Sex & Relationships

We All Know They Are Bad for Vaginas—So Why Do Douches Still Exist?

We're talking about the product, not the people, by the way.

Photo Credit: Alliance/

So I was at Target the other day with one of my Berkeley housemates, as one does now and then, when I happened to stumble into the "feminine products" aisle. 

Here's the thing: I try to stay out of said aisles, because I know from rumor and mercifully brief experiences that they're kind of horrifying. But I didn't realize how bad it was. It's like wall-to-wall pussy hate up in there, forcing you to dodge a gauntlet of horribly euphemistically-named products with vague advertising language all effectively saying that you smell bad and should feel bad, just because you want to pick up a box of tampons. 

Like, seriously? I'm aware that douching has been a thing for a very long time, and I had sort of assumed that the market in related products had expanded over the years, because, like, ladies are gross, am I right? However, the sheer array of products on offer really kind of beggared belief. 

And I felt especially bad when I saw two teen girls browsing the condoms and nervously giggling over them, wondering which brand to buy -- ultimately, they didn't buy any, because Girl One said she wanted to wait, but I kept seeing their eyes straying to the neighboring products telling them that their vaginas were gross hell-chasms of stench and horror, in dire need of freshening, wiping, and general perking up. 

There was a solid shelf of douches -- products known to cause health problems and generally not recommended for use by those in the know, like vagina doctors -- but also, other things. Like these bizarre sprays and creams and wipes that people are supposed to apply to their vulvas to make them smell nice and flowery. "Fresh scent," the advertising says. 

I mean, look, people, the vagina is a really cool organ, because it's self-lubricating. Not only does it produce lubrication for sexytimes, but it also produces vaginal mucus to protect itself from injuries and infections. So sometimes there's some seepage, because it's continually lubricating itself (like the eyes, another self-lubricating body part). The smell, texture, and appearance of that mucus can vary depending on a lot of factors, but basically, there's a pretty wide range when it comes to healthy and normal smells in the vulvar area. 

If it smells bad (strongly fishy, say), that's an indicator that there's something wrong. The balance of vaginal flora may be off, or you could have an infection, and you need to see a medical practitioner to get that baby checked out. You definitely don't need to stick some lavender scented crap up there and swirl it around. 

I get that not everyone is into the smell of pussy. And I'll be honest with you, genital regions of all sorts tend to smell, er, not so fresh after a hard day of running around (for example, after one has been chasing people through the streets of San Francisco with Nerf weapons, as I was doing this weekend), but then again, the rest of the body ain't doin' so well either at that point. Running around being active makes you smell, dude. 

But it's the smell of VICTORY, my friends. (Or in my case, defeat, because my team lost horribly thanks to my poor leadership skills.) 

The idea that "feminine odor" is something bad and horrible is just repulsive to me. One, it's totally gender essentialist, because what they're talking about is not "what women smell like" (because women smell like all kinds of things), but rather "what pussies smell like." And not all ladies and feminine people have vaginas, while not all people with the vagina/vulva setup are feminine or ladies. 

Two, it's just infuriatingly misogynist. Such products are marketed on the pretense that being a woman is bad (because in the gender essentialist and cissexist land of douche marketers, all women have vaginas/only women have vaginas), that natural secretions produced by the vagina as yet another facet of its general badassery are bad, and that people with vaginas should be ashamed of the fact that they smell sometimes. 

There is, one, nothing wrong with having a vagina, and two, nothing wrong with the fact that it produces secretions, and, three, nothing wrong with the fact that those secretions end up around your vulva. That's nothing to be ashamed of, and the fact that there's a whole market built around the idea that vaginas are gross is really infuriating. 

It's deeply upsetting to me that there's such a culture of shame and obfuscation around the natural functions of vaginas that many people think things that are normal are not, yet don't go to the doctor for things that are not normal. (For example, incontinence, a surprisingly common problem for younger folks, is an issue many of us are reluctant to bring up with our doctors because we're ashamed of it.) Products like these straddle this disgusting gap, telling you your body is repulsive -- but capitalism has the fix for your girl cooties. 

Lest you think that your vagina have a redeeming purpose during sexytimes, my friends, never fear: misogyny has taken care of that as well, with these "Fresh and Sexy" wipes. Use them beforehand to get your cooter-stank off, and when you're done, tidy up that coochie, will you?

s.e. smith is an essayist, journalist and activist is on social issues who has written for The Guardian, Bitch Magazine, AlterNet, Jezebel, Salon, the Sundance Channel blog, Longshot Magazine, Global Comment, Think Progress, xoJane, Truthout, Time, Nerve, VICE, The Week, and Reproductive Health Reality Check. Follow @sesmithwrites.

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