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But they wouldn't sell douches if they were bad, right?

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Amanda asks:

My boyfriend is convinced that I should douche. I have told him about what I've read on this site about how bad they can be for you but he argues that they wouldn't exist if they were that bad. I have recently had 2 UTIs and 2 yeast infections within a couple of months so now I am wondering if maybe he is right and that I should douche... According to him, my vagina smells and tastes differently than it used to. Could douching "fix" this? Should I douche?? HELP!

Sarah replies:

Cigarettes are bad for you, but they're still sold all over the place. I was at the store just the other day and saw a frozen breakfast meal that contained 115% of your sodium intake for the day! There's no way that can be good for you, but it's still on the shelves. In fact, for many years in the last century, women used to be advised not only to douche, but to do with Lysol, for crying out loud, and you could find advertisements telling women how they should do this and it was best for them in magazines back then commonly. So your partner's argument that something wouldn't be sold if it were bad for you is pretty darn flawed.

There are plenty of people out there who have no problem whatsoever about selling something that may not be particularly good for you if it makes them money. That is pretty much the case when it comes to products for douching. Companies can make a whole heap of money by convincing women that their vagina's smell bad or aren't "clean" on their own. But that doesn't make it right.

So what do we know? Douching is NOT a good idea. Unless your doctor has specifically ordered you to do it (which would be pretty darn rare), this is not something you want to do. Your vagina is a self-cleaning bit of you. So it doesn't need help in that area. In fact, when you do douche, you actually wash away all the good bacteria that work to keep things balanced and in good order in there. So if you've had problems with yeast infections and you start douching, there's a pretty good chance you'll just end up with more/worse infections. (Even if you were not having issues with infections, douching would significantly increase your risk of developing an imbalance that led to an infection. That risk is just increased if you already have an infection working, as you seem to be reporting.)

If you are having trouble with infections, UTIs or otherwise, the first place to go is to see your doctor. Have you actually had these infections diagnosed and treated by a medical professional? If not, then you want to go there first. Most infections are not going to go away on their own: they need to be treated in a medically sound way. Also, you want to make sure that you really know what infection you have. Sometimes symptoms of other infections can mimic those of a yeast infection, for example. If you're treating for the wrong infection, then things are not going to improve (and often they will worsen). If you and your partner are not using safer sex practices, this is a good time to start implementing those as well, along with making sure that both of you are getting full STI testing regularly. If your partner really wants to help you with your infections and he isn't using condoms, that's what he could start doing to help, for real.

You may also wish to look at your own lifestyle to see if there are things you can do to help prevent infection. Some women will simply be more prone to developing vaginal infections, especially if they are doing things that tend to encourage them like taking hormonal birth control or antibiotics (for example). Introducing live culture yogurt or taking acidophilus can help. Also, making sure that you are eating a balanced diet that is not heavy in things like processed sugars may assist you in avoiding infection, as can wearing breathable, cotton undergarments. In terms of the UTIs, you'll want to make sure that you're wiping correctly (front to back) and urinating both before and after sex.

I'd also suggest having a serious conversation with your partner about how women's bodies work. Your vagina is NOT supposed to smell like a field of flowers or an ocean breeze or even nothing at all. Vaginas will have a particular scent and a particular taste, and that is the way things are supposed to be. Discharge that smells foul or fishy or has a bad color is a sign of infection, but as long as none of those things are going on, there's nothing to be worried about. Because of the way our cycles work, you are going to have some changes to the consistency and even scent and taste of your vaginal secretions throughout your overall cycle. Other issues, like having or treating an infection are going to change things as well. If your partner has a problem with the way things smell or taste, the easiest way to deal with this is to simply add a barrier method to the mix. Dental dams are terrific this. In addition to providing STI protection during oral sex, you can put a flavored lube (or just nothing at all) on the side of the dam that goes toward the partner's mouth.

The bottom line here is that you don't want to be douching. Even the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends avoiding them. You can also find more information on this page from the National Women's Health Information Center about why douching isn't such a hot idea. I'd also suggest sharing that page with your partner as it lays out a good, clear discussion of the dangers and problems associated with douching.

If after all of that, he still thinks he knows better -- better than our bodies, better than so many women's health experts -- I'd find out if he's also also been trying to sell ice in Alaska.

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written 15 Oct 2008 . updated 19 Jan 2009

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