Update: Vagisil has responded to the negative reaction to its teen products with this message.
As if teen girls don’t already have a complicated relationship with their ever-changing bodies, Vagisil is marketing a new product to make them feel even worse and create shame.
Vagisil, the company that makes washes and wipes for women’s “intimate” areas, has launched a new line called OMV!, aimed specifically at teenagers. Its star products—the “All Day Fresh Wash” and “No-Sweat Wipettes”—are apparently meant to rid young women of, among other things, their “period funk.”
It’s long been known that products aimed at cleaning and removing odours from women’s vulvas are completely unnecessary at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. “Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ and has its own protective substances,” says the Canadian Women’s Health Network, a national organization aimed at improving the health and lives of girls and women in Canada. “The safest and best way to clean your vagina is to let it clean itself.” The recommendation for one's vulva—the exterior part of the vagina—is to use water alone. The organization says to avoid scented soaps—which is exactly what Vagisil is. “Some women find that using any soap at all can be irritating.”
Exactly. So the fact that this line of products is being marketed to teens—and along with wording to suggest their natural odours are unpleasant—is just criminal.
No one agrees more than Dr. Jen Gunter. The best-selling author and OB/GYN took to Twitter yesterday to raise awareness about the harmful effects of products like these and the way they are marketed.
“Hey @vagisil,” she said. “Going to call you out here for this predatory line of products aimed at teen girls. Why do you think teen vulvas need special cleaning? To be prepped for men? Because they are dirty?”
Hey @vagisil going to call you out here for this predatory line of products aimed at teen girls. Why do you think teen vulvas need special cleaning? To be prepped for men? Because they are dirty. Anxiously awaiting your answer as are all my followers pic.twitter.com/oVQf5XBx71— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) February 5, 2021
“Do you REALLY want teens to swill in their vaginas?” she goes on to ask. “You are literally marketing it as vaginal health. This will damage lactobacilli and mucus and increase the risk of STIs if exposed.”
Vagisil, it should be said, seems well aware that neither teen girls nor women should be shamed for the way their vulvas smell (although not all girls have vulvas, and not all people with vulvas are girls). “It's important to know that every vagina has its own unique scent... It's common for your vagina to have a slight odor,” said the company in a reply to a tweet.
But if that’s the case, why does it market a product meant to “defunk” that odour? The company also defends itself by saying that it worked with teens to develop the product, “based on the unique needs they expressed to us concerning odor.” Sounds like BS to us. If teens are concerned about their body’s natural scent, they should be encouraged to accept and embrace the scent, not feel ashamed of it and remove it in order to feel “comfortable and confident.”
If you're thinking, "Nobody is upset with deodorant companies, and they, too, encourage women to hide their body's natural odours," keep in mind that it's really not an apples to apples comparison. Among other things, deodorant is marketed to both men and women. Why aren't there products that make men feel bad for the smell of their genitals?
Vagisil, the fact that your product exists in the first place is questionable at best. Marketing them to vulnerable teens crosses the line.