Every once in a while the internet is abuzz being horrified by vintage ads for Lysol brand douche. The ads seem to suggest that women are repulsing their husbands with odorous vaginas caused by neglected feminine hygiene. In fact, it only looks like this to us today because we don’t know the secret code.
These ads aren’t frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly. According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism. Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 (for married couples) and 1972 (for single people). These Lysol ads are actually for contraception. The campaign made Lysol the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression.
Of course, we’re not wrong to be horrified today. Lysol was incredibly corrosive to the vagina; in fact, it’s recipe was significantly more dangerous than the one used today. Hundreds of people died from exposure to Lysol, including women who were using it to kill sperm. It was also, to add insult to injury, wholly ineffective as a contraceptive.
Here’s to safe, legal, effective contraception for all.
Via Buzzfeed and @CreativeTweets.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Yrro Simyarin — September 27, 2013
One of the stranger finds I made in remodeling our old house was a box of Chi-ches-ter's Diamond Brand Pills, formerly Chi-ches-ter's Pennyroyal Pills, from the early 20th century. The marketing and instructions on the product were incredibly vague, other than being for 'womanly' concerns.
After a little research, it turns out they were sold partially to relieve menstrual cramps, and also as an under-the-counter abortifacient. Pennyroyal is poisonous, but it is possible (if incredibly dangerous) to take enough to kill a fetus but not enough to kill the mother.
Some more research turns out that, thankfully, this would never happen from those pills. The name was changed following the creation of the FDA, which required truth in drug labeling. And the pills never contained any Pennyroyal at all -- simply some sugar and a little bit of Acetaminophen.
I'll second your cheer for safe, legal contraception methods.
Alex ODell — September 27, 2013
Reminds me of the heinous vagina-bleaching commercial from India. Not only is your vagina too hairy, it's also not bright enough! Like it's been working in the sun all day or something! How low class.
Gabriel — September 28, 2013
Why do people get "it's" and "its" wrong all the time? I'd hope for better from a lecturer.
[links] Link salad wanders into the weekend | jlake.com — September 28, 2013
[...] The Secret Life of Vintage Lysol Douche Ads — Because the conservative agenda kills. (Seriously, there is a strong political connection to this culture piece, and it’s about female deaths during the era when conservative values made contraception illegal.) [...]
mouskatel — September 29, 2013
I don't understand your tone in this post. Your italics seems to suggest a kind of snark, like you're not really buying the author's argument. But then in the end, it seems like you are into this idea. Which one is it?
The Round-Up: Oct. 1, 2013 | Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog — October 1, 2013
[...] Lisa Wade at Sociological Images gives us some examples and analysis of vintage lysol douche ads. [...]
Postcards from the culture wars (10.7) — October 7, 2013
[...] “The campaign made Lysol the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression.” [...]
Ben English — October 7, 2013
Why would anyone put Lysol on their genitals O_O
I cringe just thinking about it.
Majolica — May 24, 2014
Actually, I question some of this information. Lysol wasn't used for contraception, it was indeed used as a cleansing douche.
I know this because my husband's great aunt and uncle were for many years the editors of the Ladies' Home Journal, which was rather an exalted position at the time, and when they were quite old, they told us the story of a Lysol ad they received.
Interestingly back then, Beatrice and Bruce Gould wanted to the magazine to be one that respected women and their intelligence. They would publish poetry - good poetry - and other thoughtful pieces on the day, as well as the articles one might expect. And they carefully went through every ad that was submitted.
When one of this Lysol ads came in, they hesitated. They contacted several Manhattan gynecologists who said, yes, it was safe and could be used in this way. Maybe the women who were injured used it incorrectly? I don't know.
But in the end, the Goulds decided not to run the ad. Perhaps they thought it was a little over-the-top for the magazine, although they themselves were very cosmopolitan and sophisticated people.
All I know is that a legion of gynecologists could tell me this was safe to do, and I'd still never dream of it!
rudy hodges — June 1, 2014
yes girls need a lysol douche and their ass whipped - which is why so many gilrs are so confused - they need a hard ass fuck and the living shit knocked out of them about once a month.
Thinkglobalfuture — June 3, 2014
My grandmother was a nurse in the 20's and after. She told me that Lysol was often used before chlorinated city water to purify the water for a douche - a teaspoon per quart or something like that. She also told me that some women used it full strength - for various reasons.
Guest — June 10, 2014
Birth control was NOT illegal in the U.S. until 1965. The federal ban was lifted in 1938, but many states and municipalities continued to outlaw it. The Supreme Court decisions cited in this article struck down laws prohibiting birth control in Connecticut and Massachusetts, respectively, establishing a legal right to birth control.
