In our “Just Between Us” series, we tackle topics that while not taboo, might not make for comfortable conversation around the dinner table. These important issues could fall under the “Things you’re afraid to ask, but really want to know” category.

First up is the questionable practice of douching. We’ve all seen the ads – the woman traipsing through a field of wildflowers instilling the message that if you’re not douching, you’re somehow neither daisy-fresh nor completely clean. We women have been led to believe – some might even say shamed – that what is perfectly natural (menstruation, vaginal secretions, and intercourse) may leave us in an unsanitary state. This is quite simply a marketing ploy and a dangerous one, at that.

The vagina is designed to cleanse itself naturally. Our reproductive systems produce secretions (much like our noses and sinus cavities) to keep us healthy. These secretions are completely normal, varying from white and sticky, to clear and watery throughout the menstrual cycle and acting as a protective barrier, keeping our systems free from infection. When we douche, we remove this mucus, disturbing the natural balance of healthy bacteria, making us more vulnerable to infection.


WHEN TO SEE THE DOCTOR: If you notice discharge that has an unusual odor and appearance, or you experience itching or pain, it’s time to see your gynecologist.


Not only is douching totally unnecessary, but buying into the Madison Avenue myth can cause vaginal irritation, inflammation, and pose some serious health risks, according to the study, “Vaginal douching and adverse health effects: a meta-analysis” published in the Amercian Journal of Public Health.

WOMEN WHO DOUCHE ONCE A WEEK OR MORE

◗ Are five times more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis (an infection of the vagina) than those who don’t (Obstet Gynecol, 2002)

◗ Have a 73% higher risk of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries, which can lead to infertility and chronic pain)

◗ Have greater difficulty getting pregnant, and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and preterm labor (Epidemiology, 2003)

◗ May be at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer

Now that you know the downside of douching, what can be done to keep yourself feeling fresh? Simple hygiene is the answer. Washing the perineal area and frequent cleansing during your period with mild soap and warm water are all that is necessary to keep your lady parts healthy and clean.

Keep away from scented wipes, as they will just irritate the sensitive tissues. If you still feel the need to smell like a wildflower, just dab your favorite scent on your pulse points, and leave the nether regions au naturel. Oh, and that woman in the commercial frolicking through the field? Our guess is that she’s taking a shortcut to the doctor.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING? Back in the male-dominated days of Madison Avenue – yes Mad Men is pretty spot-on accurate – douche and related products morphed from “birth control” (The Pill wouldn’t arrive on the scene until 1960) to full-on sexism, shaming women for their “female problem.” Sadly, the perception still lingers.

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THE LYSOL DOUCHE: Believe it or not, a douche of Lysol was actually used for birth control in the 1920s and 30s – before birth control was legal. The ads cleverly disguised it as a “hygiene product” meant to mask “feminine odor.”

 

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