We are completely and fanatically obsessed with cleanliness. Most homes today are disinfected with a rigour that would put hospitals of yesteryear to shame, and we spend immense amounts of time and money to do so.
We’re so clean, in fact, that our propensity for bleach and antibacterial products has resulted in a spate of new, drug-resistant super bacteria – so we can now devote our time and money to devising methods of cleaning them, too.
Unfortunately, feminism be damned, cleanliness still seems to be largely a woman’s responsibility. In adverts, it’s always the patient, cardigan-clad mom who is depicted mopping up messes with a bemused smile on her face. Perhaps it isn’t altogether surprising then, that as our obsession with cleanliness has grown, it’s been extended to encompass women’s bodies as well.
One of the most popular disinfectant cleaning products sold today was commonly employed as a post-coital douche in the 20s. Yes, that’s right. The brave women of yesteryear were routinely douching with Lysol to get rid of unwanted odours and also as a form of birth control. Fuck yes, it’s hard to believe.
Old copy for Lysol reads like a parody. “Gentle, non-caustic ‘Lysol’ will not harm delicate tissue. Many doctors advise their patients to douche regularly with ‘Lysol’ brand disinfectant just to ensure daintiness alone”.
“A man marries a woman because he loves her,” begins another. “So, instead of blaming him if married love begins to cool, she should question herself. Is she truly trying to keep herself and her husband eager, happy married lovers? One most effective way to safeguard her dainty feminine allure is by practicing complete feminine hygiene as provided by vaginal douches with a scientifically correct preparation like Lysol.”
(As an aside, if you’re thinking that douching with Lysol sounds anything but gentle, you’re right. Despite it routinely being advertised as safe, doctors regularly recorded incidences of Lysol poisoning and uterine irrigation.)
Thank God, we’re out of the dark ages, right?
Well, not exactly.
In the intervening years, women have learned that we don’t need Lysol to safeguard our dainty feminine allure. We now know that our vaginas are, for the most part, self-sufficient and self-cleaning, naturally able to regulate pH levels with a spate of healthy bacteria and microorganisms.
Yet alongside this knowledge, our obsession with cleanliness has continued to grow, even as it’s begun trending toward a more natural approach. Sometimes this shift in direction can mean a simple, effective way to replace a harmful practice with one which is gentler yet still effective – like making your own cleaning products, rather than buying antibacterial ones, for example.
Other times, the fact that something has been rejigged and rebranded as “natural” is anything but. Despite the fact that douching has now largely fallen out of favour altogether because of the way it destroys the aforementioned healthy vaginal bacteria, it seems that it’s possible to erase that knowledge instantly when we replace “Lysol” with “ancient herbs”.
First it was Gwyneth Paltrow advising us to steam our vaginas; then ‘detox pearls’, little sachets of aromatic herbs inserted into the vagina, that are intended to ‘detox’ a woman’s womb.
What on earth is a toxic womb? If you found the vintage Lysol ad copy amusing, please sit down for this, taken from a manufacturer’s website: “Our womb (vagina, yoni, pum-pum or hot pocket) is the foundation to our stability. It holds our deepest pains and is still responsibility [sic] for bringing forth souls to this world. The toxins from a poor diet, chemical based environment, and emotional stress get stuck in your womb.”
I’ll give you a minute to digest that.
Okay, your minute is up.
Is sticking little bundles of cheesecloth-wrapped herbs into our pum-pums to rid ourselves of deep rooted pain really any different from douching with Lysol back in the 20s.
It seems like we’ve simply scratched out the archaic phrasing about remaining dainty and alluring and replaced it with vague, ramblings about toxins – the boogeymen of the 21st century. We’ve replaced the “scientifically correct” solution of Lysol with the “potent traditional herbs” of detox tablets, but the effect is largely the same: a misguided, potentially harmful remedy to a problem which most likely didn’t need a solution in the first place.
These innocuous looking, prettily named pearls may not cause poisoning or uterine irrigation but several doctors have gone on record commenting that they pose a risk of upsetting the vagina’s natural balance and causing infections – or even resulting in potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome if not used properly. In other words, ladies, stop trying to clean your hot pockets by filling them with strange substances, herbal or otherwise.
We don’t need to disinfect our lives or detox our bodies. We weren’t meant to be blank and sterile and odourless – if vaginas were supposed to smell like lemon fresh Lysol or herb sachets they would, but they don’t. They smell like vaginas. Let’s keep it that way.