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The Great Douching Debate Must End

The Great Douching Debate Must End

Some women still mistakenly believe that douching will make their vaginas smell and feel cleaner and healthier. In fact, douching can cause or worsen infections.

Your Body

From Women's Health Foundation

The great douching debate still rages, despite what science and many of our mothers have told us.

If you had a urinary tract infection while growing up, you may have gotten these lessons from your mom or your health care provider:

  • Always wipe front to back.
  • Only use warm water to clean your genitals—no harsh or scented soaps, which can cause irritation.
  • No douching necessary. (One creative mom referred to the vagina as a "self-cleaning oven.")

Learn more Feminine Hygiene Tips.

Surprisingly, many women tell us they douche once a month using either a brand-name product from the drugstore or a water and vinegar solution. Some say they feel the need to cleanse after their period (which is counterintuitive considering menstruation is your vagina's way of cleansing itself).

These women who douche are likely to be the same women who disclose that they tend to get yeast and urinary tract infections regularly.

Coincidence? Absolutely not. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that women who douche may have a higher risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease compared with women who do not douche. Research has shown that douching changes the vaginal flora (organisms that live in the vagina) in harmful ways and can force bacteria into the upper reproductive organs from the vagina. Find out more about pelvic pain.

Douching can also spread existing vaginal infections. You are more likely to get both vaginal infections and sexually transmitted diseases if you douche. Additionally, douching will not prevent pregnancy and may make pregnancy easier by pushing the sperm farther up into the cervix.

Yet, it's no wonder that women have felt that it's their feminine duty to go to extensive lengths to stay "fresh." We are bombarded with advertisements telling us that the natural and healthy state of our vaginas is actually not healthy or fresh. In fact, a popular slang word for a "jerk" is "douchebag," insinuating that an obnoxious, offensive person is comparable to the bag that holds the douche fluid. This is just one of many misogynistic expressions in our culture.

Here are a few healthy tips on how to keep yourself fresh without douching:

  1. Your vagina has its own distinctive smell, and that's OK. It is not supposed to smell like roses, vinegar or a summer evening. If there is an unusual odor, itching, burning or abnormal discharge, it may be a symptom of a vaginal infection, and you should see your health care provider.
  2. Keep fragrances, body sprays, perfumes and soaps with scents away from your pelvic area. The best way to cleanse is with warm water and gentle, unscented soap when you bathe. And only cleanse outside the vagina.
  3. Yay for yogurt! If you're feeling like something is not right down there, try some plain yogurt. Make sure the label says it contains "live active cultures." The cultures help fight the bad yeast both internally and externally. Some women will actually apply yogurt to the vulva around their vaginal opening and insert plain yogurt into their vagina. But eating it out of a cup can be just as helpful.
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