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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Column: Misleading empowerment

Sex & Society

A couple of days ago, in the middle of a late-night tampon run, I stumbled across a line of products under the name “Summer’s Eve.”

The shelves in front of me boasted an assortment of vaginal “cleansing” products, including douches, deodorants and travel-size cleansing pads. They came in an array of flirtatious artificial scents, like Sweet Romance and Island Splash.

Turns out, Summer’s Eve came under some pretty heavy criticism last year when they ran a series of commercials targeted at different racial groups. In these ads, talking hands meant to represent each woman’s “wonder down under” spoke in stereotyped white, black and Hispanic accents. These pseudo-vaginas demanded the care and attention they deserved, and encouraged their women to be “BFFs” with their lady-parts.

Most of the negative attention landed on the racial stereotyping presented in the commercials. But what really irked me about these ads, and the products in general, was that the company was shaming women into something unnecessary — even unsafe — under the guise of embracing female sexuality.

First off, products like these lead to the belief that women’s vaginas should smell like … not vaginas. They suggest that the natural scent of a healthy cunt is Tropical Rain, and that anything short of a potpourri purse is desperately in need of some Summer’s Eve “cleansing.”

This is shaming women, not empowering them.

Sure, it’s great to see more open discussion about women’s bodies in the media. But that’s not what this is. On the surface, Summer’s Eve is simply coasting on the wave of trendy sexual liberation. Their website flaunts a “V Glossary,” defining terms like G-Spot and Kegel, and other ads go so far as to call the vagina “the center of the universe.” Unfortunately, their products’ implied messages are not tackling the stigma attached to female sexuality. In a way, they’re actually advocating this stigma in the name of increased sales, playing off of the constant reminders most women grow up with, that their anatomy is inherently dirty and impure.

Besides making women feel ashamed of their pheromones, products like these can also be downright unhealthy. While every vagina has its own unique aroma (influenced by diet, exercise, normal bacteria, ovulation and menstruation), drastic changes in smell can indicate problems. Starting each day with a spritz of Morning Paradise could disguise the strong, fishy smell that usually indicates bacterial vaginosis. Covering up with a layer of Delicate Blossom during your lunch breaks could distract from the malty, bread-like scent that is often a precursor to yeast infections.

Even worse is douching, or the rinsing of the vaginal canal. Despite the claim that Summer’s Eve products are gynecologist-tested, I have never heard any medical professional advise the use of douches. Douching is not only unnecessary; it can be quite harmful, too. For one, douching can dry out, inflame, irritate and even tear vaginal tissue, which increases the risk of contracting STIs.

Douching also messes with the female body’s natural balance. Part of what makes vaginas so fascinating is their ability to self-regulate delicate pH, yeast and bacteria levels. Rinsing the vaginal canal with water or even a “specially balanced” Summer’s Eve solution can disrupt these levels, which often lead to infection.

Even worse, if these infections are present, douching can push them farther in toward the cervix or uterus. This increases the chance of developing PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), a much more serious infection. If a woman tries to use douching as a form of birth control (don’t), she can even put herself at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which can be fatal if left untreated. Unsurprisingly, the “Vagina Owner’s Manual” on the Summer’s Eve website makes little to no mention of these dangers.

The Summer’s Eve campaigns are irresponsible because they make douching and perfuming the vagina seem like a basic part of female hygiene. Though those trendy talking vagina-hands may seem to tell you otherwise, making women feel ashamed of their bodies to increase sales is not in the best interest of vaginal health. No matter how empowering the message may seem, Summer’s Eve is simply perpetuating the same exploitative body-shaming they claim to be fighting.

MARISA MASSARA should be writing a Chaucer essay, but vaginas are more fun. She can be reached at mvmassara@ucdavis.edu.

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