Douching is a practice adopted by many people with vaginas in order to enhance the "cleanliness" and "odor" of the vaginal canal. The controversial practice has been around for decades, but does it actually benefit you and can douching after sex prevent pregnancy? The answer according to Planned Parenthood and Dr. Richard Honaker, M.D. is actually a resounding no. Despite the fact that douching is heavily advised against, Planned Parenthood reports that one in four women aged 15 to 44 years old still practice it.
"Douching is the practice of squirting a cleansing liquid, called douche, into the vagina," explains Planned Parenthood. "Many people believe it helps keep the vagina clean and odor-free. Some are also under the impression that it helps prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases."
To set the record straight, Honaker explains that it actually accomplishes zero of these things. Firstly, it cannot prevent pregnancy because there is no way to tell how much semen that a douche is clearing out of the body, and it doesn't clear enough semen or sperm to be effective. Douching can actually increase your chance of pregnancy in addition to causing pregnancy complications. Honaker explains the actual act of forcing the solution up into the vagina could, in fact, push sperm farther toward entering the uterus and risk unwanted conception.
"Not only does douching not prevent pregnancy, it can also harm your vagina's natural pH balance," Planned Parenthood says. Honaker adds, "It can also increase the risk of infections and pregnancy complications." It can cause infections because douche fluids often contain harsh ingredients like vinegar water or various scented products that do not benefit the natural bacterial ecosystem within your vagina. Your internal canal doesn't need to be sanitized as it is populated with an important ecosystem of good bacteria and flora that protect you from infection from harmful bacteria. By flushing your vaginal canal with douche you can disrupt this ecosystem and clear out the good bacteria, Planned Parenthood explains, which can make you more susceptible to infection because the your defense mechanism of good bacteria has been washed away.
So why are people still douching? Well, the misconception is unfortunately understandable. The concept of washing semen out of the body is actually an old wives' tale, according to Rebecca Story sexual health educator and CEO of Bloomi, a marketplace for safe and non-toxic intimate care products. It does makes sense that the antiquated sexual health practice continues to linger when only 13 states in the U.S. require their sex ed to be medically accurate. Douching was commercially advertised in the U.S. as early as the 1930s. However, multiple studies were conducted in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2010 that proved douching's ineffectiveness and strongly advised against it.
Another reason that some people douche is because of ingrained shame around the natural odor of vaginas," according to Story. "Part of the reason people may consider douching to be beneficial is because people with vaginas have been conditioned to think that the odor of the vagina is unpleasant and should be eradicated," according to Story. When it comes to the way your vagina smells, Story says, "Your vagina is self-cleaning, should be left alone, and should smell like a vagina." If you are looking for a wash for your vaginal area, Story says that it is OK to use a pH balanced, non-toxic liquid wash on the outer portion of your vulva area only — never internally.
There's no reason to panic if you have relied on a douche before, as repeated use is more likely to put you at risk of infection. However, if you're concerned about potential infection or any mysterious odors you can consult your primary care physician or go to your nearest Planned Parenthood clinic.
If you were hoping douching could function as a method of birth control there are still numerous, safe and reliable options out there for you. You can consider barrier method protection like male or female condoms, hormonal birth control, or even an IUD. If you've douched before there is no reason to feel shame around the practice, as it's still a commonly misunderstood subject. It simply never hurts to be more informed about the methods of hygiene and birth control that can best ensure your health and safety.
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