Why do women douche?

Marcy Holmes, MSN, NP
Nursing Specialist

Douching has been marketed to women as something to improve vaginal odor and vaginal health. Women who douche do so because they are fooled to think it is necessary, such as after sex or menstruation or to curb vaginal odors—which is incorrect.

Studies have shown that douching can do more harm than good, as it strips away the natural ecosystem and defenses of the vaginal lining and can propel bacteria up through the cervix and into the uterus, where it does not belong. In the uterus, it can cause serious problems and infections.

Vaginal discharge or odors can be a sign of bacterial or yeast infection that require evaluation and short-term treatments, not douching.

After menopause, lower estrogen can also hinder the natural defenses of the vaginal lining, alter the pH and contribute to a prevalence of odor-causing bacteria. The remedy for this is to re-estrogenize the vaginal tissue and normalize the pH, both often achieved with just localized low potency estrogen therapy a couple times a week.

I teach women that the vagina is like a “self-cleaning oven”—it should take care of itself! Staying well hydrated, eating a healthy balanced diet and using key nutrients daily helps all your body defenses work better, including the vagina. Using condoms 100 percent of the time protects you from contact to semen, helps to prevent sexually transmitted infections and can help keep the vagina in harmony as well. If you think you need to douche, don’t! If you have a discharge or odor, see your local nurse practitioner or physician for a proper evaluation. Help is available.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The vagina is a "self-cleaning oven," and you shouldn't douche to stay clean. You have your own bacteria in there. They're for you. You're supposed to have them there. When you wipe them out with a vinegar douche, then you're left with repopulating it with whatever happens to be nearby. It may not be what's best for you.

Douching may even make you more likely to have some problems, such as ectopic pregnancies and infections that can cause infertility. That's why I don't think there's any really good reason to douche. Period.

Keeping the vagina clean externally is important. You should always wipe front to back to prevent urinary tract infections. And if you are worried about something in that area, you should go to a doctor and get treatment. Covering up problems with a douche won't solve anything.

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Douche is French for shower—but something's lost in translation—and douching can be dangerous. Watch this video for douching dos and don'ts from obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Lauren Streicher.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Douching has been a common practice for feminine hygiene for centuries. When used after menses or intercourse it should not be harmful. Douching can be harmful if a patient has an STD or bacterial vaginosis. In these situations, the fluid can "push" the abnormal bacteria into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause a severe infection that could lead to infertility. I recommend my patients to only use vinegar and water douche.

Douching should only be used for feminine hygiene. If you think that you may have an infection, then you should decide if it is a yeast or bacterial vaginal infection. A yeast infection can be treated with a three-day course of an over the counter antifungal medication. A bacterial infection needs to be evaluated by a doctor because it might need to be treated with oral or vaginal antibiotics.

Women douche because they think it helps, but it doesn't. Vaginal irritation and pelvic inflammatory disease are problems that occur in girls and women who douche regularly. There’s actually no need to stick a douche (which rinses your vagina with water and other fluids) inside your body. Your vagina is a self-cleaning oven and will take care of all of your cleanliness needs by itself.

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Douching is washing or cleaning out the vagina (also called the birth canal) with water or other mixtures of fluids. Usually douches are prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda or iodine. Women can buy these products at drug and grocery stores. The mixtures usually come in a bottle and can be squirted into the vagina through a tube or nozzle.

Women douche because they mistakenly believe it gives many benefits. Common reasons women give for using douches include:

  • To clean the vagina
  • To rinse away blood after monthly periods
  • To get rid of odors from the vagina
  • To avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIS)
  • To prevent pregnancy

In reality, douching may do more harm than good. Most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggest that women steer clear of douching. All healthy vaginas contain some bacteria and other organisms called the vaginal flora. The normal acidity of the vagina keeps the amount of bacteria down. But douching can change this delicate balance. This may make a woman more prone to vaginal infections. Plus, douching can spread existing vaginal infections up into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.