I have heard from many people that they douche. But on the other hand I have heard that douching is bad for you — am I right? Have I heard correct, or is a douche good for a woman’s body?
The practice of douching is very old, and has seldom been investigated in any careful way. It probably developed out of a belief that a woman’s vulva and vagina were unclean, particularly after menstruation, or from the mistaken belief that douching immediately after intercourse would prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. And for many years douching was the only way to treat certain types of vaginal infection such as trichomonas.
Now I think it would be almost impossible to find a gynecologist who advises douching. I believe the rise of feminism and the greater openness about sex and our bodies in the Sixties dispelled the idea that there was something inherently unclean about a woman’s vagina. In fact it is now realized that the vagina is very efficient in maintaining its internal cleanliness, and frequent douching has been identified as one reason that women develop vaginal infections. Douching with antiseptics such as povidone-iodine, which used to be pretty common, changes the bacteria that naturally live in the vagina, and allow the overgrowth of fungi, or of bacteria such as gardnerella which are abnormal in the vagina and can lead to bacterial vaginosis.
There are even more serious complications which can arise from douching. Raising the pressure in the vagina during douching can force bacteria through the cervix, which normally serves as a barrier to infection, into the uterus or the fallopian tubes where they can cause infection. Infection in the tubes, which is called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can be very severe; and even if mild, risks scarring the tubes possibly leading to infertility or ectopic pregnancy. Douching after unprotected intercourse in an attempt to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is useless and may contribute to the severity of chlamydia or gonorrhea by pushing the bacteria up through the cervix into the uterus.
The practice of douching during pregnancy can be particularly dangerous, since it risks introducing bacteria into the pregnant uterus, which is very vulnerable to infection. Infection of the amniotic fluid can result, and this will always lead to premature labor with the delivery of a premature and probably severely infected infant. If the infection occurs early in pregnancy, then a miscarriage may be the result.
So I would say that the people who have told you that douching can be bad for you are correct. Modern treatments for vaginal infections which are much more effective than douching are now available, many of them over the counter for home use. If a woman has a vaginal infection causing a fishy odor, it may be bacterial vaginosis and douching will probably make it worse, not better. That type of infection requires a visit to your doctor for prescription treatment.
We now know that the most effective way to prevent most sexually transmitted diseases is to always practice safe sex by using condoms. We also now realize that there is nothing unclean about a woman’s menstrual blood, it is simply normal blood with the tissue from the lining of the uterus which is being expelled to make room for the development of a new lining during the next cycle. It is not necessary to clean it out.