It's a sensitive subject, but feminine hygiene, when not done correctly, can upset the delicate balance of good bacteria in the body. So let's talk about the myths and facts.
Myth: Douching is necessary to keep the vagina clean.
False: Your body is smart! There is a delicate balance of bacteria within the vagina and those bacteria are supposed to be there. Just like the bacteria that inhabit your intestines, these bacteria play an important role in keeping you healthy (and annoying symptom-free)! If left to their own devices, these bacteria will keep the vagina healthy and clean. When a woman douches, she flushes out all of those good bacteria. Unfortunately, problematic bacteria can then seize on the opportunity to set up shop and start replicating since the normal healthy bacteria are no longer there to keep the bad bacteria out.
Myth: A woman should douche after her period to “clean things out.”
False: Again, your body is smart! We evolved long before douching was even a crazy thought in someone’s head. There is no need to clean anything out of the vagina after a period. The normal bacteria in the vagina will see to it that any remaining tissue is either flushed out or broken down. Douching, even after a period, can wash out those good, healthy bacteria.
Myth: A woman should douche if she notices a vaginal odor.
False: Vaginal order is normal. That being said, sometimes an odor is a sign that something abnormal is going on within the vagina. This could be anything from a retained tampon to a vaginal infection. If you have an odor that you are concerned about, you should see your gynecologist. Douching, by rinsing out the healthy bacteria, is actually likely to exacerbate whatever problem is causing the odor in the first place.
Myth: It’s ok to douche as long as a woman only uses water.
False: Though it’s less likely to cause damage or irritation to the vaginal walls than douching with scented products, chemicals or vinegar, the forceful mechanical flushing of the vagina can still wash out the healthy bacteria that you need to stave off infection and bacterial imbalance.
So how should you clean “down there”?
Warm soapy water should be used to gently cleanse the areas where hair naturally would grow. Only unscented products should be used, and they should only be used on the external genitalia. The internal genital tract really does not require any cleansing at all.
If you have other concerns with feminine hygiene, ask your OBGYN. Find an OBGYN at Ochsner.org/OBGYN