When you hear the term "douche," your mind may immediately settle on your trash ex or that Classics professor who always played favorites. But outside of its colloquial use, vaginal douching has more to do with your sexual health and less to do with white male privilege.
"Vaginal 'Douching' (which comes from the French word 'douche,' meaning shower), refers to the squirting of fluid into the vagina, or using a sort of nozzle on a squirt bottle," Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, tells Elite Daily. "It is designed to 'clean' the vagina, and is really not a necessary thing to do at all."
As Dr. Minkin shares, vulvar and vaginal tissue (the area that vaginal douching effects) is the most sensitive in the body, so it's important to be mindful of the types of fluids or products you're using. "Try to avoid any harsh allergens in the area, and don't use any harsh deodorant soaps," Dr. Minkin says.
Additionally, Lindsay Wynn, vaginal health and wellness expert and founder of vaginal care line Momotaro Apotheca, warns that some vaginal douching brands can be harmful to your body.
"Vaginal douching can introduce chemicals, fragrances, and other ingredients to your vaginal canal and micro-biome, causing further complications," Wynn tells Elite Daily. "Stay away from harsh chemicals and anything with synthetic fragrances. Look for pH balanced products and always be sure to discern whether the products go inside the vaginal canal or outside on the vulva and or labia."
For Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN and founder of Her Viewpoint, vaginal douching, or cleaning the inner part of your vagina is not medically recommended. "The vagina is self-cleaning and will keep the pH balanced," Dr. Shepherd tells Elite Daily. "Let it do its natural thing."
According to Dr. Shepherd, like a tasty margarita or a Lemon tart, the vagina is naturally acidic and odorous. "Our bodies are filled with different bacteria, some are good, and some are not," Dr. Shepherd says. "Vaginal odor is a part of life and very natural. Using heavily fragranced body washes can contribute to the problem."
While super scented products can have cute packaging, products with a high pH or heavy fragrances can really disrupt your body's natural chemistry. "Excessive washing of the outside of the vagina with strong soaps or douching inside the vagina will kill the healthy bacteria and makes the bad bacteria stronger, which can cause vaginal discharge to have an unpleasant odor or lead to yeast infections and vaginosis," Dr. Shepherd says.
Dr. Minkin agrees that you may want to think twice about using heavily scented soaps on or in your vagina. "The hazards of douching outweigh the benefits," Dr. Minkin says. "What you end up doing, in general, is washing out the good bacteria, which make acid and protect against the overgrowth of bad bacteria."
Instead of reaching for a smelly soap to manage your vaginal odor, Dr. Shepherd suggests spicing up your underwear drawer with loose-fitting, cotton panties. "The best material for circulation is cotton so the vagina can breathe easier," Dr. Shepherd says. Don't be fooled by the "granny panties" of days passed — there are plenty of totally cute cotton undies out there. And though you may love a bodycon moment, Dr. Shepherd shares that wearing looser undergarments and bottoms can keep you feeling fresher. "Restrictive underwear and pants trap moisture and sweat around your vaginal area," Dr. Shepherd says.
In addition to embracing more cotton, Dr. Shepherd shares that eating more whole grains, fruits and veggies, and probiotics can help decrease inflammation and balance your pH. "Processed foods containing white sugar and flour can cause inflammation inside the body and can contribute to odor," Dr. Shepherd says.
Though it's medically recommended to let your vagina clean itself naturally, if you really want to wash with a product, Dr. Shepherd suggests using mild soap or natural, pH-balanced washes that don’t use sulfates or glycerin.
"In terms of buying sexual health products, the most important thing to remember is vaginal wellness is not one-size-fits-all," Wynn says. "Your vaginal health should be catered specifically to your needs." Wynn shares that when it comes to vaginal health, there is no "normal." Your vagina doesn't have a look or smell a certain way, and you're not dirty or unhealthy for having vaginal odor or discharge. If you're looking for the right products for you, just follow your heart (and vulva). "The big takeaway here is what is 'normal' for you," Wynn says. "What works for you, and what feels good?"
While experts agree that the vagina has a natural odor, Wynn shares that if you sense a big change in your vaginal discharge, it may be time to see your OB/GYN. "Pay attention to changes as they are often indicators of different issues," Wynn says. "Oftentimes, people vaginally douche because they are trying to cover up the symptoms your body creates to help tell you there may be something else going on: a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (BV), or sexually transmitted infections (STI)."
As Wynn shares, one in three people with vaginas will experience BV or vaginal inflammation due to an overgrowth of bacteria. Though your first instinct may be to try to clean or cover the scent with vaginal douches or soaps, Wynn shares that checking your pH balance can be the more nourishing route. "You can easily test pH with an at-home kit or go to a clinic for a quick and easy swab test," Wynn says.
You don't have to be Monica Geller-level neat to want to feel clean and fresh in your body. Though you know what's best for you (and your vagina), it may be helpful to consider the medical effects of vaginal douching with harsher soaps or products. If you're thinking about managing your vaginal odor, try wearing looser, cotton undies, and adding more grains and veggies into your diet. Additionally, looking for more natural products with a pH-balance can help keep your body in tune. If you're still noticing a change in smells or discharges, or are generally feeling itchy or uncomfortable, it may be time to give your gyno a visit. Like you, your vagina is an independent superstar, and sometimes, the best thing you can do is just let it be.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN at Yale-New Haven Hospital
Lindsay Wynn, vaginal health and wellness expert and founder of vaginal care line Momotaro Apotheca