Vaginas aren't talked about enough. That is why most women feel alone in dealing with their vagina's idiosyncrasies such as funny odours, discharges, and infections. Unwilling to accept the natural odours of the vagina, women try every product on the market to make their vagina smell like washed laundry 24/7. A vaginal douche is one of those products, used as a cleanser to get rid of any unpleasant odour around the vagina or so people think.
What is a vaginal douche and how does it work?
In French, the word "douche" means to wash or shower. Douching is cleaning out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids such as vinegar, baking soda, or iodine.
These prepackaged mixtures of fluids are sold at supermarkets and usually come in a bottle or bag. While taking a shower, you're supposed to squirt the douche upward through the tube or nozzle into your vagina. Brands propose that this device is "supposedly" effective to clean your vagina, however, the truth is far from it.
All the promises the feminine hygiene brands are making are false as doctors strictly recommend staying away from douching. Now, douching is very different from washing the outside of your vagina during a bath. Rinsing the outside of your vagina with warm water during a bath is safe but douching can lead to many different problems and harm the vaginal ecosystem.
Does douching help in cleaning the vagina?
No, it's bad news for your vagina according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and “most doctors recommend that women do not douche.” The reason being your vagina doesn't need any feminine hygiene gel or liquid to clean itself as it's a self-cleaning organ.
The cervix and the walls of the vagina secrete a tiny portion of mucous that carries menstrual blood, old cells, and other matter out of the vagina. Your vagina is also home to special healthy bacteria that help to prevent infections caused by external microbes - it's a foolproof system, isn't it?
Research says that douching interferes with the vagina's self-cleaning process by disturbing the normal chemical and microbial balance of the vagina. If you are douching in hopes of avoiding a bacterial infection, it might just cause the opposite as the chemical imbalance after vaginal douching can lead to bacterial vaginosis and other infections. Terrifyingly, douches may also force pathogens up through the cervix causing uterine infections.
Can douching prevent a vaginal infection?
They do quite the opposite and douches don't just interfere with natural vaginal flora but also inflame the genital skin. They could cause vaginal irritation and make an existing vaginal infection worse by forcing the harmful bacteria and other organisms into the uterus. This can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which is often linked to infertility.
PID is a painful long-term ordeal that increases a woman's chances of ectopic pregnancy (a condition when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus often in a fallopian tube) and infertility.
Most women douche to get off the odour a vagina emanates, but sometimes, strong or unusual vaginal odour can be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis. So, douching can make it hard for you to detect an infection and delay treatment.
Can douching be a method of contraception?
Starting from the 1900s to the late 1980s, there was a belief that douching was an effective birth control measure. Despite clinical investigations of the 1920s and 1930s showing very high failure rates for douching as a contraceptive method, brands were hell-bent on convincing women otherwise.
Ads with the vague term "Feminine Hygiene" were preying on women's insecurity about their bodies and continued selling douching kits and solutions. Women bought into the myth that using an antiseptic douche after intercourse would kill any sperm left in their bodies.
But douching solutions proved ineffective as spermicides - some even had toxic effects that inflamed, irritated, or even burned the vagina and cervix. Modern medicine has made many contraceptives such as condoms, birth control pills, female condoms, contraceptive patches, etc available to us now, and douching is not one of them, it never was.
Is douching safe if you're trying to get pregnant?
It’s not, and can be an obstacle in your path to get pregnant. All About Women MD warns that women who douche regularly may take longer to conceive than women who don't have douche. Although it isn’t established to what extent or how douching interferes with each, per a 1996 study, women who douched while trying to conceive were 30% less likely to become pregnant each month they attempted.
Douching during pregnancy has also been dangerously linked to a higher likelihood of preterm birth. The reason why douching can lead to pregnancy complications is because it can make you susceptible to a reproductive tract infection, and the RTI developing into PID — which is a known risk factor for reduced fertility and pregnancy complications.
If these reasons aren't enough, by douching once a week or more, you could be increasing your chances of developing cervical or ovarian cancer.
Then, what to do if your vagina has an odour?
A vaginal odour is normal to have and so is experiencing discharge from time to time. Vaginal discharge isn't even dirty rather it's an indicator of a healthy vagina as it provides healthy lubrication in the vagina. Yes, it may have a distinct odour but that is healthy, too. Some vaginas may have a stronger smell due to the presence of excessive sweat glands in the pubic area - it varies in different women. Either way, a slight vaginal odour is natural to have.
Sometimes, a strong smell can indicate the presence of bad bacteria or an emerging yeast infection. For example, an extremely foul-smelling vaginal discharge indicates something is off with your vaginal health, and a sign to visit the gynaecologist.
Other signs that you're vagina may not be doing well are - off coloured discharge, painful urination, pain during sex, redness, burning, or swelling in or around the vagina. Douching will not solve these issues but merely mask the symptoms making it harder for your gynaecologist to identify the underlying cause.
How to clean a vagina and keep it healthy?
Most doctors advise that water is the safest and most effective way to clean the vulva and vagina - rinse with warm tap water and then gently dry your pubic region with a clean towel.
No matter how much you want your vagina to smell like fresh flowers, avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics. They can alter the healthy balance of bacteria, change pH levels and sometimes cause irritation. Your vagina's natural odour is good enough!
Instead, use plain, unscented soaps to wash the pubic region gently every day. Don't fret over the inside of your vagina as it'll clean itself inside your body with natural secretions.
There's a trend of scented tampons and pads going around too but don't fall for that and add unnecessary chemicals and fragrance to one of the most sensitive areas of your body.
Professor Ronnie Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists tells the NHS, "All women are different. Some may wash with perfumed soap and not notice any problems. But if a woman has vulval irritation or symptoms, one of the first things you can do is use non-allergenic, plain soaps to see if that helps."
In an interview with Cleveland Clinic, Ob/Gyn Patricia Yost, MD says, “The idea that the vagina is dirty and needs to be cleaned is simply not true. For centuries women have been told this and it’s not only causing unnecessary distress, but it’s a dangerous message to send.”
If you feel your vaginal area needs more cleansing during your period, washing more than once a day may be helpful. Also, don't forget to keep the perineal area between your vagina and anus clean. Consistently rinse the vaginal area with water and keep it simple with no douches involved.