Ask Dr. H
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Dear Dr. H.,
Is douching healthy?
No, student, douching is not healthy. Although Center for Disease Control (CDC) research finds that nearly 1 in 4 women in the U.S. douche, most doctors strongly recommend against it.
“Douche” simply means to wash; women use douches to “clean” their vagina, although vaginas are self-cleaning machines and genitals really don’t need much more than warm water and a washcloth.
Douching products come pre-packaged, usually with water and vinegar or other similar substances that, on their own, aren’t inherently unhealthy.
However, douching involves squirting this mixture into the vagina (which does, ultimately, come back out the same way), which disrupts the natural pH balance that keeps vaginas healthy.
Although no research has found benefits of douching, these products are commonly sold riding the coattails of pervasive myths that vaginas are inherently dirty and needs to be kept clean.
The CDC reports several common health issues linked to douching, including vaginal drying and irritation, bacterial vaginosis (BV), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), problems during pregnancy (like preterm birth or ectopic pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.
Say what?! Cleaning vaginas increase risk for STIs? That’s right, friends, because douching can irritate the vagina, upset the vaginal flora (natural ecosystem)), and increased risk for BV and PID, women who douche are more susceptible for acquiring an STI—so don’t do it.
I’ve heard of people erroneously thinking that douching can prevent pregnancy or an STI after sex and, well, it’s just not true. Vaginas self-clean with the production of mucous, which washes away “foreign” substances, like any potential STI-carrying semen that may come into contact with the vagina.
For women who douche and happen to have sex with someone with an STI, the vagina’s self-defense is compromised and cannot even attempt to flush out the potential infection. Of course, the self-cleaning aspect of the vagina should be not used as an excuse NOT to use condoms, but it is to say that douching can increase the risk for STIs.
I think the idea that vaginas need to be douched stem from the same crazy perception that pads and tampons should be scented.
Vaginal odor is not something to be tamed or eliminated through unnatural products or perfumes. All vaginas have an odor—even, or should I say especially, healthy ones.
If you’re concerned about the specifics of your vaginal odor, talk to a doctor or other medical provider. Some STIs cause discharge that can affect odor, and if something seems amiss—like your natural odor changes drastically or it’s accompanied with an unusual discharge—it could be a sign of a health issue.
Like I mentioned, genitals (the outside of the vagina, but this goes for male genitals, as well) really just need warm water and a washcloth or your hand to maintain cleanliness.
Penises are better equipped to handle a gentle soap, but nothing with harsh dyes or fragrances should be used. So avoid douching, keep with water and mild soap and fight against the stigmatization of the vagina in its natural state.
How do I know if my girlfriend has an orgasm?
I get asked this question all. the. time. Interestingly, or perhaps not so, it’s always from men. Women who have sex with women tend to have a leg up on this area.
And it’s one of my all-time favorite questions because the answer is just so simple: you ask her! Yes, it’s really that easy. For whatever reason, it’s highly unpopular for people to ask their sexual partners if they’re enjoying themselves.
But guess what, people tend to have better sex when they are on the same page as their partner, when each person genuinely cares about the enjoyment of the other. Why guess whether your partner is having a good time when you can just ask them? Forget what you’ve seen in the movies and just ask your girlfriend.
Of course, your girlfriend may or may not know… which I’ll address in next week’s column when I respond to a woman who isn’t quite so sure if she is having orgasms. Stay tuned!