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For people who were born with a vagina (natal vagina), your vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Douching flushes out the healthy bacteria, changing the pH of the vagina. This can then make it easier for infections to develop or get worse if they are already present. Store-bought douches can contain ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and /or perfume. These ingredients can irritate the vaginal tissue, causing burning and dryness. Douching of natal vaginas is not medically recommended.
For people who were not born with a vagina but who have undergone vaginoplasty as a gender-affirming surgery (neo vagina), your vagina is not a self-cleaning organ. Routine douching is medically recommended to aid healing and maintain hygiene.
Douching after sex was once thought to help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Douching does not prevent pregnancy and may increase susceptibility to STIs.
People with natal vaginas often use douching because of concerns about genital odor. It is normal for genitals to have their own scent and this scent can change throughout the menstrual cycle. Changes in diet or starting a new dietary supplement can affect the natural genital scent. Changes in hormone levels can also cause changes in genital scent (like with hormone replacement therapy or menopause).
The most common reason for unpleasant vaginal odor is an imbalance of the natural acidity of the vagina. This imbalance can cause the bacteria that are normally present in the vagina to grow too much. This overgrowth of the normal vaginal flora is called bacterial vaginosis (or BV). For those who are menstruating, BV will often clear by itself after the menstrual period. Prescription antibiotics can also be used to clear the bacteria that are causing the symptoms.
Anal douching is often used to clean out the lower rectum before anal sex.
Anal douching involves gently introducing a half cup of slightly warm water into the rectum. This action stimulates a bowel movement and the area is then gently rinsed out until the water comes out clear. Some people buy a ½ cup-size bulb syringe from the pharmacy for this purpose.
It is recommended to use room temperature or slightly warm water only, as soap or other additives can irritate the rectal lining and increase the risk of infection. Douching a couple of hours before sex will allow the area to recover before sexual stimulation.
Canadian Women’s Health Network – Keeping your Vagina Healthy
Scarleteen – A guide to vaginal secretions
TransCare BC – Information on vaginoplasty, including aftercare
GRSMontreal – Douching instructions for vaginoplasty (pages 9-10)
Anal Pleasure and Health – A guide for men, women and couples. Author: Jack Morin, 2010