Is it Safe to Douche?

>> Wednesday, February 4, 2015

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The word 'douche' has been around for centuries. While it may be a French word, douching did not originate in France. Women have used methods to wash out the vagina in every part of the world since time began.

It is usually a mixture of water and lemon juice, vinegar or local herbs and flora. Today, we can find douches in most grocery or drug stores, which can give us a feeling that it must be a good thing that women do - a routine part of feminine hygiene. But, the truth that we know now in the 21st century is that douching can actually create more odor, recurrent vaginal irritations and increased vaginal discharge - the vagina's way of healing itself from the side effects of harsh chemicals in douches.

In America, around 30% of women between ages 15 and 44 admit to vaginal douching regularly and more admit to using them once or twice over their lifetime. Higher rates are seen in teens of all races and socio-economic backgrounds.

Besides making themselves feel fresher, women say they douche to get rid of unpleasant odors, to wash away semen after sex or menstrual blood after their period, to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases, or to prevent a pregnancy after intercourse. But, these are false hopes. Douching can actually worsen infections rather than heal them and can cause PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) by pushing the infections further up our female genital track. Remember women, unlike men, are completely open to the outside world (unless pregnant, because the cervix is closed when pregnant, blocked by the mucous plug and the membranes - amnion and chorion - of the amniotic sac).

Otherwise, bacteria and semen can travel from the vaginal opening up through the vagina and the cervix into the uterus, the fallopian tubes and into the abdomen and pelvis. With semen, this can carry the semen up closer to the egg, making pregnancy more likely. But, if this happens with bacteria from our own body or an STD, it can damage our insides by producing "Super Infections" called PID, which require IV antibiotics and hospitalization. Some women can struggle with infertility, chronic pain and the risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancies after getting PID because it can form scar tissue that blocks and twists the tubes.

The increased acceptance of multiple sexual partners, early first sexual experiences (as young as 12), and the increased popularity of anal sex all may be contributing to the increased infertility and ectopic pregnancy rates over the past few decades. You may be surprised to hear that it is not unusual for teens and young women to have 50 plus partners before settling down to one or getting married. Don't worry if this is you, because now we have become much better at treating infertility and ectopic pregnancies.

Remember, the vagina requires no special cleaning. Plain water without soap and chemicals can be used to "rinse" the vagina if needed. Douching with store bought or homemade solutions just destroys the natural vaginal flora and acidity which actually encourages the growth of abnormal bacteria that are alien to the vagina. So odor keeps returning as well as discharge and irritation problems. Because douching will actually cause, rather than improve, vaginal odor and increase discharge, rather than improve it, this keeps women returning to buy more and more douche products. Keep in mind that women who douche more than once a week have more difficulty getting pregnant than those who don't douche.

Many women feel the need to clean up inside their vagina, especially after sex and during and after their periods. It is OK to wash the outside of your vagina, in between your labia, areas of pubic hair, and of course around your anus. These are the areas that normally become smelly after exercise or a day of work and play.

Even if you can smell yourself and know the outside is sweaty and smelly, if you put your finger into your vagina there should be no smell at all. That's how you know there is no infection. But it is embarrassing to know you smell.

WaterWorks is a favorite way my patients clean inside their vagina. This is because it is an FDA-cleared green product that is reusable and has replaceable parts. It uses plain water, usually shower water, that is placed in a reusable bag that is attached to a medical grade stainless steel nozzle that is placed up inside the vagina. The water then flows by gravity and sprinkles into the vagina. The stainless steel reacts with the water on the vagina mucosa to remove vaginal odors (similar to stainless steel chefs bars used to remove garlic and onion odors from their hands).

It has no chemicals and is all natural. You may never have to use pills or vaginal gels again to remove odor. Many of my patients won't leave home without their WaterWorks as it gives them confidence during sex, gives them a way to rinse out blood or semen, and can be used daily.

I hope you are doing well and are happy.

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