For those who don’t know, the practice of vaginal douching involves squirting a substance into the vaginal canal, usually with the use of an applicator. The substance can be anything from water, to an acetic (think: vinegar-like) substance, to a scented “medicinal” product. The idea is that the substance flushes into your vagina, and comes back out again. (It’s definitely not the same thing as washing your labia!)
Why do some women douche?
Most women report that they douche for “hygiene” reasons: to cleanse the vagina after their period, after sex, to get rid of symptoms like odour, itching, or discharge, or to prevent sexually transmitted disease.
It’s actually quite common.
The thing is, there is very little conclusive evidence to support these reasons - in fact, douching can cause some pretty serious side effects.
What douching does to your vagina
Of course the exact effects of douching depend on the type of substance used. However, generally speaking, douching can result in the following effects:
- Reduction in the density of normal vaginal bacteria
Douching with any antiseptic substance kills off the normal vaginal bacteria. Even douching with water reduces the native bacteria - it physically sweeps the bacteria away, and damages the pH balance required by the good bacteria to live (the pH of water is close to 7, the pH of your vagina should be less than 4.5!)
The bacteria that is normally present in your vagina helps maintain the pH of your reproductive tract nice and low: this low pH prevents certain other bacteria from colonizing because they can’t live in such a low pH environment.
The “native” bacteria also physically prevents pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria from entering, and stimulates mucous production - another important line of defense against pathogenic bacteria.
Without the native bacteria, there is plenty of room for other bacteria to colonize and grow: bacteria such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae or Chlamydia trachomatis - yeah, the stuff that causes gonorrhoeae and chlamydia - or bacterial vaginosis.
…women who reported douching 12 months prior to their clinic visit were twice as likely to have cervical chlamydial infection and that, as the frequency of douching increased, the likelihood of chlamydial infection also increased.
So clearly, the removal of the good bacteria leaves plenty of room for infection and disease causing bacteria to get in on the action.
- Forcing bacteria from the lower genital tract above the cervix into the uterus/fallopian tubes
Bacteria that is normally found in the lower bit of your vaginal canal can be physically forced up by the stream of liquid into places it isn’t supposed to be. This can lead to inflammatory scaring… and that inflammatory scaring can lead to ectopic pregnancy, early miscarriage, and even infertility.
Another effect of bacteria getting up where it isn’t supposed to be is pelvic inflammatory disease.
That shit is serious.
It was estimated that 20-30% of women with pelvic inflammatory disease would be hospitalized. It is also a very common cause of reduced fertility and even sterility.
One study reported that vaginal douching increases the overall risk of pelvic inflammatory disease by 73% and the risk of ectopic pregnancy by 76%. Those percentages are HUGE!
- Irritation of the mucous lining
Physically irritating the protective mucous lining can reduce how effective it is at keeping unwanted bacteria out.
Douching has been scientifically linked to:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginitis, cervical cancer
- Reduced fertility
- Ectopic pregnancy
Douching has NOT been scientifically linked to:
- Promoting a healthy vagina
We cannot in good conscience recommend that women douche. If you are worried about a funky smell, or about your vaginal canal being clean of blood or semen or whatever … go to your doctor. The vagina is SELF CLEANING! Don’t douche.