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Education persuades young women to avoid douching

Sexual HealthDec 28, 05

Education about the possible health risks of douching can convince teenage girls and young women to give up the practice, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that three quick counseling sessions with young women at their clinic were enough to persuade nearly half to give up douching.

Vaginal douching is a common practice, with more than one-quarter of U.S. women of childbearing age saying they douche regularly. African-American women and teenagers are especially likely to do so, according to a report published in the medical journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

But health professionals generally advise against douching because it’s thought to raise the risk of certain health problems, including bacterial infections and pregnancy complications like preterm birth. Though it’s not clear that douching is the cause of these problems, experts believe that the practice may disturb the normal balance of beneficial bacteria in the vagina.

In the new study, Dr. Diane M. Grimley and her colleagues looked at whether a few counseling sessions at an adolescent health clinic could convince young women to give up the practice.

The researchers randomly assigned 275 patients ages 14 to 23 to one of two groups: one that received three 15-minute counseling sessions on why and how to stop douching; and a comparison group that attended three nutrition-counseling sessions. All of the participants had said they douched at least once in the past month.

One year into the study, 49 percent of the young women who received information on douching said they had not douched in the past 3 months. That compared with roughly 21 percent in the comparison group.

The fact that three quick counseling sessions convinced almost half of the women to stop douching suggests that it would be relatively easy for health providers to persuade more women to do so, according to Grimley and her colleagues.

“Interventions of this sort might readily be incorporated into public health efforts to reduce douching,” they conclude.

SOURCE: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, December 2005.

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