As Tertullian stated long ago, and Summer’s Eve reinforces today: “Woman is a temple built over a sewer”. Thank god there’s a dizzying array of “feminine hygiene” products marketed toward female-identified folk to help conceal that awful raw sewage smell naturally emanating from our crotchal region. We’ve got several kinds of special wipes, from Monistat COOLWIPES for those days when your sewer is both diseased and stinky, to Massengill wipes that are gentle to your delicate sewer region, to, for those of us who menstruate, Always Fresh wipes for when you’re gushing blood and the smell rather than stemming the flow is your main concern. And if you want to stay odor-free while you bleed, there’s scented Tampax and Kotex pads as well.

Oh, and don’t forget pantiliners to catch that oh-so-bothersome inter-period discharge. Because sometimes underwear just doesn’t do the job. And remember to wash with those special cleansers from Summer’s Eve and Massengill. Your nether regions deserve their own kind of cleansing. Then you can finish off both the harmful and helpful bacteria with a nice douche from one of the leading douche brands. Ah, I love using the word “douche”. If that douche left you a little itchy, reach for the Vagisil and hope you don’t actually need the Monistat.

If I were to buy all the “feminine hygiene” products I apparently need, I’d go broke. Interestingly enough, unless you count Axe body spray (which I don’t), there’s no equivalent market for male-identified folk. People, if you’ve come close to a male-identified person’s junk at any point in time, you know that they are not devoid of “intimate smells”. In fact they can be quite rife with them. Which is fine, apparently, because I don’t see a lot of say, “Autumn’s Night Men’s Personal Wash” on the market. Something tells me society doesn’t care if a male-identified person’s junk stinks. Or at least, no one shames them into worrying about their junk stink.

Apparently the extreme concern over unhygienic female-identified people’s genitals goes as far back as 22 C.E. And I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about those who menstruate being isolated in their own abode until Aunt Flo had left back in the Middle Ages (and still today in some cultures). In the ’30s, Lysol started advising through advertising that vagina-possessing individuals should douche with their product to avoid losing their (presumably) man’s interest. I’m not sure what Lysol was made out of in the ’30s, but if it’s anything like what it’s made of today that sounds like a Bad Idea. And yet the concern over “feminine odor” overshadowed any dubious feelings people may have had about shooting an industrial disinfectant up their cooters. Lysol also claimed that douching with their product would act as a contraceptive. Significantly, douching with Lysol went out of favor once the birth control pill was introduced to the market. Something tells me it was more pleasurable to simply swallow a pill than douche with a hospital-grade disinfectant.

What with all the new extraneous grooming products available to the male-identified today, I have trouble understanding why no one has entered the untapped market of “masculine hygiene”. Maybe a pre-oral wipe to make it easier on the one performing the act. Or a special wash that can be used when a wipe just isn’t cutting it. And why not add some special powders to keep the genital area dry and smelling like Old Spice. If no one gets into this business soon I think I might throw my hat in the ring. In the day and age of Axe, Tag, and Swagger, male-identified folk seem ripe for believing they need special products just for their nethers.

But enough with the wry humor and sarcasm. The fact that the female-identified alone are thought to be the bearers of such bad scents while those who are not get a pass just underscores the deeply rooted sexism and body-negativity in our society. That we wouldn’t even think twice while passing an aisle in the store SOLELY dedicated to the eradication of “feminine” odor shows how ingrained in our culture it is that when you are female-identified, you have a responsibility to God and country to keep that sewer under wraps. We get it in jokes involving a fish smell and some female-identified person needing to close her legs. Honestly, I’ve smelled fish odor emanating from all manner of junk. Basically, ALL JUNK STINKS. Period. So we really need to get over the idea that only female-identified people need to worry about it.

37 thoughts on “That not-so-fresh feeling

  1. I think men are often less aware of their crotch funk and general lower-parts mess, too. If I'm going to be having sex I do a rinse (NOT of any "woman product"), cause that's courtesy isn't it?

    Or maybe it's just me.

  2. Lysol douching wasn't really about odor, it was a thinly-disguised form of birth control. Advertisers couldn't SAY that they were selling birth control, so they'd encode that in the wording of the ads so that women did know what was really being sold.

    It wasn't used full strength, it was diluted. But it could still cause injury.

    • I believe you, but do you have any further written sources about this? I'd love to assign them to my students.

    • I believe that it was used for that purpose, but I have seen a ton of ads for Lysol from back in the day talking about that "feminine odor" and how you needed to keep that under wraps for your man. So I don't think it was only meant for abortions/bc.

  3. I think this is just another example of how women are sold (and buy!) a bunch of things we do not need, and which we think we need only because of our self-hatred and insecurity. From fashion to face creams to "feminine" odor fighters – as long as we are focused on these things, we can be kept from using our time, energy and money to do anything too threatening.

    And as far as smells go – if things are clean and healthy, they will not be unpleasantly smelly. If they are not clean or healthy, they will be smelly – on both a woman AND a man.

    • And as far as smells go – if things are clean and healthy, they will not be unpleasantly smelly. If they are not clean or healthy, they will be smelly – on both a woman AND a man.

      Pretty much, if it smells bad it's either dirty or something's wrong.

