching can cause immediate health problems for a woman, including:

  • Vaginal Dryness: Douching may remove or alter the natural mucous of the vaginal walls.

  • Bacterial Vaginosis: A painful inflammation of the vaginal tissue, bacterial vaginosis occurs when harmful bacteria flourish in the vagina, which is more likely if the natural, healthy bacteria are washed away with douching.

  • Yeast Infections: Yeast grows better in less acidic environments.

Douching can also put women at risk for longer-term health problems. In fact, the US Department of Health and Humans Services notes that women who douche are more likely to have a sexually transmitted disease. Douching can send the harmful bacteria of these infections higher into the reproductive system. Often, women can have chlamydia or gonorrhea without having any symptoms.

Women who douche also have an increased likelihood of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can cause long-term pain in the pelvic region and increase a woman's chances of ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Some research suggests that even if a woman who douches regularly doesn't have PID, she will still take longer to conceive than women who don't.

Douching at least once a week has also been linked to a possible increased chance of developing certain types of cancer — including cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.

How to Care for Yourself Without Douching

So what is the best way to clean your vagina besides douching? The answer is actually to do nothing. Your vagina, like a self-cleaning oven, is meant to clean itself. The more you interfere with its process by douching or using strong soaps or soaps with fragrance, the more likely you are to experience irritation.

Douching with Water

Some women ask us: “Can I douche with water only?” Most doctors are in agreement that water is the safest and most effective way to clean the vulva. Simply rinse with warm tap water and a washcloth, if necessary.

If you're experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should contact your OB/GYN provider immediately:

  • Foul smelling vaginal discharge
  • Off colored discharge that may or may not have an odor
  • Painful urination
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Redness, burning and or swelling in or around the vagina

These are not normal processes of your vagina, but are signs that you have some type of infection. Douching will not solve the issue but merely mask the symptoms and make it difficult for your OB/GYN to determine the underlying cause.

All About Women's experienced and compassionate North Florida OB/GYN physicians, nurses, and staff in Gainesville and Lake City are here to address concerns you might have with douching or its associated risks — as well as all of your other women's health needs from the first gynecological exam through menopause and more.

Contact us to schedule an appointment, or visit our OB/GYN Information Center and blog to learn more today.