The vagina is self-cleaning – so why does the ’feminine hygiene’ industry exist ? | Society | The Guardian
From talcum powder to jade eggs and douches, an industry has grown up to sell products – some of which are harmful – that play on women’s fears about being dirty or smelly
The vagina is an amazing organ. It is lined with a mucous membrane that protects against infection (necessary in any part of the body that opens to the outside world), as well as a clever, complex mix of bacteria – also known as vaginal flora – that does the same thing (only the bowel has more bacteria than the vagina). Together, they keep the vagina healthy. It is self-cleaning, too, keeping itself safe and hygienic with secretions. (One day, I will get used to gynaecologists referring to my vagina as “a self-cleaning oven”.)
All women have a DIY vagina-vulva-wash of mucus, which can vary in appearance and volume throughout the menstrual cycle. It is mostly highly effective, except in the case of infection, including STIs, which can be signalled by a change in colour, thickness or odour. (Odour can become slightly muskier due to exercise or sex; if anything is noticeably different, or you itch, get a medical professional to check it.) But you would not know about our natural powerwash from the size and value of the industry that has grown up to tell women we smell.
For every mention of “fresh”, look for the fear at which it is aiming: fear that we smell of period blood or are leaking; fear that we smell in general; fear that our sexual partners will mock or reject us because of what our vaginas and vulvas look or smell like. The jingle for baby talc was “a sprinkle a day keeps the odour away”. There is a reason that “you smell” is one of the most powerful playground taunts: it is the accusation we fear most and the hardest to protest. We all fear fishy.
The odds are your vagina and vulva look and smell normal, because, when it comes to genitalia, normal is a very big category. In a paper studying the range of female genital appearance, researchers at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital in London found that “women vary widely in genital dimensions”, but that “detailed accurate representations of female genitals are rare ... although representations of female nudity are common”. Rates for cosmetic genital surgery are soaring above rates of genital disease diagnosis. Something is deformed, but it is women’s thoughts, not their genitals.
To ensure cleanliness, the vulva needs nothing fancier than water, mild soap and a gentle pat dry (do not rub).
Douching, as this is called, is done by one in five American women aged 15 to 44. Commercial douches can contain antiseptics, as well as potentially hazardous chemicals such as parabens, along with fragrances that are unknown: because these are cosmetic products, the US’s Food and Drug Administration requires only that manufacturers do not include anything “deleterious” in their products and trusts manufacturers to comply – it does not require any testing of products before they are launched. In short, products you are putting in close quarters with a highly porous part of your body are less stringently regulated than cough sweets.
Women are advised to use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva) – not inside it – gently every day. During a woman’s period, washing more than once a day may be helpful.”
I wonder if such statements would be necessary if “vulva” were as conversational as “sex”. If we discussed our fears about vulvas and vaginas – conversationally, with GPs or health professionals and with our partners – as easily as we seek help for a headache, the aisles of feminine washes, sprays, douches and wet wipes, all those sticking plasters on our fears and embarrassment, would vanish.
Où l’on apprend qu’il y a de l’amiante dans les produits pour bébé. Et que : (The vagina is a tube of muscle that joins the cervix and the vaginal opening ; the vulva is the exterior genitalia.), il vaut mieux préciser devant l’incapacité à nommer un sexe de femme.