BACKGROUND - Vaginal douching is associated with adverse reproductive health outcomes, yet both health providers and women are often poorly informed about details of this practice.
METHODS - We searched the English language articles in the MEDLINE database (1965-March 2004) to describe vaginal douching products, policies of professional organizations, predictors of douching practice, douching methods used, timing of use, and motivation. A key report was obtained from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via the Freedom of Information Act. Additional product information was obtained from manufacturers. Primary key terms for the literature search included (vagina OR vaginal) and (douche OR douching). Health effects of douching are reviewed briefly; personal practices and public policies are highlighted.
RESULTS - From the literature search, we identified 432 papers, of which 150 were reviewed in detail. Contrary to the assumptions of many health professionals, douching products are only loosely regulated by the FDA. Few professional organizations have clearly stated policy statements regarding douching. In the United States, the prevalence of douching varies considerably by race (more common among African Americans) and age cohort (more common in women born earlier). Internationally, vaginal douching is common in some cultures and is rare in others. Opinions of mothers, peers, and health professionals, in addition to marketing of commercial products, affect douching behavior.
CONCLUSIONS - Regulation of vaginal douching products and public education efforts on douching behavior need to be reassessed. Because of the preponderance of evidence that suggests an association between vaginal douching and adverse reproductive health outcomes, professional and public health associations should consider educational and policy activities to discourage women from douching.