Ad History: Douching With Lysol For True Romance

The idea of putting Lysol into anyone’s vagina is pretty horrible — just don’t do it! Not to mention that you shouldn’t even douche at all, let alone with kitchen disinfectant, as the US Department of Health has adamantly warned. But did you know that Lysol was advertised as a douching-slash-contraceptive solution for women from the 1920s to as effin’ late as the 1960s? The message: Get your vagina looking and smelling like a hospital and men will want to put their pristine dicks inside you, because hospital vaginas are where dicks belong.

 

I would do anything for love, but I won't do that (vagina). via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504543965/

 

I can’t even imagine using Lysol as a contraceptive, let along as a cleaning solution for your uncanny va-jay-jay (as Freud / Oprah, “Froprah,” would put it). Not to mention that Lysol was using some pretty douchey (hah!) oppressive, partiarchical reasoning to get women to buy Lysol douches in the first place — many of their advertisements from the time adhered to several themes:

1.) Ladies, men choose to marry with you, not the other way around! And because relationships are entirely one-sided, when your marriage goes bad, it’s entirely your fault. Douche out your vagina to make him want to stick with you!

2.) If you douche out your lady bits, you’ll no longer be the smelly adult woman you are — you’ll go back to being the pristine virgin child-bride your husband married! Because that’s not creepy at all.

3.) Do you want to be dainty and elegant like those European people over there? Well, listen to some unfortunate German as we tell you to be “die eleganten Damen” by putting this “non-poisonous (when diluted)” solution into your baby canal.

The advertisements are sending conflicting messages — that women need to be dainty and germless in order to be desirable, fit wives and mothers while simultaneously being sexy women-children and of the classy European elite. For every infantilizing ad that goes, “She is still the girl he married,” there’s another that depicts a woman sitting with her two children and says that there is a “magic quality in motherhood” that comes from a woman “knowing how to take care of herself” i.e., douching with Lysol. The desirability of women as connected to the virgin / whore complex is pretty evident.

 

Because her vagina is the unbangable-est vagina. via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

There are also not-as-obvious contraceptive qualities that Lysol disenfectants claimed to have — some ads write that Lysol was an “effective antiseptic that is three times stronger than carbolic acid.” Melanie Zoltan on Suite101.com comments that “carbolic acid was a common abortifaecient in the 19th century and early 20th century” — it’s a fascinating parallel, as this contraceptive message occurs in an ad with a woman huddled around her children. It creates another conflicting message: In order to be a good, fertile mother to her children, a woman needs to actively partake in contraceptive douches.

Do these message sound familiar? While douching with Lysol might sound ridiculous, there are some equally ridiculous things that are still available to use for the sake of this still-existent standard of “dainty feminine hygiene” — use scented tampons and maxi pads because when you’re bleeding, all your junk still needs to smell like fake bouquets of flowers / a toilet air freshener; Brazilian wax your vulva, because women have smelly hairy undergrowth (like men don’t?) that needs to be taken off completely in order to reveal a shiny, smooth, weirdly prepubescent-looking vagina; or even Vajazzle your waxed vulva — cover your bits in small rhinestones to make your bits more appealing and sparkly, as men are just like crows, squirrels or other animals who are attracted to shiny objects. Oy vey.

You can ooh and aah (and groan and moan) to  some of the ads, pictured below, and visit this flickr page for more images:

 

via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

 

via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

 

via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

 

via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

 

via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbill/sets/834100/with/504511360/

 

Avatar of Whitney

Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 51 articles for us.

64 Comments

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    I was like “why would anyone do that?” and then I remembered that my roommate is one of those sick people who actually uses scented tampons. So she probably would.

    Also, Lysol’s an extremely effective disinfectant, far more so than ethanol (it kills tuberculosis! which alcohol doesn’t). Even better reason not to put it in your vag. Poor, poor, poor natural vaginal flora.

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    This made my vagina physically cringe. Like the idea of using scented products down there is unpleasant, but the thought of having lysol all up in there??? (or anywhere near there?) That would make me run away (or barring that, cross my legs) in horror

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    I remember watching Boardwalk Empire and being like “WTF IS THIS A REAL THING”. Horrifyingly enough, it was. Also horrifying is that the Wikipedia article for Lysol says sales of it are still restricted in some places just like paint or aerosol products because people get drunk off it. My vagina and stomach both are beside themselves.

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    I adore that “Held in a web of indifference” picture.

    My main feeling upon reading this was I hope in sixty years, people look back in disbelief and wonder if women did some of the crazy shit advocated in today’s adverts.

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      “Mommy, why are all these women so happy and laughing at their salads?”
      “Mom, did women really always wear white and run through fields on their periods?”
      “Mother dearest, why did your wife Leisha Hailey do those ridiculous yogurt commercials?”

      … leave me my dreams, please.

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    I heard once that the real aim behind douching with Lysol was as a contraceptive/abortifacient. (Supported by this article that originally showed up in the 40s.) But they couldn’t *call* it that, because polite people didn’t talk about such things. So they used codewords.

    Kind of like how those same magazines used to sell “gum massagers.”

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    I understand that the author (and many others) don’t like the idea of being completely shaved. That is fine, it is your right to approve of disapprove of something.

    But for the love of a being that doesn’t exist, stop making derogatory comments about it. Saying that it has to do with appearing as a child (and therefore implying pedophilia) is an extremely disgraceful way to attack something you don’t approve of. And those who disagree with you do not deserve to be attacked over this.

    Who are you to judge? Who are you to try to shame into treating their pubic hair the way you think is right?

