|The only thing a woman can say for certain about her vagina is that it is drenched in mystery. And with this mystery comes a bounty of myths. One myth marring the woman’s body is the concept that her vagina is a filthy pit. Frequent marketing of feminine douches does nothing to arrest this myth. But is the vagina dirty and should a woman douche?
A substantial body of medical evidence makes a clear case that douching is not necessary and in some cases unhealthy.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh led by Dr. Roberta Ness discovered that most women are introduced to the concept of douching by their mothers, sisters, or girlfriends. Yet this well-intentioned sisterly advice has left too many women misinformed about their vaginal health. For instance, a study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham asked 729 women why they douched. Twenty-one percent of the participants said that they believed douching killed infectious germs, while 27% believed that douching prevented pregnancy. Neither assumption is true.
As writer Mary Ann Innacchinoe explains in an “American Journal of Nursing” article, the vagina contains, lactobacilli, "good", aerobic bacteria that cleanse the vagina and protect it from infection. Lactobacilli release hydrogen peroxide, a natural disinfectant. The presence of hydrogen peroxide helps keep potentially harmful anaerobic bacteria in balance.
Ironically, some women view menstruation as a time when the vagina most needs a douche. After menstruation, vaginal mucus returns to its thicker, characteristically non-fertile state, which makes it more difficult for pathogens to enter and infect the vagina. Douching could wash this protective coating away and invite vaginal bacterial imbalances and infections. For example, a 2004 study published in the medical journal “Sexually Transmitted Diseases” linked douching after menses with an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis, or an excess of harmful bacteria in the vagina, is one of the most common reasons women visit their gynecologist. Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include a gray or frothy vaginal discharge, a “fishy” odor after intercourse, vaginal itching and a vaginal pH greater than 4.5.
While douching can provoke bacterial vaginosis, it may also encourage the herpes virus. In 2003, researchers from the Magee-Womens Research Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania questioned why women are more susceptible to the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection than men. After examining 1207 women aged 18 to 30 from three Pittsburgh health clinics, the investigators noted that women who douche, smoke, have sex with uncircumcised partners, or have bacterial vaginosis are at greater risk for contracting an HSV-2 infection.
Nevertheless, Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom”, recommends douching in one instance, after having made love three times in one day. But sperm must have been released into the vagina during each round of intercourse. Northrup cautions that after such an entry of sperm, the vagina will not return to its normal pH for another twenty-four hours. Using a vinegar douche, made by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a quart of water, may help restore the vaginal pH balance faster. Note, this douche is by no means meant to serve as a contraceptive, only as a pH balancer.
The vagina deservingly derived its name for the Latin word meaning “sheath”. While the vagina sheathes, or holds many mysteries, the truth about this enigmatic organ will only come forth by asking for the truth, not by believing hearsay or fanciful medical ills crafted by marketers. At least now a woman can say with certainty when she should and should not douche.
Cherpes, Thomas L. et al. “Risk Factors for Infection With Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2: Role of Smoking, Douching, Uncircumcised Males, and Vaginal Flora”, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, May2003, Vol. 30 Issue 5, p405.
Innacchinoe, Mary Ann. “The Vagina Dialogues: Do You Douche?” American Journal of Nursing; Jan2004, Vol. 104 Issue 1, p40.
Martino, Jenny L. & Surasak Youngpairoj, Sten H. Vermund. “Vaginal Douching: Personal Practices and Public Policies”, Journal of Women's Health, Nov2004, Vol. 13 Issue 9, p1048.
Ness, Roberta B. et al. “Why Women Douche and Why They May or May Not Stop”, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Jan2003, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p71.
Oh, M. Kim et al. “Early Onset of Vaginal Douching Is Associated With False Beliefs and High-Risk Behavior”, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, May2003, Vol. 30 Issue 5, p405.
Schwebke, Jane E. &, Renee A.Desmond, M. Kim Oh. “Predictors of Bacterial Vaginosis in Adolescent Women Who Douche”, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Jul2004, Vol. 31 Issue 7, p433.
About the author:
Health author and Stanford University graduate Naweko San-Joyz lovingly writes from her home in San Diego. Her works include “Acne Messages: Crack the code of your zits and say goodbye to acne” (ISBN: 0974912204) and the upcoming work “Skinny Fat Chicks, Why we’re still not getting this dieting thing” (ISBN: 0974912212) for release in June of 2005. For useful acne self-help articles visit http://www.Noixia.com
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