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Vaginal Douching Increases STD Risks

( - April 16, 2004) New findings by the Medical Research Council has revealed that some women are still using a combination of traditional remedies, patent medicines, antiseptics, and household detergents to clean and make their vaginas dry and tight, and these practices, known as vaginal douching, increase women’s risk of HIV and STI infection.

This was revealed by a recent study conducted on sex workers by the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the Medical Research, whose aim was to establish the prevalence, determinants, and reasons for these practices among sex workers in KwaZulu-Natal

Ms Neetha Morar, researcher with unit and principal investigator of the study, says these practices also have potential negative implications for the acceptability and development of HIV-prevention barrier methods such as the use of condoms and vaginal microbicides.

During the study researchers administered a structured questionnaire to 150 sex workers being screened for a vaginal microbicide-effectiveness trial in the province. The questionnaire sought to elicit information on "the frequency, reasons for and nature of vaginal douching and vaginal substance use," the study said, "and was drawn up on the basis of findings from a pilot study."

The researchers found that douching and vaginal substance use were common, with 97 percent of respondents reporting douching and 94 percent reporting vaginal substance use for "dry sex."

"The primary reasons for dry sex were to increase men's sexual pleasure (53%) and to attract clients and generate more money (20%). Sixty-five percent of the women reported the practice of douching mainly for hygienic purposes and 13 percent for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections," says Morar.

Seventy percent of the sex workers were HIV-positive, the researchers found, and they averaged five sexual partners per day.

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