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Douching may be the worst thing you can do for your vagina

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Douching has been proven yet again to be very, very bad for you

Douching has been a controversial subject for some time now. Is it safe or isn't it? Even though its purpose is to clean you from the inside out, most gynecologists don't condone it because it messes with your body's natural bacteria.

Now, there's an even freakier reason to steer clear of all things douche related. A new study found that douching can actually make you more susceptible to chemicals called phthalates, which you find in many of today's feminine hygiene products. They're often what's behind the "fresh scent" that comes in your tampons and pads.

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If your body absorbs too many phthalates, it can mess with your hormone levels, increase your risk for chronic disease and even cause reproductive and developmental problems in newborns. The study, which was conducted at George Washington University and recently published in the journal Environmental Health, looked at urine samples of 739 women. They found that women who said they douched twice a month had 152 percent higher traces of phthalates in their urine than women who didn't. That's a terrifyingly large increase considering they're not even douching once a week.

While this is the newest development in what makes douching such a bad idea, there are many other reasons it should be the farthest thing from your mind when you think feminine hygiene.

What douching does to the vagina

There is good and bad bacteria in your vagina. The good bacteria helps maintain a level of acidity, which is necessary to keep the bad bacteria at bay. Douching actually causes bad bacteria levels to rise and can clear out the good bacteria necessary to fight it. This can lead to various unpleasant infections like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis. If those infections are already present, douching can effectively push them further into your uterus — causing more serious issues, like pelvic inflammatory disease.

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Why women think they need to douche

According to Dr. Renee Matthews of the radio show "Ask Dr. Renee," the majority of women who still douche do it because it was a method passed down to them from a previous generation. "Most women believe that douching helps prevent vaginal odor. Some girls believe that if they have unprotected sex douching can prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases/infections. None of these reasons are backed by any medical research."

Douching can mask symptoms of infection and STIs

Some women might think symptoms like burning, itching and vaginal discharge are just signs of an unclean vagina — but, in fact, it's really your vagina telling you it's fighting something. Douching can cover up these symptoms, which may make you think you don't need to be seen by a gynecologist to treat them. It can even mess with medical tests, so your doctor won't be able to properly diagnose you.

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"If you douche before seeing the doctor it will be difficult for them to receive accurate test results from your vagina. This is also why when you are going to see the gynecologist they tell you do not douche before your visit," says Matthews.

So how do you keep your vagina clean?

Your vagina is actually designed to keep itself clean, but you can clean the outside with mild soap and warm water. Try to stay away from scented sanitary napkins and tampons as they carry phthalates, which can cause the whole host of problems discussed up top. It probably makes sense now why we no longer see many commercials for douching products anymore — it's simply not a safe practice on any level.

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