First of all, douching can affect the normal bacteria and pH in the vagina. Generally, the bacteria is an acidic environment, but douching may encourage a less acidic bacterial population predisposing to bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast. In fact, women who douche may be up to 5 times more likely to develop BV than women who don’t douche. This can result in vaginal discharge with odor and increased irritation.
Another popular misconception is that douching can prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Unfortunately, this couldn’t be more wrong. The fluid pushes bacteria from the vagina into the uterus and fallopian tubes, and in fact, is associated with an INCREASED risk of STIs, including HIV, and also development of pelvic inflammatory disease.
Even pregnancy can be affected by douching, even though pregnancy can’t be prevented by it. Women who douche are at increased risk for development of ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy outside the uterus that often occurs in the fallopian tube. This type of pregnancy can’t be carried long enough to deliver a healthy baby and may be life-threatening for women who have ectopic pregnancies. One last negative effect of douching on pregnancy is the increase in risk of preterm (early) pregnancy delivery.
So, is there ever a good indication for douching? Not that we’re aware of. Fortunately, the vagina is a rather self-sufficient organ. Mucous is produced internally to clean away blood and semen, and the normal bacteria can help provide an acidic environment that helps prevent not only STIs but also colonization by bacterial vaginosis and yeast.
If you do develop vaginal discharge with odor, green/yellow/pus-like appearance, fever, vaginal lesions, pelvic pain or pain with urination, be sure to seek evaluation with a doctor. You may have an infection that requires treatment. Without medication the infection may be spread to a partner or even affect your ability to have children. The good news is that these infections generally resolve with antibiotics, so let your medical provider know if you have any of these symptoms.