  4. Exactly! I remember watching commercials in the 70s for "feminine spray" products and thinking huh? For years I did nothing but rinse with water and that worked just fine. But somewhere in my 30s I began to be terribly self-conscious of my body odor, particularly "down there" and started washing with soaps and shampoos. I tried a lot of different products, including the dreaded douche (not quite Lysol but close), and the more I tried the more itchy and stinky and corrosive my vaginal secretions became. Yes: corrosive–because I was altering my body chemistry so much, I was actually bleaching my underwear. Which is so fucked up.

    When I finally came to my senses and quit the products cold turkey, everything eventually returned to normal. And normal means that some days I'm funky, some days I'm not.

    By the way, I have noticed that even my 4-year-old daughter can have funky junk. It's the human condition.

  5. Autumn's Night made me laugh so hard I almost cried. Junk smells. It's true. Sometimes I am sorely, sorely tempted to bring a nice bowl of warm water and a bar of Lifebuoy into the boudoir and say "Let me just…uh…help you out here."

  6. YES! THIS! i dont know HOW many times i have thought this. I have espically sensitive skin, and anything other than dove and wate breaks me out…badly. so i have to deal with my nether smells….and cant really use much other than body powder (when did that go out of fashion? i remeber my grandmother using it…) to help.

    • My skin is really sensitive too, my face especially. I have to use really gentle vegetable-based soap. I've taken to using that on my nethers, too, since it gets a little irritated down there once in a while.

  7. I have trouble understanding why no one has entered the untapped market of “masculine hygiene”. Maybe a pre-oral wipe to make it easier on the one performing the act.

    I thought that's what "Kiss of Mint" condoms were for šŸ˜‰

  8. Ugh, gag me.

    You know, I never actually realised how weird that phrase is. Anyway!

    I hate this whole hatred for women's bodies things. People are all "oooh, I love women!" but as soon as we do anything human, like smell, or have hair in an undesired places, it is the MOST HORRID THING EVER. It is SOCIAL SUICIDE.

    I remember being a kid and being so self concious about how my crotch smelled, especially during my period. I would freak out, thinking everyone could smell it and would think I was dirty. Turned out my best friend (who was male and had a bizzarely sharp sense of smell) COULD smell it, and I remember him asking if I was on my period. I promptly left the class and burst into tears, thinking there was something wrong with me because I was such a stinky pants.

    A few years later, when I was less embarassed about my period but still sexually inexperienced, he told me he didn't actually mind the smell. He even LIKED it. He said it would sort of incorporate into my regular smell, and he found it kind of comforting. It wasn't a sexual thing, it was just that he liked how I smelled. Having a body odour was not the end of the world, and did not make me a bad person.

    Sorry, that got a bit long. Anyway, vage smells are okay! YEAH!

  9. The fact that the female-identified alone are thought to be the bearers of such bad scents while those who are not get a pass just underscores the deeply rooted sexism and body-negativity in our society.

    Hell yes! This has always pissed me off. It's as if a man's "bad scents" are funny and a woman's "bad scents" are concerning. The only time a man's genital odor is brought up in our culture, it's for laughs. Female genital odor has supported an entire industry that breeds off of socialized insecurities and gendered body shaming. Thank you for this.

  10. I have long desired for there to be a body wash marketed to men called "WASH YOUR ASS TOO, GUYS!!" Many gay men are more aware of this because of our penchant for butt-sexin'. But let me tell you, there's plenty of straight guys who could stand to learn this lesson.

  11. I've never understood this. It's a cunt! It's supposed to smell like cunt, not baby powder! If there's a strong unpleasant odor, go see a doctor; otherwise, leave it the hell alone.

    People–both men and women–smell like people. This is not a bad thing.

  12. there is a new men's product called fresh balls. The web site is hysterical and they advertise in the back of men's magazines. It was only a matter of time…

    BTW, my partner LOVES the way i smell, and so do i šŸ™‚

  13. On a somewhat related note — the smell associated with being on your period is caused by the menstrual flow being exposed to the air and decaying. That can be avoided by using a menstrual cup (which is worn internally, so there's no exposure to air).

  14. Yes, my dear husband routinely grabs our babies diaper wipes and scrubs himself down before joining me in bed…I let him know gently years ago that he isn't as de-scent as he thinks he is…but know he knows the drill…when the natural body emulsions need a helping hand…

  15. I remember being a teenager and my girlfriends and I being dually naive, lost and scared and excited about our sexuality, when one day my friend was changing & I saw her vagina was shaved completely! I had never seen anything like that and said, ‘! Why did you do that?!’ And she said, ‘You have to otherwise it smells bad… think about it, all that hair traps all your odors in and you’ll smell gross.’ I was naive & racked this over in my head… ‘bad smells? Do I have bad smells?’ It’s sad to say, but I definitely had times when i was worried about these ‘bad smells’ women just seemed to have, or so I was told, and would spray perfume in my underwear before leaving for somewhere! Women and girls are being SO mislead! I’m now a grown, young woman, 27 years old & feel so proud of my big bush, body & smells! My boyfriend salivates and begs to go down on me, loves my taste & smell! F*ck these negative ads & the negative self-talk that does not only affect women, but is quietly killing the little girls and damaging the little boys who will grow up to be sexually-active adults together… We need to speak out & fix these problems now! I have been wondering why this kind of stuff, and real sex issues like porn, etc., are not covered in sex ed!?

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