Intravaginal practices-including behaviors such as intravaginal cleansing and insertion of products-have been linked to a number of adverse reproductive health outcomes, including increased risk for bacterial vaginosis, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV. Currently, little is known about the motivations for intravaginal practices among women in the United States. The objective of this study was to identify and describe motivations for intravaginal washing and intravaginal insertion of products among women of differing ages and racial/ethnic groups.
Between 2008 and 2010, we enrolled a convenience sample of sexually active women aged 18-65 years living in Los Angeles recruited through community education and outreach activities in HIV/AIDS service organizations, women's health clinics, community-based organizations, and HIV testing sites. At the enrollment visit, women completed a self-administered, computer-assisted questionnaire covering demographics, sexual behaviors, intravaginal practices, and motivations for intravaginal practices over the past month and past year.
We enrolled 141 women; 34% of participants were Caucasian, 40% African American, and 26% Latina. Peri-sexual intravaginal washing was common in all groups, whether to clean up after sex (70%) or to prepare for sex (54%). African American women were more likely to report learning to wash intravaginally from their mothers compared to Latina or Caucasian women (70% vs. 49%, P = 0.04). Sixty-one percent of African American women reported using a douching device over the past year compared to 41% of Latina and 40% of Caucasian women (p = 0.02). Younger women were more likely to report that their male partners wanted them to wash intravaginally than older women (77% vs. 24%, P<0.01), and more likely to report the removal of odors as a motive than older women (65% vs. 40%, P = 0.04). The most commonly used intravaginal products included sexual lubricants, petroleum jelly, body lotions, oils, and wet wipes. Use of these products varied by race, and motives given included increasing lubrication, preparing for sex, smelling good, and preventing sexually transmitted infections.
Women's intravaginal practices and motivations for these practices differ across race and age. Motivations for use also vary by type of intravaginal product used. Given that some intravaginal practices have been shown to be harmful, interventions, programs and counseling messages to encourage less harmful practices are needed, and should consider underlying motivations that influence women's vaginal practices. Practitioners may use these results to better support women in achieving vaginal health.