, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 98-106
Date: 23 Feb 2008

Vaginal Douching Among Latinas: Practices and Meaning

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Objectives Vaginal douching is widely practiced by American women, particularly among minority groups, and is associated with increased risk of pelvic and vaginal infections. This research sought to investigate vaginal hygiene practices and meaning associated with them among Latina women and adolescents. Study results would guide development of an intervention to decrease douching among Latinas. Methods In depth qualitative interviews conducted with English- and Spanish-speaking women aged 16–40, seeking care for any reason who reported douching within the last year (n = 34). Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and analyzed using qualitative methods. One-third of interviews were conducted in Spanish. Results Two explanatory models for douching motives emerged: one stressed cosmetic benefits; the other, infection prevention and control. Most women reported douching to eliminate menstrual residue; a small number reported douching in context of sexual intercourse or vaginal symptoms. Many were unaware of associated health risks. Respondents typically learned about douching from female family members and friends. Male partners were described as having little to no involvement in the decision to douche. Women varied in their willingness to stop douching. Two-thirds reported receiving harm reduction messages about “overdouching”. About half indicated previous discussion about douching with health care providers; some had reduced frequency in response to counseling. A number of previously unreported vaginal hygiene practices and products were described, including use of a range of traditional hygiene practices, and products imported from outside the US. Conclusions Respondents expressed a range of commitment to douching. Counseling messages acknowledging benefits women perceive as well as health risks should be developed and delivered tailored to individual beliefs. Further research is needed to assess prevalence and safety of previously unreported practices.