The ads portray laughing women running through flowery fields. The commercials make claims about all-natural ingredients. But when it really comes down to it, how safe is douching? While as many as 40 percent of women say they douche regularly, douching is nothing to laugh about and far from natural.  Instead of being a healthy way to stay fresh, odor-free and clean, douching can actually do more harm than good. 

Douching involves washing out the vagina with water or other fluid mixtures. Commonly sold in drug and grocery stores, douches are prepackaged mixes of water and vinegar, baking soda or iodine.  They usually come in a bottle and are squirted into the vagina through a tube or nozzle.

Why do women douche?  Many women mistakenly believe the vagina needs to be cleaned regularly, just like other body parts.  They douche to eliminate odors, rinse away menstrual blood and sometimes because they think it will prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.  In reality, douching is unnecessary for keeping the vagina clean and can actually cause infection. The vagina is self-cleaning and eliminates menstrual fluid, semen and bacteria naturally by producing and discharging mucous. 

Most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) discourage douching. All healthy vaginas contain some bacteria and other organisms called the vaginal flora. The normal acidity of the vagina keeps the amount of bacteria down. But douching can change this delicate balance and make women more prone to vaginal infections. Plus, douching can spread existing vaginal infections up into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Studies show that women who douche regularly may have more health problems than women who don't douche including vaginal irritation and infections, bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted infections and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).  PID, an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and/or ovaries happens when bacterial travels from the vagina, through the cervix and into her reproductive organs.  Women who douche may actually force bacteria into the cervix.  If not treated medically, PID is painful, can cause infertility and increases chances of ectopic pregnancy (a life-threatening condition where a pregnancy grows in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus). 

Some women think they can avoid becoming pregnant if they douche after intercourse.  In fact, douching may help push sperm into the cervix, making it easier for them to reach an egg and cause pregnancy. 

Doctors say that regular washing of the external genitalia with soap and water is enough to keep a healthy vagina clean.  Mild odor is normal and increased odor may signify a medical condition that needs to be checked by a physician.  If you notice your vaginal odor is unusual for you, you have more or different vaginal discharge than usual or have itching or vaginal irritation, contact your physician.  These may be signs of an easily treatable infection or sexually transmitted disease.

Finally, douching can be dangerous to a woman's self-esteem, making her self-conscious about normal body odors.  The best way to "enjoy being a woman" is to take good care of your health.