Vagina douching (VD) is a common practice among women irrespective of race or class. This practice is done to achieve personal hygiene or for other aesthetic reasons. It involves internal cleansing of the vagina itself with different techniques and products to achieve cleanliness and freshness. Some use plain water, others water and vinegar. Still others employ various antiseptics or other solutions. It may also involve simply rinsing with the cleaning liquid. It could also include forcing liquid at high pressure into the vagina using a bag or other devices.
Besides making themselves feel fresher, women say they douche to get rid of unpleasant odours, wash away menstrual blood after their period, avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases, and prevent a pregnancy after intercourse. But, health experts continue to frown at the practice because of its negative effects on women’s reproductive system. Douching has been associated with an increased risk of a number of reproductive health conditions, including; bacterial vaginosis (BV), Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), endometriosis, preterm birth, low birth weight and ectopic pregnancy among others.
A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Abuja, Dr. Henry Osazuwa, said what makes douching a common practice is that a lot of women believe that it is one way they could make the body clean. “I will say about 20 percent of our women do it. But women should not douche because it can change the necessary balance of vaginal flora (bacteria that live in the vagina) and natural acidity in a healthy vagina.” He said the availability of some herbal combinations in pharmacy stores has increased the practice as women easily buy them. Dr. Osazuwa said douching means the cleaning of the inside of the vagina, adding that a healthy vagina has good and harmful bacteria that help clean itself.
“The balance of bacteria helps maintain an acidic environment. The acidic environment protects the vagina from infections or irritation. The reason is, the cavity in the body has inbuilt mechanisms for sterility. So, they have a way of taking care of themselves and the vagina is one of such organs; it takes care of itself without introducing anything to it.” The consultant said it was very difficult to defend the practice from the medical point of view, because there was no reason backing the practice and it has no advantages.
Dr. Osazuwa said many women douche because of a strong or unusual vagina odour or discharge, but this can be particularly dangerous if those symptoms were the result of an infection such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis. He added that when someone has such an infection, douching can force the organisms into the uterus where they are more likely to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which is an infection linked to infertility. “When you experience such, it is because of some underlying factors and the safest thing to do is to see a doctor instead of douching. When we look at the disadvantages, you see that people that are involved in this practice tend to have more incidences of bacterial infections, more incidences of urinary tract infections, and when infections have access to the fallopian tubes, things like infertility occur because the tubes can become blocked. If they are not blocked they can get damaged and such damage can lead to ectopic pregnancy,” he said.
According to the physician, once you disrupt the vaginal flora by douching, you have exposed yourself to pathogenic infections, and other bacteria and you can start having discharge, and infections that can ascend to the uterus and the fallopian tubes. Douching can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This can lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. If you already have a vaginal infection, douching can push the bacteria, causing the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. This can lead to PID, a serious health problem, the expert cautioned.
Dr. Osazuwa said it was wrong to introduce anything into the vagina in the name of douching, noting that “it may appear as if you’re doing something right when you are washing but “it is not right.” The medical expert said there was no need to douche, explaining that “your body naturally flushes out and cleanses your vagina and any strong odour or irritation usually means something is wrong and you need to consult your doctor. “It is best to let your vagina clean itself. The vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous. The mucous washes away blood, semen and vaginal discharge,” he said.
Research has also revealed that douching can among other things; make it harder to get pregnant and can cause problems during pregnancy, risk of ectopic pregnancy, increase in a woman’s chances of damaged fallopian tubes and higher risk of early childbirth. “It can raise the risk for premature birth. One study found that women who douched during pregnancy were more likely to deliver their babies early, raising the risk for health problems for the woman and her baby,” according to the research.