Before society convinced women they needed to look hairless and sleek with a Brazilian wax, they were convinced to clean out their nether regions by douching. However, as recent research has linked this once-popular practice to cancer, we can’t help but wonder: Should women even consider douching?

A new study found that women who reported douching almost doubled their risk of developing ovarian cancer. Prior research has also linked douching to yeast infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and ectopic pregnancies, Reuters reported. In addition, the practice has also been linked to cervical cancer, reduced fertility, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. With so many adverse health effects associated with douching, many experts in women’s health believe women should completely retire from using this feminine hygiene tool.

Beverly Whipple, PhD, RN, professor emerita at Rutgers University and secretary general of the World Association for Sexual Health, told Everyday Health that there is no reason for women to be douching as it serves no good purpose. Still, Everyday Health reported that only about 20 to 40 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 douche on a regular basis, but of those about 50 percent use a douche every week.

“While most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommend that women do not douche, many women continue to douche because they falsely perceive douching to have positive health benefits, such as increased cleanliness,” Joelle Brown, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco told Reuters by email.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, making douching completely unnecessary. Natural vaginal secretions help to clean the vagina, changing throughout the menstrual cycle in accordance with hormonal changes. In addition, having a slight smell is also not a sign of poor hygiene and the National Health Services of the UK report that wet vaginas have a slight smell and even a slight color to their discharge. Douching may also help to rid the vagina of the good bacteria that it needs in order to maintain its natural health, and it’s this imbalance of bacteria that can lead to infection and inflammation.

If you feel you do need some extra maintenance below, instead of douching, which involves cleaning the internal vagina, you can instead wash the outer area, the vulva, with soap and water, The Cleveland Clinic advises. Women’s Health advises that unscented soaps work best, and to opt for a bar soap over a body wash as it doesn’t have as high of an alcohol content or as much of a scent. Of course, if your discharge or smell does seem out of the ordinary and doesn’t fade with simple washing, it’s best to go to your gynecologist to ensure that everything is alright.

Source: NL Gonzalez, KM O’Brien, AA D’Aloisio, DP Sandler, CR Weinberg.Douching, Talc Use, and Risk of Ovarian Cancer. Epidemiology . 2016

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