Douching is nothing new – it has been around since the time of Hippocrates and was first used in America as a birthing aid, then as a birth control method, and finally promoted as a hygiene tool in the 1800s. In fact, douching became the most popular form of black market birth control in this country. Douches were sold undercover at tupperware parties and even by so-called nurses at Bloomingdales.
It was not until the birth control pill was available to all unmarried women in the early 1970s that doctors started to tell people that douching is not only unnecessary but potentially harmful. This information became common knowledge as a result of some convincing studies in the 1980s that clearly outlined the downsides of douching.
So… what exactly is a douche?
The word “douche” is French in origin and means “to wash.” At one point in time, douches were mixes comprised of water and vinegar – or water and baking soda. Today, the makeup of the douche has changed to include fragrances and other additives.
As mentioned above, douching was a popular, yet ineffective, choice of birth control for some time. Unfortunately, many women are still under the misconception that douching is necessary and healthy, and do so for a number of reasons, including:
- To clean the vagina
- To clean out blood after menstruation
- To reduce odor
- To avoid sexually transmitted infections
According to Medicinenet.com, it is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 douche on a regular basis, half of them weekly.
Why you should stop douching
Today, most physicians advise against douching, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also note that douching can be an unhealthy practice. The vagina is much like a self-cleaning oven, it takes care of itself and works hard to keep vaginal flora balanced. Much like the gut, a vagina has both good and bad bacteria. Once this bacteria is thrown off balance, it is open game for infection.
If you douche once you have an infection, it can push the bacteria up into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
In addition, douching has been suspected to increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis. Douching during pregnancy has also been found to increase the risk of preterm delivery.
What about chemicals?
You wouldn’t spray Lysol into your private parts, would you? Well, when you douche with a number of today’s popular products you are likely doing something similar. Many “fresh scent” douche products actually contain additives that can irritate the sensitive vaginal lining and completely disrupt the bacteria balance.
Upon closer investigation, it is clear that these products contain some very questionable ingredients. Most are just fragrance and water, along with surfactants such as octoxynol-9, octoxynol-9 and cetyl pyridinium.
To stay clean
If you are concerned about staying clean and smelling fresh, health professionals recommend simply washing the vulva with water alone when you shower, and leaving the rest up to the amazing capability of the human body.
Joesoef MR, Karundeng A, Runtupalit C, et al. High rate of bacterial vaginosis among women with intrauterine devices in Manado, Indonesia. Contraception. 2001;64:169-172.
Bruce FC, Kendrick JS, Kieke BA Jr, et al. Is vaginal douching associated with preterm delivery? Epidemiology. 2002;13:328-333.
Holzman C, Leventhal JM, Qui H, et al. Factors linked to bacterial vaginosis in nonpregnant women. Am J Public Health. 2001;91:1664-1670.