The Healthy Vagina Campaign (The HVC) educated women about the health risks associated with douching. Despite the research pointing to various associated health risks and adverse effects, the sanitization by women of their bodies is still a regular practice. Through this campaign, BWRJ sought to effect policy changes at the national level around the regulation of harmful feminine douching products. In November, 2007, BWRJ got a policy resolution about douching passed at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.
Numerous studies continue to show links between the practice of vaginal douching (intravaginal cleansing with a liquid solution) and several adverse health outcomes. Some of these include, pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low-birth weight, preterm birth, human immunodeficiency virus transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, ectopic pregnancy, recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, and infertility. Douching alters the normal vaginal pH and vaginal flora, weakening the vagina’s natural defenses and creates an environment more susceptible to the overgrowth of pathogens. In addition, the process of inserting fluid intravaginally can push harmful bacteria further up into the reproductive tract.
Beyond the immediate connection between douching and reproductive tract infections, the sanitization of women’s bodies by the feminine hygiene industry brings forth concerns about toxins and/or antimicrobial agents in antiseptic douching products that are inhibitory to lactobacilli. The major bacteria in a normal, healthy vagina is lactobacilli. Douching can upset the normal vaginal flora creating a greater susceptibility to certain sexually transmitted diseases. Women who douche are at greater risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis. By attempting to treat the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis through douching, the healthy bacteria is killed and unhealthy bacteria is allowed to grow. If a pregnant woman has bacterial vaginosis and douches, chronic bacterial colonization of the endometrium may cause premature rupture of the uterine membranes and/or early labor.
A key reason why women continue to douche is the aggressive advertising by manufacturers of douching products. Major pharmacies and grocery stores have entire aisles dedicated to feminine hygiene products. Positioned directly next to the tampons and sanitary napkins, one can find a broad selection of “medicated” solutions, disposable douche products, and feminine sprays in a number of different scents.
Over the years, messages about vaginal odors, post-menstrual bleeding, and maintaining a “clean, crisp” feeling have been passed on to women by the manufacturers of douching products. These same manufacturers have, in turn, profited to the tune of approximately $144 million annually, as women add to their annual health care cost by spending as much as $500 per year for over-the-counter vaginal products that are not medically necessary. There are at least three major manufacturers of douche products. In addition, well-known pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS have their own brands of disposable douches.