    And if you look at a naked woman who has completely shaved their pubic hair, and can only see an adolescent girl, then you have the problem. And congratulations on laying shame on any petite, small breasted, women who are naturally very lightly covered in pubic hair… because they must obviously be only involved with people who look at them as children by your standards.

    PS: The plurality in my comment is not directed at the author of this article, but rather directed at the many many people who use this notion to attack women who completely shave, of which the author is only (apparently) one of.

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      Do you not perhaps think that maybe the article and any comments referring to this aren’t referring to all women who shave but to the patriarchal standard that requires women to shave?

      Of course it isn’t wrong in any way shape or form if women want to shave everything, the same as conversely if they don’t want to shave at all it is fine, but the article itself is addressing a whole plethora of patriarchal standards that the ads insinuate towards one of them being the constant babying and degrading of women as adults.

      This comment feels horribly like there is either a troll in the dungeon

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        No.

        Can you separate the two? The words and structure used can only be construed as judgmental.

        Given that the article had to do with “clean” and “dirty,” the part of the article with the phrase:

        “that needs to be taken off completely in order to reveal a shiny, smooth, weirdly prepubescent-looking vagina”

        is quite obviously not about being “clean,” but the author’s belief that it makes a woman look like a child. If it was about being “clean” the word prepubescent would not have been included.

        Furthermore, the article does not appear to be “addressing a whole plethora of patriarchal standards” just the Lysol douching ads. The article’s author does throw a few other practices in the list as examples of a few of the current practices, but certainly does nothing to “address” them… and the only one that is worded shamefully is the waxing one.

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      Thanks for expressing my thoughts much clearer than I was about to myself. I mean seriously, equating waxing with Lysol douches and scented tampons?? Really Papi?
      What about body agency and feminism and “you do you”, do those things only apply if one only does “counterculture” stuff? If one happens to favor “”patriarchy-approved”” things then bashing and shaming and gross allusions are ok? Fuck that. I do whatever the hell I want with my body, and if that include shaving my legs and waxing my pussy because I like the look and sensations better I’ll do it.

      If there’s one thing that pisses me off even more than the enforcing of patriarchal norms, it’s pseudo-feminists who pretend to support women’s freedoms and right to choose when really they just want other women to conform to another set of rigidly-enforced rules and norms.

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        Totally agree! After reading those comments in the article I got all troubled and upset. What’s it to the author if I decide to shave my bits and wear scented pads? I don’t care whether or not others do, but will fully support whatever they decide. It’s truly fucking irritating to come across people that think they’re standing up to the patriarchy or whatever by judging and criticising what strangers decide to do with their bodies, particularly on a website I generally trust not to do those things.

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      I agree that the tone on shaving/waxing was too negative. I prefer to be au natural, but I went bare once out of curiousity. And I’ve got to admit, for me, sensations were pleasantly heightened.

      If women do this for themselves, it’s certainly okay.

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      If the author was referring to the patriarchal standard re: shaving there are a lot of other body parts to single out – legs, underarms, face, etc…? And there are way different ways to say it.

      Quite frankly as a lesbian brazilian waxing has a shitton of advantages you’d think more lesbians would be aware of. The sensation of tongues/hands/etc. against a waxed area is AMAZING. It has nothing to do with look like a little a girl and everything to do with heightened sensations. It’s definitely grating that people compare it to pedophilia. I mean seriously. Ugh. Anyway I’m ranting cause it makes me so upset when people attack waxing as like this horrific thing…gosh it hurts me more to shave my legs than wax my vajayjay, for realz. I also want to add that a lot of people get Brazilians for medical reasons (people with problems with cysts in the area need to keep the area hair free to prevent complications). It’s was awful to read that in an otherwise sex-positive female-positive peice.

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    The add with all the locks is definitely relating a “dirty” vagina to adultery. This also sends a mixed message — she isn’t undesirable if someone else wants her, right? Maybe her adult, womanly vagina is just too sexy by half. Or maybe she has diseases in there!

    I don’t think the kids in the other ad contradicts the contraceptive message. She has the perfect middle-class nuclear family, complete with cheerful blonde children. She shouldn’t have too many more because that is something lower-class women and Catholics do.

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    Whenever I read about douching with Lysol, I always assumed it meant, like, using the business end of the aerosol can in your junk. But apparently it was meant to be used in a “proper solution”, like part of a well balanced breakfast.

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    Why the fuck do scented tampons exist? We don’t have them in Australia, or douches for that matter. I’m sure it won’t be long before I see them on my supermarket shelves though. I’ve noticed we now have Tampax as of like a month ago. At least they have applicators. Why did none of the other brands here think of that?

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      They, along with scented pads, exist specifically so I can accidentally buy them instead of the regular kind, use them as normal, and not realize until I’m already out in public trying to figure out how I can escape whatever social situation I’m in so I can deal with the allergic reaction taking place on my business. I’m sure of it at this point. There’s no other explanation, because the scent doesn’t actually hide or change any smells, it just adds sickly fake floral scents into the mix. So the only logical explanation is that the hygiene product industry is trying to ruin my life.

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    There is actually a book that came out relatively recently on the cultural progression of Menstruation that also has jewels in it like treating hysteria with vibrators and douching with Lysol not just to freshen things up but to act as a contraceptive.
    The book is called Flow. Its pretty fantastic. It was on my Christmas list last year. :)
    youtube search it and you can watch some pretty great little video ads they did. There is one about lysol, hysteria and bear/shark attacks while Menstruating. Its by Ellisa Stein (sorry if that is spelled wrong, way too lazy to check)

    —-({*})—-
    A warm cup of Vulva Love
    http://www.VulvaLoveLovely.com

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