Douching: The myths and misconceptions
Hold on. Are you douching so you do not become pregnant after sex, or are you douching so you do not contract sexually transmitted disease after sex, or better still are you douching to get rid of that vaginal odour which you have not been able to tell a doctor about? You are wasting your time, please.
It does not work as our grandmothers and mothers have made us believe, so stop douching and do the right thing. Health experts say douching is not effective for any of these purposes. They say all these are myths.
What is douching?
The word ''douche'' is French for ''wash'' or ''soak.'' It is a method of washing out the vagina, usually with a mixture of water and vinegar. Douches that are sold in drugstores and supermarkets contain antiseptics and fragrances. A douche comes in a bottle or bag and is sprayed through a tube upward into the vagina. In extreme cases, people douche with their fingers using concoctions made with alum stones, tobacco leaves, salt, honey or other local herbs or chemicals.
In the advanced countries, an estimated 20 to 40 of women between ages 15 and 44 say they use a vaginal douche. Higher rates of people who douche can be found among teens who are sexually active, especially in Africa and among illiterate populations.
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.
Yet, health experts say douching is not effective for any of these purposes. They warn that it can actually increase the risk of infections, pregnancy complications, and other health problems.
According to Dr James Clayman, a Medical Superintendent and Obstetrician Gynaecologist, all these are myths. The vagina, he said, produces its own cleaning and self-care secretions and it is a naturally moist environment, therefore, douching upsets the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina. These changes make the environment more favourable for the growth of bacteria that cause infection.
What causes vaginal odour
Vaginal odour can be embarrassing and it can hurt your love life, your social life and your professional life. It is caused by an imbalance in the vaginal ecosystem.
Formerly with the Amasaman Municipal Hospital and now with the LEKMA Hospital all in Accra, Dr Clayman says douching is more common among teens and sexually active young women due to the socio-cultural perception of men that women with wet vagina were promiscuous and they, therefore, use that to tease or embarrass them in public.
Vaginal odour, he says, is, therefore, a source of embarrassment for many women and makes them feel uncomfortable and, therefore, they do not feel good about themselves and begin to lose self-confidence, adding that sexual encounters may become so uncomfortable that some women choose to avoid them altogether.
'Because women do not want to be teased, they do not want to feel any wetness in their vagina so they use all kinds of chemicals to cleanse themselves so that their vagina will be dry', Dr Clayman added.
He says the vagina, after every menstruation, cleanses itself but when one douches to remove the residue of blood after menstruation, one would rather be pushing organisms that could cause infection into the vagina.
Should a woman douche?Vaginal Douche
According to health experts, including those at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG), women should avoid douching. Having some vaginal odour is normal. However, if one notices a very strong odour, it could be a sign of infection. The acidity of the vagina would naturally control bacteria, and simply washing the vagina with warm water and mild soap is enough to keep it clean, according to doctors.
Most doctors say douching can change the delicate balance of vaginal flora and acidity in a healthy vagina. According to them, a healthy vagina has both good and bad bacteria. The balance of the good and bad bacteria help maintain an acidic environment and any changes could cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria which could lead to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis and according to Dr Clayman, if you have a vaginal infection, douching can push the bacteria causing the infection up into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
In a recommendation for lowering vaginal infection risk, the ACOG warns against douches and the use of feminine hygiene sprays, scented soap and scented deodorant tampons.
What is the best way to clean the vagina?
Most doctors say 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 and according to Dr Clayman, even healthy, clean vaginas may have a mild odour.
He says women should keep the outside of their vaginas clean and healthy by washing regularly with warm water and mild soap when they bathe, adding that using scented tampons, pads, powders and sprays may increase their chances of getting a vaginal infection.
Can douching after sex prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?
According to Dr Clayman, the only sure way to prevent STIs is not to have sex at all. However, he adds, 'If you have to have sex, the best way to prevent STIs is to practise safe sex, that is being faithful to only one partner who has been tested for STIs and is not infected, or use condoms and also avoid contact with semen, blood, vaginal fluids, and sores on your partner's genitals.
Can douching after sex prevent pregnancy?
Douching, he says, does not prevent pregnancy. It should never be used as birth control. Douching may rather affect one's chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
Some researches show that douching may make it harder for one to get pregnant and explained that between women who are trying to get pregnant, those who douched more than once a week took the longest to get pregnant.
Studies also show that douching may increase a woman's chance of damaged fallopian tubes and ectopic pregnancy.
By Rebecca Quaicoe-Duho/Daily Graphic/Ghana