Friday, December 30, 2005

It's Self-Cleaning, Ladies

Several feminist bloggers have been discussing recent news on douching. The referenced study, published in the Dec 05 issue of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, examined whether intervention could reduce the prevalence of douching among women. Discussion on blogs such as I Blame the Patriarchy, Feministing.com, and Pandagon, centers around the statistic that >25% of U.S. women of childbearing age report douching regularly.

Why is this notable? Because douching is not recommended or considered safe, because:
Douching changes the delicate chemical balance in the vagina (and the vaginal flora), which can make a woman more prone to bacterial infections. It also can spread existing vaginal or cervical infections up into the pelvic organs (uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries).

Research shows that women who douche on a routine basis tend to have more problems than women who do not douche or who rarely douche. These problems include vaginal irritation, infections (called bacterial vaginosis or BV), and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Women who douche often are also more at risk for getting pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of a woman's pelvic organs. It is caused by bacteria, which can travel from a woman's vagina and cervix up into her pelvic organs. If left untreated, PID can lead to infertility (not being able to get pregnant) and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus). Both BV and PID can lead to serious problems during pregnancy, such as infection in the baby, problems with labor, and early delivery.

Douching also does not prevent pregnancy, as some women seem to believe. The bottom line? Your vagina is self-cleaning, and douching may actually cause health problems. Not to mention that you probably don't want to give your money to a company who sells you cleanliness and confidence, only to help you get infections.

Worth noting in the results of the 2002 edition of the National Survey of Family Growth, which measures such things, are the education, sexual, and racial disparities in douching activitity. Those who reported having douched in the past 12 months were more likely to have first had sex prior to age 15, live in the South, be African American, and/or have reached lower educational levels. Those who douched were more likely to report having family planning or medical care in the past 12 months. Given the study that interventions reduce douching, and the fact that these women are getting healthcare, it seems that healthcare providers should make more of a point to ask and educate about this practice. I have never been asked in a GYN visit whether or not I douche. It seems that if providers ask, it opens up a window to educate the patients.

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MeSH Tags: Irrigation/adverse effects OR Vaginal Douching/adverse effects

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