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The “feminine hygiene” industry does not want what’s best for you

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For each disposable menstrual product or other vaginal ‘cleaning’ product, you see that does not promise to make my vagina and vulva “fresh”, I’ll personally drink a bottle of feminine douche.

Perhaps that’s going too far. But the point is, I believe that most of these products use freshness as a marketing strategy, convincing people with vaginas, that vulvas are somehow not fresh, to begin with. The “feminine hygiene” industry, as is has begun to be called, preys on the vast fear of smelling fishy or being unclean that many women who happen to have vaginas, but also those who are not women and have vaginas, experience. The industry has become the childish playground bully who runs around calling girls smelly.

Image credit: Charles via Unsplash

Before getting into the meat of the argument, let me ask why chemists and manufacturers call it “feminine hygiene”? What’s feminine about it? Are we colour coordinating our tampons to our shoes and handbags? Are these douches gentle, loving badasses?

Not to get philosophical, but why would femininity be tied to a biological function? And what about “hygiene”? What’s not hygienic about the vagina? The NHS recommends we “use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva) gently every day. The vagina will clean itself inside your body.” I’d trust the NHS before an industry that wants to sell me a product. 

Of course, this is not the only industry preying on women and non-binary people, but it does seem to be the forgotten one. It is not limited to just tampons and pads. There are talcum powders, jade eggs, douches, vajazzling, internal glitter bombs and even leech therapy. Their products are not only a total waste of your money, but they are also potentially dangerous. Just last summer, a jury in Missouri, USA, ordered that the 22 women who claimed that their ovarian cancer has been caused by their use of Johnson & Johnson baby talc be paid $4.7bn (US dollars) in punitive damages. The mineral silica is a substantial component of talc. Silica and asbestos are usually mines in close proximity to each other, which means your common talc powder could be contaminated with asbestos. This was the claim of the 22 women who sued. Their lawyers provided evidence of microscopic asbestos fibres in many of the women’s ovarian tissue. 

The ovarian cancer risk is not completely verified although some studies have found a slightly increased risk and others have not. In 2016, an NHS analysis found it plausible that talc "could work its way up into the upper genital tract and have some sort of biological impact” but the impact is yet to be figured out. In the UK “feminine hygiene” products are regulated as general products and not medicinal devices, leaving it up to the manufacturer to make them safe. 

Regardless of the potential danger, what made anyone want to put talc inside their vagina or on their vulva (external sex organ)? I don’t, it would be a stretch to say it’s the external pressures that vagina-holders experience. We don’t sit with our legs comfortably spread but anxiously crossed. We hardly spend enough time masturbating because we’re busy shaving. We don’t count our orgasms but calculate the logistics of making sure we smell like lavender down there before we let anyone give us sexual pleasure. 

You would not know the vaginal superpower that is a DIY wash of mucus better than any Pinterest recipe from the billion-pound in revenue industry that tells us we smell. In fact, only the gut has more bacteria than the vagina, which cleans itself quite effectively of mostly everything expect STIs. Infections manifest by a change in colour, thickness and odour of mucus. If you’re seriously concerned about the smell of your vagina or unusual discharges it might be worth going to see your GP

Some might still choose to try douching. It is also not ok to shame those who do. We are all just doing our best with what we’re given and taught. But I hope we begin to consider that capitalism doesn’t always work in our favour and anything we put on our vagina can disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria that’s there. 

If you're unsure about whether you should speak to your GP about something: 

Lead image credit: Charles via Unsplash




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