Should you douche? Are douche bags safe?
So I was talking to my academic advisor from Brown University a few weeks back, and after reading the article about vaginal steam baths, she suggested I write one on douching. I added it to my list of things to research and, finally, here I am to tell you about douche bags and why you should not douche.
If you are like me, you went through most of your life not having any idea what a douche bag was, where to get one, or what to do with it. So let me start by saying, the word “douche” comes from the French word to “soak” or “wash.”1 The act of douching, as referred to here, is to literally clean out or wash the inside of the vaginal canal with water and other fluids. Typically, when you buy prepacked douches, you are getting a mixture of water and vinegar and/or iodine and baking soda. Coming in a bottle or nozzle, this allows you to squirt the mixture into your vagina.1
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the organization that produces recommendations and guidelines for reproductive health issues for women, does not recommend douching. 2
“Some research suggests that women who douche frequently are at increased risk of PID. Douching may make it easier for the bacteria that cause PID to grow. It also may push the bacteria upward to the uterus and fallopian tubes from the vagina. For this and other reasons, douching is not recommended.”
Research has shown that douching is associated with increased risks of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV),3 Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID),4 bacterial vaginosis,5, and cervical cancer with frequent douching.6
But a more recent study, from October of 2004, indicated that women who douched, particularly with water-vinegar mixtures, “less than once a week were no more likely to get the vaginal infection than women who never douched.”7
According to women’s health.gov, douching is NOT uncommon in the United States. In fact, it is estimated that of those 15 to 44 years old, 20-40% douche regularly with roughly half of those douching at least once a week. 1
So in answer to my question “Are douche bags safe?” – I tend to abide by the recommendations of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and go with a no. But there is some research indicating that less frequent is okay. What does your doctor say?
1. Douching. womenshealth.gov
2. American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology – Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
3. Gresenguet G, Kreiss JK, Chapko MK, Hillier SL, Weiss NS. HIV infection and vaginal douching in central Africa. AIDS 1997;11:101-106. Link
4. Ness RB, Soper DE, Holley RL, Peipert J, Randall H, Sweet RL, et al. Douching and endometritis: Results from the PID evaluation and clinical health (PEACH) study. Sex Transm Dis 2001;28:240-5. Link
5. Ness RB, Hillier SL, Richter HE, Soper DE, Stamm C, McGregor J, Bass DC, Sweet RL, and Rice P.Douching in relation to bacterial vaginosis, lactobacilli, and facultative bacteria in the vagina. Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Oct;100(4):765. Link
6. Gardner JW, Schuman KL, Slattery ML, Sanborn JS, Abbott TM, Overall JC Jr. Is vaginal douching related to cervical carcinoma? Am J Epidemiol. 1991 Feb 15;133(4):368-75.Link
7. Zhang J, Hatch M, Zhang D, Shulman J, Harville E, Thomas AG. Frequency of douching and risk of bacterial vaginosis in African-American women. Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Oct;104(4):756-60. Link
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