To Douche or Not to Douche?
Last updated: June 2023
Douching involves inserting water, soaps, body washes, or other cleansing products into the vagina. Advertisements for douche products show women bathing under crisp waterfalls or plucking bouquets of wildflowers. In these ads, the waterfalls are crystal clear, and the flower fields don't have any weeds.
These types of ads show how douches supposedly purify and refresh your vagina. The unspoken implication, though, is that your vagina is dirty or unhygienic.
Understanding vaginal cleaning and its possible risks
So what's the deal with douching? And how are you actually supposed to clean your vagina?
Up until a couple of years ago, I regularly douched. I'm not alone. Up to 40% of menstruating American women report that they douche.1
Like me, many of these women turn to douches when they notice that their vagina has an unfamiliar odor, when they worry they might be developing a yeast infection, during and immediately after their period, or after they've had sex.
To me, douching seemed to make common sense. After all, if soap and hand sanitizers kill germs when I wash my hands, shouldn't douches help kill germs and odor-causing bacteria in my vagina?
Personal experience and (more importantly) medical research argue otherwise. In fact, people who douche are more likely to develop vaginal complications. 2
For example, the more I douched, the more I struggled with yeast infections. Gynecologists explain that the vagina has sensitive skin and is pretty good at cleaning itself. Vaginas produce natural secretions (like discharge) that help keep your pH levels balanced. 2
But when you use too many douches, you disrupt your vagina's pH levels and destroy the good bacteria that live in your genitalia. These good bacteria help keep your vagina healthy by fighting off pathogens like candida albicans (the kind of fungus that can cause yeast infections).
Ironically, while I was trying to keep my vagina as clean as possible to reduce my chance of getting a yeast infection, I was actually increasing my risk because I was disrupting my vagina's natural cleansing process.
Keeping clean the right way
So if we're not supposed to douche, then how do we keep our bodies clean?
The answer is probably easier than you think. It turns out that most people don't need a fancy vagina skincare routine.
Here are the steps that I suggest for good vagina hygiene:
- Unless a doctor advises you to do so, do not put water or cleansers directly inside your vagina.
- Use a clean washcloth and warm water. Scentless soaps are optional.
- When you're bathing, gently wash your vulva. Remember that the skin on your genitalia is probably more sensitive than your hands or face, so scrubbing too hard can cause you to irritate your vagina.
- Part the lips of your vulva, and wash between the folds of your skin.
- Make sure you are washing from front to back, beginning with your pubis and ending with your anus.
- Rinse your genitalia with water or use a new wet washcloth (sans soap) to make sure you've washed away any soap you may have used near your vagina. If this soap dries on your skin, it may cause you to feel itchy.
- Pat the labia, pubis, and vulva dry with a clean towel.
Your vagina deserves a healthy skincare routine, and the above steps have helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Do you have any other vaginal hygiene tips? Please share them in the comments below.
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