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BMC Women's Health







Intravaginal practices (IVPs), methods used by women most often to manage vaginal hygiene and address perceived disruptions to vaginal health, may increase the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This qualitative study explores the social, professional, and peer context surrounding IVPs, the experiences of self-cleaning or getting cleaned from a health professional, and the perceived impacts of IVPs among female entertainment workers (FEWs) in Cambodia.


In 2017, we conducted 27 focus group discussions from four provinces, and 16 follow-up semi-structured in-depth interviews with purposively selected participants in two provinces. Data collection occurred over three weeks, with concurrent data transcription and translation. The data from the transcripts were analyzed using Dedoose, an online, open-access qualitative analysis software. Two researchers independently labeled sections of transcripts associated with broader categories and subcategories based on the initial content analysis matrix and created codes. This process continued iteratively until a final coding schema and conceptual model was created.


We found that IVPs are widely practiced among FEWs in Cambodia and are associated with internalized and enacted stigma. Stigma was an overarching theme that impacted the sub-themes of (1) messages about cleaning, (2) the cleaning process, and (3) the impact of cleaning. Experiences of enacted stigma and internalized stigma permeated conversations about IVP, including feeling pressured by peers to keep themselves clean, practicing internal cleaning after transactional sex, and being called dirty by health providers.


FEWs who practice IVP talk about it in the context of their lived experiences stigma and discrimination. Highly stigmatized practices such as IVP among FEWs may benefit from a harm reduction approach that emphasizes positive changes without judgment, coercion, or discrimination.


Sex work, Intravaginal practices, Cambodia, Douching, Stigma


This is the Version of Record and can also be read online here.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Public Health and Recreation