The term douche—a French word for shower—is commonly used in Western societies to refer to the act of rinsing one's vagina with water or a special solution using a container, tubing, and a nozzle, collectively known as a douche. Similar to vaginal douching, anal douching is another form of douche by which a person uses the same equipment to flush out the area directly inside the anus. Previously, people with vaginas were advised to douche for a variety of reasons including to prevent pregnancy—when used right after sex—to treat vaginal infections, to wash away vaginal secretions, and to reduce odors. Today, however, health care providers do not recommend douching because it has the potential to interfere with the body’s natural balance of vaginal flora. Nonetheless, vaginal douching continues to be common in some subpopulations due to cultural perceptions about its effectiveness.
Vaginas are rather remarkable in that they are self-cleaning and continually regulate their mildly acidic environment. Douching throws off the natural process because it washes away the healthy bacteria lining the vagina and alters its natural pH level. As a result, harmful bacteria can begin to grow and increase the likelihood of yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. With vaginal douching, there is also a possibility of spreading existing vaginal infections to the uterus and fallopian tubes. This can be dangerous as it can lead to conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). There is also evidence that suggests that douching kills cells on the vaginal walls that prevent inflammation and help keep the genitalia healthy, meaning that the practice is counterproductive in what it’s trying to achieve—cleanliness. There is also no evidence to support the idea that vaginal douching prevents pregnancy.
Anal douching, on the other hand, is often done to make someone feel more hygienic, however, it doesn’t prevent infection or the contraction of STIs. If you choose to douche, it’s important to utilize the appropriate tools. Using equipment that isn’t intended for vaginal or anal douching may damage the lining of the vagina or rectum, thereby increasing the risk of infection.
Rather than douching, it's recommended to gently wash the anus and vulva with mild soap and warm water daily, taking care not to insert cleaning products inside the vagina or anus. These cleaning products, like douching, can be harmful to the natural pH levels and become the precursor to various infections.
Whether you douche, or not, asking questions and being informed is a great first step to guiding your decision.
Originally published Feb 25, 2000
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