BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
FOR decades, women across the globe have been practising douching of their intimate parts and this has not always been about hygiene as is generally believed.
Douching, according to WomensHealth.gov, is washing or cleaning out the inside of the female organ with water or other fluids. In 2018, a South African general practitioner, Sindisiwe van Zyl, who also has a special interest in HIV, said most women make their own douching concoctions using water, vinegar, baking soda, yoghurt, cinnamon or iodine.
Iodine is commonly used by gynaecologists after major surgery.
However besides the practice being popular especially among Africans, Zimbabweans included, furious debates have been fronted largely on health implications as well as perceptions around what makes a man happy.
A top British newspaper even reported that women were falling prey to some industries that were making money by preying on women’s fears about hygiene.
Even in Zimbabwe some unscrupulous people are racking in thousands of dollars selling these concoctions which have no empirical scientific evidence to back the claims, particularly of the sexual enhancement by “tightening” one’s organ.
The betadine douche, sold for a whopping US$40, is currently trending. Getting it, however, is no easy feat as those involved will only sell to people within their circles.
NewsDay, acting on a tip-off, tracked down one of the distributors of the product which has become a hit in Harare. The woman was initially suspicious.
“Who gave you my number? I do not know you. I deal mostly with people from my group, my friends,” she said.
She, however, later gave in and revealed that the douche had actually sold out and that she would be travelling next week for more supplies.
“The last two were bought by a man. I suspect one was for the wife and the other for the small house,” she said.
The woman said the product was “working miracles” for many women. Initially, she said it was for general hygiene of the female intimates and those with fungal infections but later hinted it was also being used to enhance sexual pleasure.
“It tightens the female organ and that gives men pleasure during intimacy. I have received many testimonies,” she said.
The label on the kit reads: “For the treatment of bacterial, fungal and non-specific vaginitis and/or for cleansing and deodorising”.
The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) has repeatedly warned against the influx of illegal drugs mostly sex enhancers, but these have fallen on deaf ears.
With the current harsh economic environment and the chaos at the public hospitals, many people are now resorting to the street doctors and pharmacists who are cheaper.
But some drugs have specific storage conditions which are obviously not being observed.
Most of the drugs are smuggled through the borders and Zimra Commissioner-General, Faith Mazani, last year said the authority could only detect consignments that come through the border posts while those smuggled using boats were difficult to intercept.
She also cited inadequate resources as another hindrance to halting these practices.
According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, douching has been associated with many adverse outcomes including pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low birth weight, preterm birth, human immunodeficiency virus transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, ectopic pregnancy, recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis, and infertility.
Studies conflict, however, and the strength of association vary enormously between studies.
Many potentially confounding factors blur the epidemiologic assessment of the consequences of douching. Douching in the United States is more common among African-American women.
Writing on her blog, Spotlight, van Zyl said the female organ is a self-cleaning organ and required no assistance.
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are a watery/milky vaginal discharge with a very fishy smell.
“It smells like tinned pilchards. It’s unmistakable,” explained van Zyl.
Women who douche regularly may also have difficulty falling pregnant.
Others have also used talc powder but many women have later claimed it contributed to ovarian cancer.
In a landmark ruling in 2018, 22 women from St Louis, an independent city in Missouri in the US were awarded $4,14 billion in punitive damages, after claiming their ovarian cancer had been caused by the use of Johnson & Johnson baby talc because it contained asbestos particles.