Our feminine hygiene industry is undoubtedly lead by fear, but who created the fear?
Was it a woman’s fear that her natural cycle was a disturbance to a functioning society, or was this fear forced onto women by the marketing and advertising of ‘fresh feeling’ feminine products.
Language shared by the feminine hygiene industry suggests that the vagina should be odourless, hairless and unobtrusive. These beliefs have been peddled since at least the 1930s, when fragrances were first added to menstrual pads to mask a woman’s natural odours.
The shaming of the vagina.
When it comes to a woman’s menstrual cycle, it’s fair to say that most women are overly self-conscious – worried that they obviously smell of the different phases of their cycle, during our period we can be a little paranoid that we’re visibly leaking and many women fear that their partners will reject them if they found out what was really going on down there.
Most packaging for vaginal hygiene products like gels, sprays, deodorants, wipes, douches are tacked with words like “fresh” and “clean”. Menstrual products try hard to instill confidence that their product will make you feel like what’s happening down there isn’t really happening, and their sleek designs allow women to easily conceal these products. Women are definitely conditioned ninjas, since our early teens, we’ve had plenty of practice sneakily and silently transporting a pad or tampon from a purse or bag to a pocket.
That’s just half of the problem caused by decades of vagina shaming. When it comes to a woman’s genitals, in general, most are not able to accept what they were given. Many women are concerned with what greets them between their legs… Is this what it’s supposed to look like?
Many minds are misled about what the female genitalia is supposed to look like. This a reason why cosmetic gential surgery sores above rates of gential disease diagnosis. There is something deformed, but it’s actually women’s thoughts, not their vagina.
How to Not Treat Your Vagina
Which of these things should never go near your vagina: a penis, a sex toy, a finger, a tampon, or talcum powder?
After a court case in Missouri, the jury found favour in 22 women who claimed that their ovarian cancer was caused by their use of Johnson & Johnson baby powder, because it was contaminated with asbestos. These women were awarded 4.14 billion dollars in punitive damages.
This is not the first time that J&J has faced a lawsuit for their products. When you consider that a huge part of their line is dedicated to babies, how can they even still be in business, after not one but 13,000 lawsuits over the cancer causing nature of their products.
This idea that talc could be linked to cancer has been pondered on for decades, however thanks to corrupt corporations and their team of lawyers and researchers, conclusions are still debated vigorously.
An NHS analysis in 2016 said it was “plausible that talc could work its way up into the upper genital tract and have some type of biological impact”. These researchers studied more than 2,000 women with ovarian cancer and a similar-sized control group who were free of disease. Overall, they found a 33% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer with genital talc use. (1)
While this research on talc and ovarian cancer is impactful and all, the real question here is why is any women putting talc inside her vagina or on her vulva in the first place?
For those who don’t know, the vagina is a tube of muscle that joins the cervix and the vaginal opening; the vulva is the exterior genitalia.
The vagina is an impressive organ, with the ability to experience polar extremes; birthing a child, and experiencing orgasmic pleasure. When it comes to anatomy, the vagina is lined with a mucous membrane that works to protect against infection, just as all organs which have direct contact with the outside world (eyes, nose, mouth, digestive tract).
A woman’s vagina is also equipped with a complex and diverse mix of beneficial bacteria, known as vaginal flora which works to keep the vagina healthy.
It’s also self-cleaning too, which keeps it safe. This act consists of natural secretions that many women refer to as ‘discharge’. Hey ladies, guess what – every vagina does this – while the appearance and volume can change throughout the cycle, having healthy discharge is normal.
It won’t be normal if infection or STI’s, are present, you can detect these with a change in colour, thickness and odour. (In this case, please book an appointment with your medical doctor or OBGYN.
Women have been told for so long that vaginas and menstrual cycles are something we should try to hide, and somewhere along the line it was never communicated to us how the vagina actually works, and what it’s capable of.
How to Treat Your Vagina with Respect
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel fresh and clean, particularly when you’re bleeding, however we need to get the “a sprinkle a day keeps the odour away” jingle out of our head, I think it’s fair to say that our childhood fear of the playground taunt, “you smell”, is not worth the sprinkle of talc and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Here’s how you should actually take care of your vagina:
Water and mild soap, with a gentle pat dry.
If you can opt into something that’s organic and free from synthetic fragrance and ingredients, all the better. Despite what we’ve been conditioned to believe, you don’t need to soak in a glitter bath, spray your vulva with perfume, do a herbal steam or use a jade egg.
Jade eggs, are touted as a way to tone the vaginal wall, however gynaecologist Jen Gunter believes they’re a bad idea: “Jade is porous, which could allow bacteria to get inside and so the egg could act like a fomite … It could be a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis or even the potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome.”
Let your vagina be a vagina, you don’t need to create an extravagant self-care routine for it, your vagina can take care of itself. Your tempering is likely doing more harm than good – anything introduced to the vagina risks upsetting the careful balance of bacteria, particularly if a woman is buying products because she thinks something is wrong.
If vaginal health is important to you, focus more on your daily lifestyle routine: get in daily exercise, stay hydrated, follow an eating routine that’s rich in leafy greens, low-sugar fruits, root vegetables, unprocessed proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids, manage your stress levels, practice safe sex, shower often, and switch to natural and biodegradable personal care products.
You can also take part in the plastic-free period, which has a plethora of benefits for you and the planet.
If nature had intended the vagina to smell like flowers, it would have made the vagina smell like flowers. Embrace your womanhood and your cycle, you have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
- Talc and ovarian cancer: what the most recent evidence shows https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/talc-and-ovarian-cancer-what-the-most-recent-evidence-shows/
- The vagina is self-cleaning – so why does the ‘feminine hygiene’ industry exist? https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/04/the-vagina-is-self-cleaning-so-why-does-the-feminine-hygiene-industry-exist
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