Your vagina doesn’t need an internal bath. In fact, that shot of cleanser could make it sick.
Nature didn’t intend vaginas to smell like lilacs or roses. A clean, healthy vagina has a mild odor that changes throughout the day. Physical activity may make its scent stronger and muskier — which is also normal.
To stay clean, you can use water and mild soap in a shower, when bathing, or — in a pinch — with a damp sponge or washcloth. You really don’t need to squirt liquids upward through a tube or nozzle to bathe the inside and make it smell floral.
That’s because the vagina cleans itself naturally by making mucous, which washes away blood, semen, and any discharge. Douching interferes: women who douche once a week are five times more likely to develop a bacterial infection than women who do not douche. It can even lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious condition that may leave you infertile. Yet sadly, many women, particularly younger ones, douche because they’re worried that they might not smell perfect.
Douche products sold in stores contain a bottle or bag, plus a cleaning solution that may contain vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. These cleansers change the environment within the vagina, leaving it more vulnerable. A healthy, happy vagina hosts a balance of bacteria that keep it acidic, protecting it from infection. The key word: balance. An infection means that one inhabitant of your vagina is taking over like a weed in a garden. You may have tried spraying dilutions of vinegar in a garden to kill bugs and weeds. That can work, but if too much vinegar gets on flowers and vegetables, they can die too. This isn’t what you want, either in your backyard, or your vagina.
Scented tampons, pads, powders, and sprays, like douching, also may increase your chances of creating an imbalance and ultimately an infection.
Some women douche before or after sex, hoping to flush out sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It won’t work, and again, actually makes your vagina more vulnerable to STIs, including HIV.
Some women douche to avoid pregnancy. That also doesn’t work. If you had sex without using protection or if the condom broke during sex, a doctor can give you other medication that will.
If you are sexually assaulted, you shouldn’t douche, bathe, or shower. You could wash away important evidence. You’ll also increase your chances of getting a disease from your assailant. As hard as it may be not to get rid of any traces of the monster, instead go to the nearest hospital emergency room. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) can help you find a hospital able to collect evidence of sexual assault.
Women sometimes douche because their vaginas have an unusual smell. Or they might mistake douching as a way of coping with a discharge, pain, itching, or burning. Douching will cover up the odor only briefly and make any problems worse.
Seek medical advice if you have a thick, white, or yellowish-green discharge, or a discharge that smells foul. Burning, redness, swelling in or around the vagina, pain when urinating, or pain during sex are all reasons to investigate.
If you already have an infection, the rush of liquid in a douche may just push the bacteria further into your body, into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, putting them at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease.
Even very occasional douching may do harm. Some research found that women who douched at least once a month had a harder time getting pregnant than those women who didn’t. Women who douche during pregnancy seem to be more likely to bear premature babies. Douching may also lead to ectopic pregnancies; the fertilized egg will not survive and the mother may need surgery.
Although you might prefer to be perfumed, is that preference worth these risks?
March 25, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN