What Is Douching And Why Is It Dangerous?
It’s extremely important to take care of your vagina, but is douching an appropriate precaution? The dangers of using a homemade douche and douching, in general, can be very serious.
One way people try to clean their vaginas is through vaginal douching. This is when one washes the inside using a mix of water and fluids with a plastic bottle that sprays the fluid into the vagina. This is to help eliminate odors and further "clean" the vagina. This is not necessary because the vagina (the inside tube), as opposed to the vulva (the outside skin), does NOT need to be cleaned. The vagina is able to balance itself!
Usually, for homemade douches, vinegar is mixed with water, with prepackaged douche products containing ingredients like baking soda, iodine, or even antiseptics and fragrances. While douching is not recommended, it is still a common cleaning method, with one in five women between 15-44 years old using douches, some even homemade, regularly.
Dangers Of Homemade Douches And Douching
Many women choose to use a vaginal douche as a way to “cleanse” their vagina and rid it of odors. Others believe that douching can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), rinse away blood from periods, and prevent pregnancy and infections. This is untrue.
Douching isn’t necessary to further clean your vagina, nor will it protect you from STDs or pregnancy.
In fact, the dangers of homemade douche may be even more severe. This is why the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology does not recommend the use of any douching products. The vagina needs a healthy pH balance and is naturally filled with critical bacteria, known as vaginal flora. The vagina has a balance of many different bacteria and yeast and the good bacteria want to flourish over the “bad” bacteria or opportunistic bacteria. The “good” bacteria helps to prevent irritation and stops infections by keeping the vaginal pH optimal and balanced. Anything that decreases or kills the “good” vagina flora can allow the opportunistic bacteria (the "bad" bacteria) to overgrow—causing discomfort and even possible harm.
When you reduce the healthy bacteria in the vagina, then the problematic bacteria might flourish, leading to serious complications.
Here are the specific risks associated with vaginal douching:
1. Pregnancy Issues
Healthy pregnancies require many different things including the fallopian tubes’ ability to allow the sperm and egg to meet. Additionally, the uterine lining must be able to allow the embryo to implant safely. Vaginal douching can change these critical areas and this can potentially increase the risk of pregnancy complications like miscarriage, preterm deliveries, or ectopic pregnancies (where the pregnancy grows outside of the uterus, typically in the fallopian tube).
As mentioned, a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina can prevent the normal vaginal yeast from overgrowing. When you eliminate this natural pH balance by douching, the yeast flourish, causing an overgrowth of yeast and can lead to symptomatic yeast infections.
Additionally, people who douche are 5 times more likely to develop infections like bacterial vaginosis (where the “opportunistic” bacteria overgrow and cause a bacterial infection associated with a watery fishy-smelling discharge) compared to those who don’t douche.
And, for those who believe that washing the vagina can eliminate infection, this is wrong. Douching can actually worsen an infection. By douching, you could be spreading the bacteria to other parts of the reproductive system.
3. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is an infection of a woman's reproductive organs. It is usually caused by certain sexually transmitted infections, like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Because douching eliminates the “good” flora and allows the “bad” bacteria to overgrown, it makes the vagina, cervix and uterus more susceptible to STIs. If you have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) like gonorrhea or chlamydia, it can then travel from the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus and out of the tubes into the pelvis and lead to the more widespread infection called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID can be very painful and can lead to scarring of the uterine lining and the pelvis AND it can be very dangerous as well. Using a douche can increase the risk of this disease by 73%, and may also hinder your success conceiving.
Cervicitis is the inflammation of the cervix. This inflammation is sometimes also caused by STIs. Women who douche are also more likely to develop cervicitis. It may also cause vaginal irritation, in addition to other uncomfortable pain.
Wrapping It Up
While douching is a common practice, you should NEVER do it. There are more risks than benefits. With many experts advising against douching, we have excellent evidence to prove that it causes harm without helping at all, so it’s best to stay away from the practice. Talk to your Gynecologist to learn how to clean your vagina properly and safely. Ultimately the best way to “clean” your vagina is to understand that it doesn’t need separate “cleaning”. You can use water on the outside (this part is called the “vulva”) BUT the vagina (the inside) itself does not need anything. If you notice an unusual odor, you should visit your Gynecologist to be evaluated for the source of the unusual smell (like a retained tampon or bacterial infection).