The main difference between a douche and an enema is that they are distinct procedures that involve different regions of the body. Although in a loose sense both procedures serve to clean out their respective body systems and are therefore somewhat similar, there are many differences between douches and enemas. While an enema is done to relieve constipation by injecting fluid into the rectum, a douche is done to clean the vagina by using a stream of water. Health care providers recommend enemas in some situations, but typically consider douching to be unnecessary and even harmful. Men and women alike can give themselves enemas, whereas only women can douche.
In order to understand the difference between an enema and a douche, it helps to understand exactly what steps each procedure entails. With an enema, a stream of water is inserted through the anus and into the rectal cavity in order to help a patient have a bowel movement. Sometimes pure water is inserted, but in other cases soap or minerals are added to the water. With a douche, fluid is inserted into the vaginal cavity and then suctioned out. The water can contain chemicals or other additives designed to sterilize the vagina and eradicate odors or discharges.
An important difference between a douche and an enema is the perceived utility of each procedure by the medical community. While enemas are considered to be useful procedures that can help relieve disabling constipation, douching is typically thought to be unnecessary and even harmful. Regular douching can upset the natural bacteria living in the vagina, causing an increase in vaginal discharge and putting the individual at risk for infection. Some of the chemicals included in the douching fluid can be irritating to the sensitive lining of the vaginal wall, leading to irritation and pain.
A douche and an enema also differ in the population that typically uses them. As constipation can affect men and women of all ages, enemas can be used by a wide range of people. Often the enemas are administered by health care professionals, but occasionally can be self-administered at home. In contrast, douches can only be performed on women, and are typically performed at home. As doctors and other health care professionals consider douching to be harmful, the procedure is typically not performed in hospitals or clinics.
One of the other pitfalls of douching is that it can obscure making a proper medical diagnosis. This highlights another difference between a douche and an enema. Relieving constipation doesn't typically affect a doctor's ability to evaluate why a patient is having difficult bowel movements. In contrast, douching can make it more difficult to diagnose underlying infections, such as urinary tract infections or vaginal infections.