QUESTION

Why are there still so many douching products still on the market? I thought douching was bad for women.

ANSWER

Despite the advice doctors have been giving for years now, many women continue to douche and purchase vaginal douching products. In fact, the US Department of Health & Human Services reports that nearly one in five women between the ages of 15 and 44 douches. Douching involves flushing the vagina with fluid—typically vinegar and water, plus other additives like baking soda, iodine, fragrance or even antiseptic with store-bought douches. Reasons why women douche: To achieve a “clean” feeling…to eliminate odor…soothe itching…wash away menstrual blood after a period…wash away semen after sex…and avoid a sexually transmitted disease. But doctors don’t advise douching for any of these reasons. Why douching is not healthy: The vagina is naturally acidic and, just like the intestinal tract, is host to billions of beneficial bacteria that help fight off infection and keep the vagina healthy. If you douche, the healthy bacteria in the vagina are disturbed and harmful bacteria can take over. What’s more, store-bought douches are usually alkaline and, as mentioned above, can contain fragrance and other additives that can negatively affect the healthy bacteria in the vagina. Bottom line: Douching can lead to more yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (bacterial overgrowth)…pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the reproductive organs…cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)…increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases…and pregnancy complications. Other reasons not to douche: Symptoms for which women would commonly douche, such as unusual vaginal odor or discharge, itching or irritation and discomfort during sex, need to be evaluated by a gynecologist instead of being self-treated and possibly masked by douching. Also, douching before an appointment with your doctor will make it more difficult for him/her to provide a correct diagnosis and may make an infection worse or spread it to other areas.

PROPER CARE FOR “DOWN THERE”

The vagina is self-cleaning, so women do not need to douche for cleanliness—it’s designed to eliminate semen and other fluids through natural discharges. However, you can keep your outer vaginal area healthy by gently cleansing with mild soap and water. All vaginas have a natural odor, but if you’re looking to minimize it, you can try soaking in a hot bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil. Also, wear 100% cotton underwear during the day—cotton absorbs moisture that can lead to excess odor, itching and infection. If you regularly wear panty liners, opt for organic cotton varieties. And at night, let air circulate around your genitals by going commando (without underwear). Eating a diet that minimizes sugar and carbohydrates and includes healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon), olive oil and avocados, is also beneficial for vaginal health. Additionally, I recommend taking a daily probiotic, especially during a course of antibiotics or soon after. And if you have a history of yeast infections, you may want to ask your doctor about trying a probiotic that’s inserted vaginally.