September 1, 2011

Douching is the irrigation or flushing of the vagina with plain water, vinegar and water, or other name brand prepared or medicated products. The fluid is allowed to run into the vagina from a bag connected to tubing or is flushed into the vagina from a premixed squeeze bottle. Many women feel this is necessary for good hygiene, “to feel fresh,” or to treat a problem without visiting a medical provider.

Douching has been shown through numerous studies to increase the risk of developing a bacterial infection of the vagina (called bacterial vaginosis or BV). Women who douche increase their chances for developing this infection by 40%. Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by a loss of lactobacilli, the normal vaginal bacteria that produce hydrogen peroxide and provide protection against other, less healthy bacteria. Symptoms of BV are a creamy gray to yellow, malodorous discharge. BV is a sexually associated condition but is not sexually transmitted. Many women do not realize they have this infection. Those who are not pregnant do not require treatment if they are asymptomatic. However, bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy has been associated with preterm birth and low-birthweight infants.

Douching has also been linked in studies to HIV acquisition, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, and pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection of the upper reproductive tract including the uterus, tubes, and pelvic cavity. For these reasons, it is not recommended as a healthy practice. Women who have an odor, discharge, or other gynecological or pelvic symptoms are encouraged to see a health care provider for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. The use of douching can cause or exacerbate their symptoms as well as make them more at risk for more serious complications.

SEE ALSO: Ectopic pregnancy, Pelvic pain, Sexual organs

Suggested Reading

  • Fiscella, K., Franks, P., Kendrick, J. S., Meldrum, S., & Kieke, B. (2002). Risk of preterm birth that is associated with vaginal douching. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 186(6), 1345-1350. Hatcher, R., Trussel, J., Stewart, F., Cates, W., Stewart, G., Guest, F., et al. (1998). Contraceptive technology (pp. 191-192). New York: Ardent Medica.

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