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infertility, sex, STDs, vaginal discharge

Why shouldn’t you douche? Because the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven.

Clue cells, one of the hallmark findings of bacterial vaginosis

The folks at Summer’s Eve seem determined to convince women that douching is needed. This latest ad (see below) says some of the reasons are that the vagina is the cradle of life and men have fought and died for it. And of course, my favorite, douching is showing the vagina a little love. However, douching isn’t caring it’s damaging your vagina!

What this nifty commercial fails to mention that in the United States douches have to carry warning labels about the health risks, such as increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic infection, and scaring of the fallopian tubes that can potentially lead to infertility. Warning labels just like cigarettes. In fact, that’s just how you should think of douches…cigarettes for the vagina.

Douches are damaging because the chemicals (yes, even vinegar) damages lactobacilli, an essential bacteria for vaginal health. Lactobacilli produce hydrogen peroxide, which is toxic to infections such as HIV, as well as lactic acid, which maintains the pH of the vagina and has other important bad-bacteria/virus fighting  properties. Lactobacilli also bind to the cells in the vagina forming a physical barrier to infection.

When the vagina is lactobacilli-deficient, the risks of catching an STD, like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV, increase dramatically if exposed. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can scar the fallopian tubes, leading to infertility, and can also cause severe pelvic infections. HIV, well, we all know what that does. Women who are lactobacilli-deficient are also more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial imbalance that can cause irritation and an odor, and yes, you guessed it, increased your risk of an STD if exposed. The irony of douching to treat odor is that by destroying the lactobacilli you are actually increasing odor, because lactobacilli control odor-causing bacteria.

So think of the lactobacilli as that important coating on a self-cleaning oven. It needs to be left well enough alone so it can do it’s thing.

“Why do they make douches if they are so dangerous?” This is a question I get asked repeatedly.

My answer, “Well, they make cigarettes, don’t they?”

And hey, marketing dudes/chicks at Summer’s Eve, when the vagina wants a little love, it’s not chemicals women want but sex! Just saying…

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Why shouldn’t you douche? Because the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven.

  1. Friends are always surprised to learn that douching regularly leads to this odd vicious cycle. They presume that their vagina is somehow wrong by having any scent at all, so they douche. The douching process kills odor-controlling bacteria, leading to a stronger odor and, yep, more douching. Which just exacerbates things.

    It’s all really quite wrong. The best way to ‘show love’ to a woman’s body is to show how wonderful it is naturally — but they wouldn’t sell many “feminine” products that way, eh? ;-)

    Posted by Griffin Boyce | August 1, 2011, 9:13 am
  2. OMG. That commercial HAD to be written by a man. The vagina (healthy) is a wonderful place,self regulating, always renewing and needs NO help from the industry.

    If I am down there I wish to smell vagina, not summer flowers or salad dressing !

    Posted by Kynthia | January 16, 2012, 11:12 pm
    • So I guess you have no problem with a man not showering or cleaning his foreskin?

      I get it. Your vagina doesn’t need to obsessively smell like summer flowers, and there is enough body dysmorphia out there to embrace more natural caretaking…. but that doesn’t mean either sex should neglect keeping things tidy and relatively non-smelly down there.

      Posted by maskedlight | January 27, 2015, 9:05 pm
      • Male and female anatomy are different with different protection mechanisms. Comparing the foreskin to the vagina or vulva is like comparing an apple to an avocado.

        The BEST way to not have vaginal odors is to stop cleaning and hair removal. Removing hair damages the epidermis and changes the bacterial colonization in addition the exposed labia skin hypertrophies in response. Soaps remove natural humectants. etc.

        Water on the vulva is the best cleaner. If you must use a soap use a pure glycerin (no scent) or an olive oil of coconut oil Castile soap (no scent).

        With vulvovaginal cleaning less is more. It’s remarkably well evolved to take care of itself.

        Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | January 27, 2015, 9:13 pm
  3. Can douching with JUST WATER damage the Fallopian tubes and cause scarring?

    Posted by Kate | August 12, 2013, 11:22 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: FFS: Ladies, your vagina is just fine | - August 25, 2011

  2. Pingback: Gwyneth Paltrow says steam your vagina, an OB/GYN says don’t | Dr. Jen Gunter - January 27, 2015

  3. Pingback: LifeThyme Wellness | On another note... Gwyneth Paltrow says steam your vagina, an OB/GYN says don’t - January 29, 2015

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