With so many options for feminine wipes and vaginal washes that promise to balance things and keep you smelling fresh “down there”, it’s no wonder that douching has gained popularity among women over the years.

However, a growing body of research is showing how harmful the practice is to the vagina for more reasons than you may be aware.

The truth of the matter is that the vagina is a self-cleansing organ, so all it really needs to stay balanced and fresh is some water.

“The best way to clean the vagina is to not do anything – just use plain clean water,” says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Kofi Kwaw-Asante.

Douching products strip the vagina of good bacteria that is integral to balancing the pH of the vagina, as well as fighting off infection and disease.

READ MORE: The best way to clean your vagina

“Vaginal douching worsens any issues you may have because once the normal balance is disrupted, it manifests as a discharge that may have an unpleasant odour or colour,” he advises.

Here are four reasons you should stop douching today:

It can cause yeast infections

Women who douche have an increased risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections because douching changes the balance of bacteria in the vagina, which allows the yeast to multiply.

READ MORE: Infections that can be misdiagnosed as thrush

Studies have shown that women who stop using douches are less likely to develop yeast infections.

Increases your risk of cervical cancer

Research has found that women who douche face anything from double to four times the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Heightens risk of STIs

Regular douching increases a woman’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections because it is associated with greater mucosal inflammation. This places women at a greater risk of HIV and Papillomavirus infections.

READ MORE: Douching can double your risk of developing ovarian cancer

Chlamydia is a prevalent STI found among women who douche, with University of Washington study showing that women who douched once in the previous year were at double the risk of contracting chlamydia than those who did’t, while women who douched weekly were at four times the risk.

Greater risk of disorders

When you douche, because you are effectively pushing unhealthy bacteria deeper into the uterus and fallopian tubes, this bacteria doesn’t get disposed of naturally and this can lead to a host of complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

Douching has also been linked to ectopic pregnancies (a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus) and preterm labour.