I do not know how to ask this nicely, so I will just beg you to hear me. This is a PSA. This is a cry, a plea, a desperate attempt for your attention. My hope is that all of you will truly hear me. Please, stop douching.
If you don’t know what douching is, it’s the process of taking some sort of bottle with a syringe and washing out the inside of your vagina with a combination of water and some “minerals” like salt or vinegar. Sometimes, people do it with just water. Or, if you’re feelin’ fancy, you could buy Summer’s Eve wipes and go to town. And when I say in the vagina, I do mean inside of it. Not around it, not beside it…in it.
By now, I have either grossed you out or offended you. Or maybe intrigued you, but regardless of your reaction, this needs to be talked about. While the fact is that 1 in 4 American women douche consistently, many studies have proven that douching is really, REALLY bad for the vagina. Studies have shown zero health benefits to douching, but there many, many risks from doing so. Even though this practice is demonstrably bad for you, it is so common that particular hygiene and beauty companies make a great chunk of money from specialty douching products, such as Summer’s Eve.
So, the million dollar question of the hour, the day, the year is: why douche?
Douching has been a practice for some time, but it’s been used for a variety of reasons. Theorists aren’t clear as to who started this tradition, but it’s been used in the recent past as a rudimentary method of birth control rather than to simply clean the vag. In the 18th and 19th centuries, women used douches to clean out sperm from their bodies after sexual intercourse. While it certainly was not 100% effective, the use of harmful products such as ammonia, sulphuric acid, vinegar, and hot, boiling water effectively messed up the pH balance in the vagina. Due to this pH imbalance, these past (and present) women suffered from a lack of lubrication, which made the reproductive organs less receptive to sperm. In this way, these women did prevent pregnancy due to an inhospitable environment.
However, the function of this practice no longer holds in current America. Thanks to reproductive health centers like Planned Parenthood, we have access to an overwhelming variety of types of birth control. If you feel like going the clinical route, you could use uterine devices, injections, or for the more drastic in our lives, hysterectomies. If you don’t like the surgical route, you can use contraception pills, patches, Nuva rings, and female and male condoms. If you’re feeling a little adventurous and have an extremely regular period (congratulations), you can always keep a calendar of your cycle to determine when you ovulate or have your period. In order to do this, women may use a bracelet with bead colors that correspond to an average 28-day cycle beads. Obviously, methods like abstinence and counting one’s cycle were used in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as douching, but the current purpose of douching is not for contraception. So, if it’s not to reduce pregnancy and it severely impacts a woman’s overall reproductive health, then why are we douching?
There are a few reasons for this, and these reasons are, like everything involving reproductive health, extremely complicated. The most obvious answer would be advertising. While the purpose of Summer’s Eve products remains extremely vague in their advertising, the slogan for the products is “Hail to the V.” By framing this product as “refreshing” and, even attempting to claim these products restore pH balances, the product and its slogan argue that douching with their various products is respecting yourself and your body. In addition to this nonsense, Summer’s Eve products are credited with bringing conversations about vaginas to mainstream dialogue. While Summer’s Eve is not the only line for women’s “refreshment” on the market, it is one of the top contenders and their “postive” presence in the realm of women’s health allows for them to perpetuate an incorrect and damaging information about women’s health. Companies like Summer’s Eve rely on advertising campaigns that support a very old, very idiotic stereotype about the vagina. They rely on the commonly-held belief that the untouched, unwashed inner vaginal canal is dirty.
While vaginas do need attention in the cases of obvious issues like yeast infections, STDs, or a general checkup at the gyno’s office, the vagina ultimately cleans itself. For the most part, you have to do nothing to clean the vagina. Can you imagine how easy that is? By not douching, you could take off 15 minutes from your daily routine. I’m not sure it takes 15 minutes to clean the vagina, but you would be saving time, money, energy, and decreasing the reality of increasing yeast infections and susceptibility to STDs by not douching. Because the vagina cleans itself, discharge may come out at random times before and after your period. As long as it’s not smelly or has the texture of cottage cheese, it’s probably normal. Just a side note, always ask a health professional to take a look if you genuinely feel something isn’t right with your vagina.
Regardless of me telling you this information which has been proven by science, I gather majority of you won’t believe me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. Beauty companies like Summer’s Eve capitalize on this old belief that the vagina is gross, and the liquids that lubricate the vagina should not naturally occur, which then requires constant care and maintenance in order to prevent it. They do this for all beauty products, but while makeup in general hurts the environment or animals, douching can actually kill you in addition to hurting the environment and animals. Terrifying, isn’t it?
This is just the beginning of trying to understand vaginal douching. This issue becomes more complicated when factoring in race and class. Of the statistics shown, an overwhelming majority of women douching are of African-American or Latina descent. In a study done of the southwestern United States, the study showed that “[e]ncouragement by mother (95% of population surveyed),” “being black (95%),”and “having no more than a high school education (95%) were independently associated with…douching.” As we know due to the theory of intersectionality, the likelihood that these independent factors overlap is substantially high. So, it’s not really surprising that women further marginalized by class, lack of education, and color may participate in a practice that is damaging simply due to the lack of education. This is not to say that this particular population of women is the only group of people lacking this necessary education. Majority of the states in this great U-S-of-A do not require thorough, accurate sexual education. Of the states that do require this, lessons on the anatomical functions of the vagina and penis are either extremely brief or nonexistent. This lack of education allows for the stigmatization of sex to continue, which then allows the bias that vaginas are disgusting to further perpetuate amongst the younger generation. And the cycle of this will continue indefinitely until we actually start teaching people about their bodies.
The reasons women douche are varied and complicated, and they cannot all be exhausted in this brief post. If the question is about lack of access to anatomic education, then this post will not solve the deeply systemic and complicated problem of the relationship between lack of education and poverty. If the question is the intersection of race with lack of sexual education, then, unfortunately, this post will also not solve this deeply systemic, complicated problem. However, what I can do with small amount of space I have is to beg you…yes, you, whoever you are, to stop douching. Whether you be male or female, white or black, gender fluid, or a myriad of colors, please, please stop. Put away the bottles, the syringes, the vinegar, the acid, and let that vagina breathe. And while you’ve decided to stop douching, please tell others to stop. If we all agree to stop and educate ourselves better about the low-maintenance, the self-cleanliness of the vagina, then maybe women everywhere will stop dehydrating and damaging their vaginas.