If you’re dealing with vaginal odour, discharge or other imbalances, or want to freshen up after your period, the idea of douching can seem tempting. It’s a good way to ‘flush it all out’, right? Well, not really - in fact, vaginal douching can cause some pretty big problems down below. Here’s what you need to know about douching, and why you should avoid it to maintain a healthy balance of flora in your vagina.
What is douching?
Vaginal douching is when someone attempts to wash or clean out the inside of their vagina with liquid. People might choose to use pre-made douche formulas sold in stores, or might use a mix of substances like water, vinegar, baking soda or iodine. The liquid is put into a bottle and squirted into the vagina, then flows out through the vaginal opening.
Why would you consider douching?
People choose to douche for a variety of reasons, however, it is highly likely that doing so can create further imbalances and even reproductive issues.
Some of these reasons can include:
- To flush out 'old blood' after your period
- To attempt to remove bacteria and yeast associated with infections like thrush or bacterial vaginosis
- To attempt to remove vaginal odour
- To flush semen out of the vagina after sex (note: douching does not prevent pregnancy)
- To attempt to flush out bacteria that cause STIs
Why should you avoid douching?
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ (magic, huh?) with a delicate balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria. If this balance is thrown out of whack, you leave yourself more vulnerable to developing infections (including STIs) and other complications. It can take some time and effort to rebalance this bacteria, so we really should avoid upsetting it.
While studying the precise effects of douching alone is difficult due to some people using douching as a way to combat certain issues, it has been associated with many health problems including:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Cervical cancer
- Low birth weight and pre-term birth
- HIV transmission
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (thrush)
What is the best way to keep your vagina clean?
As a general rule, you should never attempt to wash inside your vagina - the mucous created naturally by your body will do this for you. You can wash your vulva (the area around the outside of the vagina) using plain water, and a very mild, fragrance-free and pH balanced soap if you like. Soap is not always necessary and can cause irritation in those with sensitive skin.
Keep in mind that vaginas have a natural odour that varies from person to person and doesn’t necessarily indicate that you are ‘unclean’ or have an infection. The same goes for discharge - refer to this post to see what’s normal and what’s not. If you notice that your vaginal odour becomes stronger, smells fishy, yeasty or particularly pungent, or you experience abnormal discharge, you should see your doctor.
In conclusion - should you be douching your vagina?
Most medical experts advise against vaginal douching, simply because the risk of complications significantly outweigh any possible benefits (which have not yet been scientifically proven). The same goes for vaginal steaming. If an infection is present, it’s important to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and to explore your treatment options instead of attempting to clear the symptoms by douching. It may mask your symptoms in the short term but lead to nasty complications down the road.
Following your period, there is no reason to douche - as your vagina is self-cleaning, any old blood will be flushed out naturally with time. Wearing a panty liner during the last couple of days of your period is an easy way to protect your underwear from any brown discharge.
In short: let your vagina do its self-cleaning thing!