By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited May 14, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Does washing immediately after intercourse prevent pregnancy?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 14 May. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/washing-after-sex-prevent-pregnancy. Accessed 28, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, May 14). Does washing immediately after intercourse prevent pregnancy?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/washing-after-sex-prevent-pregnancy.

Dear Alice,

I'm wondering if washing immediately and throughly after intercourse helps prevent pregnancy.

Thanks Alice,
Wondering woman

Dear Wondering woman,  

Hopping into the shower immediately after sex may leave you feeling squeaky clean but will not help to prevent pregnancy. Pregnancy can occur anytime semen—from complete ejaculation or pre-cum—enters the vagina or gets on the vulva. From there, sperm travels quickly through the cervix into the uterus and fallopian tubes. There they can fertilize an egg, leading to pregnancy. Showering, bathing, or even douching after sex may help to clean semen off the vulva, but none of these methods can remove sperm that have already started their journey to an egg. The best way to prevent a pregnancy at this stage would be to consider using emergency contraception.    

When it comes to douching to clean out the vagina, health care providers generally don’t recommend it. It’s considered ineffective and could lead to some other risks of infection or complications. Some of these include: 

  • Disruption in the balance of vaginal bacteria: Squirting water or other fluids into the vagina can flush away bacteria that help keep the pH balanced. These bacteria, known as lactobacilli, help to keep the pH level of the vagina low, making it an acidic and inhospitable environment for harmful microorganisms. Removing lactobacilli may encourage the overgrowth of other bacteria, which can lead to infections such as bacterial vaginosis
  • Increased risk of upper genital tract infections: Bacteria from vaginal infections can spread to the uterus, fallopian tubes, and abdominal cavity, causing infection and inflammation. In addition, the pressure from the liquid used for douching can transport harmful bacteria up into the typically sterile upper genital tract, increasing the risk of infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs): The acidic environment in a healthy vagina can help to inactivate certain viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Removing helpful bacteria that maintain the vagina’s low pH level may make you more susceptible to certain STIs. 
  • Vaginal dryness and irritation: Douching can strip away natural lubricants in the vagina, leading to dryness. Chemicals in douching solutions can also irritate the vagina or the skin around it. 

While the inside of your vagina may keep itself clean via the natural mucous that flushes out blood and vaginal discharge, it’s still wise to clean what’s on the outside! When it comes to the outside, gently washing the vulva and the area around the vaginal opening with warm water can help to remove the buildup of skin and oils and keep odors at bay. If you like, you can use a mild soap if it doesn’t dry out or irritate your skin.  

Beyond washing up, there’s another good reason to take a bathroom break after sex: peeing after sex may help to stave off urinary tract infections (UTIs). Vaginal sex can push bacteria closer to and into the urethra (the tube through which urine leaves your body). Peeing after sex may help to flush bacteria out of your body before it can cause an infection.  

To reduce the risk of pregnancy, it’s a good idea to use barrier methods such as condoms every time you have penis-in-vagina sex. These barrier methods also reduce the risk of giving or getting STIs which are transmitted through bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. For extra protection against pregnancy, you might consider pairing a barrier method with a medication or long-acting form of birth control, such as the pill, implant, IUD, or shot. If a birth control method failed or wasn’t used during sex, emergency contraception can help to prevent pregnancy. The morning-after pill, commonly known by the brand names Plan B or ella, delays ovulation and works best if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The copper intrauterine device (IUD) can also prevent pregnancy if inserted within five days.  

Every great journey begins with a trip to the bathroom—and ends with it too. From freshening up to preventing UTIs, there are lots of good reasons to go to the loo after getting frisky with your boo—preventing pregnancy just isn’t one of them!  

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