Effect of Douching on the Ability to Conceive

Douching is the act of inserting water or other watery formulas into the vagina via a squirt bottle with a tube or hose. Some common reasons that many women say they douche is to clean the vagina after monthly cycles, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (a myth), to avoid pregnancy (another myth) and to get rid of odors; however, most doctors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that douching actually causes more harm than good. One reason is that the vagina does a great job of cleaning itself and by douching, the woman is messing up the normal balance of flora in her body. Another reason, and one that may be especially important to couples trying to conceive, is that douching can harm a woman’s fertility. In order to understand why, we must first look at the details of how conception occurs.

There are many factors that can aid or harm a woman’s chances of conception. Conception is much more than just the sperm meeting the egg. In order for the sperm to even reach the egg, it must first travel through the vagina, through the cervix, through the uterus and then to the fallopian tubes where if it is lucky and if an egg has been released through ovulation, a sperm will meet and fertilize the egg.

This whole process may sound quick, but anyone dealing with infertility issues knows that nothing is ever quick and easy. Unless a woman is actively charting her basal body temperatures and checking her fertility signs, the chances that sperm will be present right as her egg is released is fairly low. Most couples will attempt to conceive during the days before and after ovulation is expected. In order for conception to occur, sperm has to be present when an egg arrives in the fallopian tube. If sperm cannot survive the long journey to the fallopian tube, this will never be possible.

The first hurdle that sperm must face is the journey from the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus. In order to pass through the cervix, a woman must have high quality, fertile cervical mucus for the sperm to survive. As ovulation approaches, cervical mucus goes from cloudy and either dry or very sticky to more watery, like egg whites. If you’ve ever tried to walk through mud, you know it isn’t easy. The same goes for sperm. As the cervical mucus gets more watery, it becomes easier for the sperm to travel through. Also, the cervical mucus helps protect sperm from the acidity of the woman’s body. In fact, sperm can live up to 72 hours in fertile cervical mucus which means that there is a higher chance that they will survive the journey through the cervix and into the uterus.

Now that we understand how important cervical mucus is to conception, we can see how douching would effect this intricate process. The chemistry required for conception is very exact and by douching we are changing this chemistry. Aside from introducing foreign fluids into the vagina, douching effectively cleans out the cervical mucus, especially if it is the more fertile, watery cervical mucus. Not only will sperm not have a hospitable environment to live in (remember that cervical mucus protects sperm from the acidity of the woman’s body), but it won’t be able to travel through the vagina and cervix into the uterus. That’s the last thing a woman trying to conceive wants or needs. Some studies have also been done that show a possible link between douching and ectopic pregnancy, a life threatening condition where a fertilized egg attaches to the fallopian tube instead of the uterus.