WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Oct. 27, 2008 (Washington, D.C.) -- Don't douche.
That's the message from researchers who found that teens who report douching
regularly are significantly more likely to subsequently develop a sexually
transmitted disease (STD) than those who say they
"Vaginal douching is not a healthy behavior. It should be viewed as a
harmful behavior, like overeating or being sedentary," says Sten Vermund,
MD, PhD, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Vermund presented the findings here at a joint meeting of the American
Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Many women view douching -- rinsing out the vagina with water or a homemade
or commercial solution -- as a prophylactic measure that can cleanse the vagina
and prevent odors, Vermund says. Others have a mistaken belief that it can
prevent pregnancy or STDs, he says.
In fact, studies have linked douching to pelvic inflammatory disease,
reduced fertility, ectopic pregnancy (where an
embryo implants outside the womb), low birthweight babies, preterm delivery,
and cervical cancer, Vermund tells
Numerous studies also support a strong relationship between douching and
sexually transmitted infections, he says. But the studies do not answer the
question of whether douching causes STDs or whether STDs cause women to douche,
For the new study, Vermund and colleagues followed 368 teens for three
years. Their average age was 17, and about 75% were black. All were considered
at high risk for acquiring an STD: Two-thirds were infected with HIV and
three-fourths reported they had been sexually active in the three months prior
to entering the study.
The teens were tested for four STDs -- chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes,
and trichomoniasis -- every
six months. At every test, the women were asked about douching habits; nearly
14% of the women who participated reported douching, and 24% never reported
Results showed that those who reported douching every time were 84% more
likely to subsequently develop a sexually transmitted disease than those who
said they never douched. Those who reported douching sometimes were 36% more
likely to develop an STD than those who said they never douched, but the
finding could have been due to chance.
Vermund says douches may be harmful because they disrupt the vaginal
ecosystem, destroying good bacteria called lactobacilli that protect against
Douching fluid may also carry STD-causing pathogens deeper into the female
genital tract, says M. Lindsay Grayson, MD.
"Douching potentially raises the risk of sexually transmitted infections
by flushing semen up the cervix. This is a question that needed to be studied
further," he tells WebMD. Grayson is vice-chair of the committee that chose
which studies to highlight at the meeting and an infectious diseases specialist
at Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia.
Although researchers continue to study the harmful effects of douching,
parents need to tell their daughters that the practice can hurt their health,
Vermund says. "Research suggests that once women appreciate that douching
is not hygienic, many will stop," he says.
SOURCES:48th Annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
(ICAAC)/ Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) 46th Annual Meeting,
Washington D.C., Oct. 25-28, 2008.Sten Vermund, MD, PhD, director, Institute for Global Health-Admin Offices,
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.M. Lindsay Grayson, MD, vice-chair, program committee, 48th Annual
ICAAC/IDSA 46th Annual Meeting; Austin Health, Melbourne, Australia.
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