Douche means to wash or soak, and Vaginal douche, is washing or cleaning out the inside of the female organ with water or other mixtures of fluids.
There are commercial and homemade douches that are squirted upward through a tube or nozzle into it. The water mixture then comes back out.
Vaginal douche VS vaginal wash
Douching is different from washing the outside of the organ during a bath or shower. Rinsing the outside of the organ with warm water will not harm it, unlike douching that can lead to many health problems described below.
The dangers of vaginal douche
Women say they douche to get rid of unpleasant odors, menstrual blood, avoid getting STD and prevent pregnancies. However, douching is not effective for any of the above. On the contrary, it is associated with many risks such as bacterial vaginosis, increased risk of HIV, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, preterm labor, low birth weight infants, reduced fertility, and ectopic pregnancy (Cotrell, 2003). Unfortunately, douching is still a common practice among women, even in developed countries such as the USA, where almost one in four women aged 15-44 douche (Office women’s health). In the case of an existing vaginal infection, douching can push the infection-causing bacteria up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries (Office of woman’s health).
Vaginal Douche in case of a sexual assault, unprotected sex or condom break.
Vaginal Douching increases the risk of getting an STI (including HIV) because it removes bacteria that protect from infections. Douching cannot stop pregnancy. Doctors can prescribe both a suitable birth control method and HIV prevention medicine. Thus, for both cases, it is advised to see a doctor as soon as possible.
In the case of a sexual assault, douching not only increases the risk of an STI (such as HIV), but it also washes away important evidence. Women who faced a sexual assault should go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible (Women’s health).
The science behind protection
A pH of 3.8 to 4.2 is required for a healthy Vagina. Lactobacillus is an essential bacterium that keeps the pH low by producing lactic acid (Schwenke). These bacteria the first line of defense against infections (Andrist, 2001) because a low pH makes it for an inhospitable environment for many pathogenic organisms (Schwebke, no date). Lactobacilli also adheres to the epithelial cells, acting as a protective film that blocks pathogenic bacteria to stick to the walls of the vagina and stimulate the immune system to exert more mucus so it can wash them out. (Schwebke JR)
Douching temporarily changes the pH and flushes out the normal bacteria such as lactobacillus that act protectively against infections (Ross, 2015), (Office on Women’s Health, n.d).
Despite the discomfort, a woman may sometimes feel, there is no evidence that douching contributes in anything more than a fresh and clean feeling. No matter how discomfortable the smell and the dried yellow stain at the underwear can be, women should be aware that the vagina is a delicately balanced ecosystem and vaginal discharge is useful for the vagina (Family planning, n.d). Douching can give an instant fresh and clean feeling; however, women are not advised to douche unless they consult with a clinician (Andrist, 2001) or alternatively, wash the outside of their reproductive organs with warm water during bathing.
Good practices such as wearing a cotton underwear, avoiding tight-fitting clothes, wiping after urination, changing wet clothes such as a bath suit or exercise clothing, wiping from front to back, washing hands before contact with vagina (for instance before wearing tampon or changing a sanitary pad) will make sure that germs will not be transferred.
References and Bibliography
Cottrell, B. H. (2003) ‘Vaginal douching’, J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs, 32(1), pp. 12–18. doi: 10.1177/0884217502239796.
Schwebke JR. Vaginal infections. In: Goldman MB, Hatch MC, editors. Women & health. Academic Press; San Diego, CA: 2000. pp. 352–60.
Magee, K. and Schneider, S. (2006). A.D.A.M. illustrated family health guide. 1st ed. Atlanta, GA: A.D.A.M.
Douching | womenshealth.gov (no date). Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/douching (Accessed: 10 May 2017).
Feintuch, S. (2017). Mistakes You’re Making During Your Period | HealthyWomen. [online] Healthywomen.org. Available at: http://www.healthywomen.org/content/article/mistakes-youre-making-during-your-period [Accessed 2 May 2017].
Mayo Clinic Staff (no date) Vaginal odor – Mayo Clinic. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vaginal-odor/basics/definition/sym-20050664 (Accessed: 30 April 2017).
Vaginal Discharge – Causes, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment of Vaginal Disharge – from WebMD (no date). Available at: http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/vaginal-discharge-whats-abnormal#1 (Accessed: 30 April 2017).
Elisa Ross (2015) Feminine Odor Problems? What Every Woman Needs to Know – Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/03/feminine-odor-problems-what-you-should-know-about-douching/ (Accessed: 30 April 2017).
Office on Women’s Health (no date) Vaginal infections | girlshealth.gov. Available at: https://www.girlshealth.gov/body/reproductive/infections.html (Accessed: 30 April 2017).
Vaginal Discharges – Family Planning (no date). Available at: http://www.familyplanning.org.nz/about (Accessed: 30 April 2017).
Martino, J. L. and Vermund, S. H. (2002) ‘Vaginal douching: evidence for risks or benefits to women’s health.’, Epidemiologic reviews. NIH Public Access, 24(2), pp. 109–24. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12762087 (Accessed: 10 May 2017).