`Intimate hygiene products' are big business. Monique Roffey samples some pop-out wand things
Shocking as it may seem, I am 29, a consumate female consumer, an advertiser's dream target, yet have only just seen my first douche. Douche. That irritating French. Do French people call them showers? "Oh, I'll just go and buy one of those showe rs today." No. Because all French people have style and class and we British can be a bit naff. A douche, as many women reading this might not know, as they probably haven't seen, let alone used one, is a woosh of intimate freshness. A vaginal swill.

I was expecting something fancy, maybe even funky. Something with a Lady Penelope pink shnozzle or a little spout - but no such luck. Summer's Eve douche, my first (and only) choice at Boots, had a young girl in Grecian garb peering into a rose on the front of the box. The douche itself looked and smelled like airline toilet water in a squeezy see-through bottle. But it did have a perforated pop-out wand thing, the idea being to squeeze the bottle and sprinkle your insides - in the same way a grass sprinkler sprinkles the lawn.

Now I know why I've never seen a douche before: I don't need one. Nor does any woman. Douches are a swizz, a con, and probably invented by men. Just like fairy hammocks, and a wide range of other intimate feminine must-haves now available at your nearestchemist. They're just another consumer product to flog to the fairer - and, it seems, the smellier - sex.

And this is where my main objection lies. Not only was the toilet water canopy completely useless, but offensive too. Douches imply that women smell. In fact, some of these "intimate" female hygiene products actually use the "smell-bad" factor to promotethemselves. Feminesse (Franglais? puhleese) claims to ensure "even the most persistent `fishy' vaginal odours disappear". Fishy? Fishy? Only schoolboys think women smell fishy.

It's not just that they're offensive and useless: douches and other intimate feminine hygiene products may also be dangerous. Summer's Eve actually comes with a worryingly detailed and specific health warning which states that, "An association has been reported between frequent douching and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious infection of the reproductive system." It then lists the symptoms of PID in case you're wondering if you might have it. Lower abdominal pain, fever, chills, nau

s ea, vomiting and /or pus ... charming.

The Boots own brand feminine deodorant I bought, which claims to be a "gentle deodorising mist for complete feminine freshness", instructs you to spray the product from about six inches away. Presumably, you're also supposed to ignore the large EXREMELY FLAMMABLE warning on the back of the can while doing so. And as for "a gentle mist"- read "a Jet of fake foam" for a more accurate description. A strange second skin formed when I tested it out on my hand.

Call me old-fashioned, but I won't be buying any of these intimate hygiene products in the future. They look dodgy, smell dodgy and have dodgy French names. Spray cans and toilet water sprinklers are harsh, unnecessary and undignified. Instinct tells me Mother Nature has her own way of cleansing a woman's private parts.