November 21, 2007

Some Adolescents May Not Be Informed of Health Effects of Douching

A recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health reports on beliefs about douching among primarily minority students in Texas alternative schools who were part of an HIV prevention trial. The students were surveyed about their beliefs and behavior, as well as their sexual and reproductive health histories. Those who reported douching more than once completed additional questions on this activity.

The authors report:

  • 55% of females had reported ever douching; 30% did so monthly, and 20% did so weekly.
  • Females who had ever douched were “more likely to have had vaginal intercourse, to be older, to be black, to have been tested for HIV, to have been pregnant, and to have female relatives who endorsed douching.”
  • 22% of the girls thought douching would protect against sexually transmitted infections.
  • 75% of males preferred that their partners douche, and 25% of girls thought their partners expected them to do so.
  • Surprisingly, 18% of girls cited healthcare professionals as endorsing douching. Only 7% reported that healthcare providers advised against the practice.

In reality, douching may actually increase the risk of STIs, vaginal infections/odor, and problems during pregnancy, and is not generally recommended by health professionals.

This is of particular interest to me, because in a critique at my own blog about a product which was advertised in part for use after douching, several commenters responded along the lines of “women aren’t stupid, they know they shouldn’t be douching.” I wouldn’t suggest that women who douche are “stupid,” but they may not have been fully informed of the health risks and that douching is unnecessary and not recommended. Although this was a small study, the results suggest that healthcare providers may need to be more actively talking to and teaching their patients, including adolescents, about this issue. It seems clear that douching has not entirely become a thing of the past as some might think, and that individuals are slipping through the cracks on this educational point.


3 Responses to “Some Adolescents May Not Be Informed of Health Effects of Douching”

  1. Margie Says:

    Thank Rachel. There are a lot of uninformed women out there. When I volunteered as a counselor at Planned Parenthood I was shocked by the misinformation that a lot of women (not teenage girls either; full grown adult women) have regarding sexuality and birth control etc.

  2. Heather Says:

    This is representative of what I’ve seen at Scarleteen over the years, too: we have always had to do a LOT of debunking when it comes to douching. Plenty of new users have also thought douching could be used as a spermicide.

    And yeah, I agree with you: it’s not about women being stupid. Very few — even the better ones! — sex education programs ever even bother to explain that not only is the vagina self-cleaning, but that letting it DO that job, by itself, is really critical. Too, I don’t know of too many programs trying to mythbust when it comes to “smelly” vulvas and the like, which is a pretty big deal when you consider how this is all presented in advertising, pop culture, etc. And to be effective, that information would also need to be given to men, since so many women douche either in reaction to comments from male partners, or because they anticipate them.

    (So great to see you blogging here, btw! You’re such a gem.)

  3. Rachel Says:

    Thanks, Heather, and Margie, for your comment as well. It seems you’re both right, that there is still an awful lot of “mythbusting” left to do.

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