Even though the warnings against douching have been made loud and clear in the U.S. almost one in five women continue to do so. African-American and Hispanic women douche more than white women. Studies have not found any health benefit to douching and the practice has been linked to a slew of health problems for women.
Why should you steer clear of douching?
Most doctors advise against douching which can change the necessary balance of vaginal flora (bacteria that live in the vagina) and natural acidity in a healthy vagina. A healthy vagina has good and harmful bacteria. The balance of bacteria helps maintain an acidic environment. The acidic environment protects the vagina from infections or irritation.
Douching can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This can lead to a yeast infection. If you already have a vaginal infection, douching can push the bacteria causing the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. This can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious infection in the reproductive organs that is often caused by an STI (sexually transmitted infection). Douching has also been linked to such health problems as:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is an infection in the vagina. Women who douche often (once a week) are five times more likely to develop BV than women who do not douche.
- STIs, including HIV
- Vaginal irritation or dryness
Researchers are studying whether douching causes these problems or whether women at higher risk for these health problems are more likely to douche.
You should not douche to try to get rid of vaginal odor or other vaginal problems like discharge, pain, itching, or burning.
Douching will only cover up odor for a short time and will make other problems worse. Call your doctor or nurse if you have:
- Vaginal discharge that smells bad
- Vaginal itching and thick, white, or yellowish-green discharge with or without an odor
- Burning, redness, and swelling in or around the vagina
- Pain when urinating
- Pain or discomfort during sex
These may be signs of a vaginal infection or an STI. Do not douche before seeing your doctor or nurse. This can make it hard for the doctor or nurse to find out what may be wrong.
What is the best way to cleanse a vagina?
It is best to let your vagina clean itself. The vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge.
If you are worried about vaginal odor, talk to your doctor. But you should know that even healthy, clean vaginas have a mild odor that changes throughout the day. Physical activity also can give your vagina a stronger, muskier scent, but this is still normal.
Keep your vagina clean and healthy by:
- Washing the outside of your vagina with warm water when you bathe. Some women also use mild soaps. But, if you have sensitive skin or any current vaginal infections, even mild soaps can cause dryness and irritation.
- Avoiding scented powders, and sprays. These products may increase your chances of getting a vaginal infection.