True or false: Douching can solve a variety of health and hygiene problems. FALSE!

There is a myth that douching can solve a variety of health and hygiene problems. Women are led to believe douching and female wipes safely clean the vagina and prevent pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and vaginal odor.

However, douching and female wipes do not prevent any of these problems and can cause serious health complications.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, almost one in five women 15 to 44 years old douche in the United States. Doctors recommend that you do not douche. Douching can lead to many health problems, including problems getting pregnant, and is linked to vaginal infections and STIs.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) likewise discourages the use of vaginal douching, warning women that douching has been associated with many adverse outcomes including pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low birth weight, preterm birth, human immunodeficiency virus transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, ectopic pregnancy, recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, and infertility.

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What is douching? Douche is a French word meaning “to wash or soak.”

The NIH defines douching as “the process of intravaginal cleansing with a liquid solution. Douching is used for personal hygiene or aesthetic reasons, for preventing or treating an infection, to cleanse after menstruation or sex, and to prevent pregnancy.”

You can find douches prepackaged in stores, containing a mixture of water and vinegar, iodine, or baking soda, or even a chemical mixture. These mixtures are squirted into the vagina using a tube or nozzle.

The vagina is a self-cleaning oven and it does a good job of cleaning itself. The acidity of the vagina will naturally control bacteria, simply washing the vulva externally with warm water and mild soap is enough to keep it clean and healthy.

When you experience abnormal discharge, it can actually be caused by douches, scented soaps or lotions, and bubble bath. I personally stick to Dove unscented bar soap for sensitive skin and warm water.

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A brief history of douching

It was only in the past few decades that douching was marketed primarily for “freshness.” Since ancient times, douching has been used as a form of birth control.

By 1940 the douche actually was the most popular “contraceptive” in the United States.  A 1933 study of 507 women who used Lysol for birth control revealed nearly half got pregnant, and before 1911 doctors reported 193 poisonings and 5 deaths from Lysol douching. Women regularly complained of vaginal burning and blisters, however, many lawsuits were overturned and reports were covered up. Lysol never admitted fault but changed its formula in 1952 to become a quarter as toxic as before.

Aside from Lysol, women would douche with water mixed with iodine, baking soda, or vinegar, much like those who do today.

Rumors around douching continued into the 1980s, including a Coca-Cola douche, which was an effective contraceptive. A Harvard Medical School experiment mixed sperm with three types of Coca-Cola and found that Classic Coke killed sperm more quickly. Dr. Sharee Umpierre, an obstetrician who led the research, told Domestic News the experiments were “obviously half in jest” and they explicitly said they did not recommend Coca-Cola douches as a means of contraception.

Although the messaging for douching remains muddled and enough women still douche to call it a health concern, figures are declining.

Brands have shifted their mission and invested in more external vaginal hygiene products like wipes, shampoos, and vulva deodorant, which are still not needed for vaginal cleanliness and health.

It’s great to see the numbers declining overall, but advertisements, marketing, and brand ambassadors do not help. Let’s see more women support real vaginal health and less push for feminine products that do not help and are not safe.

Our very own Dr. Jennifer McBlaine noted how we tend to rely on physicians as our safety net, but they can be wrong and in some cases, integrity is getting lost. She said, “It hurts my sense of integrity to see companies still developing products females don’t need to waste their time and money on. Science-supported data outweigh companies selling you popular, trendy products. Branding and marketing from several well-known companies, past and present, have done a great job at feeding into women’s insecurities concerning cleanliness.”

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What if my vagina smells funny?

In May 2022, K&T writer Gabrielle Maya discussed six vaginal smell myths that need to go. We wanted to put another emphasis on this topic because it continues to be misconstrued and invested in by venture capitalists… and we will continue to do so until that is not the case.

Nevertheless, if your vagina has developed a strong or unpleasant odor, it’s important to find out why. You should seek advice from a healthcare professional to address the problem if there is one. A physician can help you figure out how to handle vaginal odor in a healthy way, instead of masking the scent with perfumes or temporary fixes.

Your doctor might recommend STI treatments, changing the kind of underwear you wear, or other solutions for vaginal health-related problems.

Does a man’s penis go through this?

Much like vaginal discharge, penises have a self-cleaning fluid called smegma. Scientific knowledge has proven that these fluids are released by the genitalia after an individual reaches the age of puberty, or a little later.

Similarly, the foreskin can be seen as self-protecting and self-cleaning, just like the vagina, the foreskin is well designed to stay clean and healthy with very little outside intervention. That being said, a little over half of the men in the United States are circumcised.

Penile hygiene is just as important and complex as vaginal hygiene. It is essential to discuss these things to eradicate stigma and move toward better collective hygiene.

For more information on penile hygiene, check out this article by The Conversation.

In Conclusion…

Douching may seem like a good idea and is even advertised as one, but it can have unfortunate consequences. It’s important to remember the vagina does not need cleaning on the inside because it does that on its own.

So, there is no need to buy into the fear that you have poor hygiene or your vagina isn’t clean… Put down the douche and let your body do what it does best.