Douching ("douche" in French means to wash or soak) is a process or rinsing the vagina with liquid solutions or water. These products can be bought at drug and grocery store and they are mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine.
In U.S., about 20%-40% women 15 to 44 years old douche regularly because they believe that by douching they clean the vagina and get rid of the odor, rinse away blood after monthly periods, avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and prevent pregnancy.
Most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) don’t recommend douching because it can change the delicate balance of vaginal flora (organisms that live in the vagina) and acidity in a healthy vagina.
The balance of the good and bad bacteria help maintain an acidic environment and any changes can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria which can lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. Also, if a woman is having a vaginal infection and douching, she can push the bacteria causing the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
Most doctors say that the vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous which washes away blood, semen, and vaginal discharge. From outside, the vagina should be washed regularly with warm water and mild soap and woman should avoid scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays because these products can increase chances of getting a vaginal infection.
The woman must contact her doctor immediately if she has:
- Burning, redness and swelling in or around the vagina
- Pain when urinating
- Vaginal discharge that smells bad; thick, white, or yellowish-green discharge with or without an odor
- Pain or discomfort during sex because these are signs of an infection, especially one that may be sexually transmitted
By douching before seeing her doctor, the woman can make it hard for the doctor to figure out what's wrong.
Douching after sex cannot prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy but it can affect woman’s chances of having a healthy pregnancy because limited studies show that women who were trying to get pregnant and douched more than once a week took the longest to get pregnant.
Also, some studies show that douching can increase a woman's chance of damaged fallopian tubes and ectopic pregnancy (when egg attaches to the inside of the fallopian tube instead of the uterus) which can be life threatening.