Asking for a Friend: Is Douching Ever Safe?
Douching seems like the ideal way to eliminate vaginal odor, but a gynecologist has other notions about the hygienic practice
Sure, those commercials featuring girls wondering if it's normal to feel, you know, "not so fresh" down there seem cheesy now. But the fact remains that tons of women still do feel self-conscious how they (think they) smell below the belt. That's why there are still tons of "vaginal cleansing" products on the market-even though they don't always call themselves douches. (The Down Low on Down-There Grooming.)
The bottom line is this, says Lauren Streicher, M.D., author of Love Sex Again: Your vagina is self-cleaning. It doesn't need feminine wipes and it doesn't need to be rinsed out with a gentle cleanser. It certainly doesn't need something we've been seeing tons of ads for lately: The Water Works Natural Vaginal Therapy, which features a purportedly odor-absorbing stainless steel bar that spouts water, like a car wash for your nether regions. (See: 10 Things to Never Put Near Your Vagina.)
"Douching isn't just not helpful, it's potentially harmful," Dr. Streicher says. "It actually increases your risk of problems like pelvic inflammatory disease." So yes, you should clean the outside (your vulva) with some water and maybe a mild soap once a day. But leave the inside (your vagina) alone, stresses Dr. Streicher. And if you think you smell bad, figure out why. (Find out What's Causing Your Itchy Vagina.)
"The triggers for vaginal odor make up a very short list," she says. A strong fishy odor is usually a sign of bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. A foul, zoo-like odor (her words!) is a sign of a lost tampon. A urine smell is probably urine, a sign that you may be dealing with mild urinary incontinence. All three are things you should see your doctor about.
But if you just think you smell a little funky or sweaty, that's called "perceived vaginal odor," says Dr. Streicher. "What that means is you smell fine-you just think you don't." If you're really bothered, she recommends using RepHresh Vaginal Gel ($24; walgreens.com), which helps balance the pH of the vagina to reduce odor without increasing your infection risk. But it's also important to accept that a little scent from time to time is nothing to worry about.