Douching is Bad, Sex Toys are Good

September 18, 2008

Last week, some of us received PR materials for a “therapeutic vaginal cleansing system” (or douche) complete with a “just add tap water” headline. As we note in this piece on vaginal infections, routine douching isn’t recommended because it can upset the natural balance of your vagina. 4women.gov has additional information on why douching is a bad idea. Naturally, then, I approached this product, “WaterWorks,” skeptically.

The WaterWorks website is pretty much standard as far as selling products based on an idea that vaginas are somehow dirty. The site claims that “regular use of WaterWorks will safely and effectively reduce or eliminate vaginal odor,” and goes on to suggest that it may reduce the risk of infection, helping women to be “fresher” and “cleaner.” It also reinforces worries that vaginal odor is embarrassing and may affect women’s love, social and professional (?!) lives — along these lines, many of the testimonials report increased “confidence” with use of the product.

The company reports that the product is “FDA approved” and “clinically proven.” The device does have FDA approval, through the premarket notification system — this means that it was substantially similar to something already on the market and so the company is allowed to advertise and sell it. The description as “clinically proven” is apparently the result of one published study on the product — an open label, non-randomized case series, which means that there was no comparison group, and everybody knew what they were getting.

The study only included 10 patients who complained of strong vaginal odor, and they were instructed to use this tap water douche daily. At the end of the study (four weeks of using the product), there was no difference in vaginal pH or the level of healthy bacteria. Vaginal odor was measured according to the patients’ perceptions — whether they thought odor was reduced — and half the subjects thought their odor problem completely went away after using the product, but there were no objective measures to report.

In short, it’s a very small study with a fairly weak design, and yet is touted by the product website as having “astounding” results, with a pitch designed to play on women’s insecurities about their bodies.

What is it, though, really? WaterWorks is a stainless steel hose and nozzle that you hook up to your shower so you can squirt water into your vagina, and it looks like a dildo. No, really. When I did some online searching for this or similar products, I found that the majority of the hits were for online sex toy shops.

Perhaps, then, it’s approval as a “therapeutic” device through the FDA might allow this item to sneak past laws such as the one in Alabama, which forbids the sale of sex toys unless they have a “medical” purpose. It strikes me as rather along the lines of the “massagers” sold in department stores, and while the marketing is troublesome, the other possibilities of this device and others like it may be something else altogether!

The blogger at Body Impolitic also has a hilarious take on this product — check it out.

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