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[…] in Detroit in the 1950s to birth control advertisements in the 1960s (leading to some fairly disturbing discoveries, in some cases). Based on these interactions, I wanted to compile a short list of recurring […]
For the Love of Goop Don’t Steam Your Vagina - Bang Bang Attack Bang Bang Attack — January 30, 2015
[…] Let’s start with the idea that one’s uterus needs cleansing. (I’m a bit distracted by that “et al” there. Does Paltrow think her fallopian tubes are getting tidied up in the process, too?) It does not. The female reproductive tract does not need to be cleaned at all. In fact, methods of feminine cleansing like douching can do more harm than good. Women should no more steam their vaginas than flush them with Lysol. […]
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What was. What will. After the Lysol moment in history. - No1GeekFun — April 25, 2020
[…] not to inject or drink Lysol or Dettol. There was a time when shameful in women's magazines for the Lysol tincture was advertised, with which the "feminine hygiene" can be improved. What sounds like […]
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Kris — January 15, 2022
To comment #1, acetaminophen (or paracetamol as it is known as in certain other countries) is an incredibly dangerous drug. (for being sold OTC)
Doses as low as starting at about 8000mg have caused irreversible liver damage and/or death.
An Extra Strength Tylenol (one brand of acetaminophen) contains 500 mg. People typically take two of those. It is not uncommon that a patient is given 3000 to 4000 mg/24 hrs.
So, as one dose doubling is potentially fatal---just a little acetaminophen--could be reason for concern. Also, acetaminophen is frequently compounded with other drugs (often abbreviated just APAP) so one's cough syrup, sleep aid, or other painkiller may be a source that needs to be considered.
Also, I wonder, how old was the 'medicine' in question? Pre-FDA? Acetaminophen is a relatively new drug ( a modification based on phenacetin which was even more liver-toxic.)
I realize that this comment is a little off topic--yet, I hope to share some awareness about acetaminophen.
Finally, acetaminophen is an excellent fever reliever and perfectly safe when 24h max dose (from all sources) is not exceeded. Yet, unlike with most drugs the amount needed to cause harm with acetaminophen is very low relative to a 'normal' dose, and death from it is a protracted and excruciating one.
charlestrevino — February 20, 2022
After further investigation, it was discovered that they were sold both to ease menstrual cramps and as an over-the-counter abortifacient. Although pennyroyal is deadly, it is conceivable (though extremely risky) to consume enough to kill a fetus but not the mother 2 player games. More investigation reveals that, luckily, this would never occur as a result of those drugs. Following the establishment of the FDA, which mandated truth in medication labeling, the name was altered. The tablets also didn't contain any Pennyroyal at all, only sugar and a trace of acetaminophen.
jiingdoonge — June 3, 2022
I totally agree with your point, your suggestion includes valuable points, I would love to follow all of your FDA suggestions, just relax and play friday night funkin
LG — August 19, 2022
This point is interesting but doesn’t feel particularly well-supported. What evidence is there for this ‘secret code’? I could absolutely see it being common wisdom that douching after sex would prevent pregnancy. That’s not the same as contraception nor would it have been outlawed. Bad history
SB — September 4, 2022
My grandmother died in 1942 at age 21 from an illegal abortion using
Lysol. No joke. It's on her death certificate.
From Lysol To Lightening Creams: The Problematic History Of ‘Feminine Hygiene’ Products | Feminism in India — September 20, 2022
[…] as a douche – was originally a contraceptive. During the Great Depression, when birth control was illegal in the United States, Lysol was a popular choice for […]
semu — December 3, 2022
It was not illegal to use birth control in the United States until 1965. It was lifted by the federal government in 1938, but many states and municipalities continued to prohibit it. Connecticut and Massachusetts passed fnf onlinemeasures prohibiting birth control that were struck down by the Supreme Court in this article.
Sandra Fazio — December 10, 2022
In 1970 I tried to buy contraceptive foam.from a CVS drugstore in Kent Ohio, ( A coolge town...Kent State University) oI put box on counter ,to get my wallet out.
Suddenly two older men are standing behind the counter sternly staring at me,pushing the female clerk out of the way( before she could ring me up).
One was the store manager,the other was the pharmacist.
The manager demanded of me ..Are you married!!!?.... ( both men had these stern, glaring looks on their faces. I felt like I was a victim of the
When I said no,( I was confused as to why these men were standing there,demanding my marital status)the pharmacist grabbed that box off the counter so fast ,you'd think it was illegal.
The manager then informed me he doesn't sell contraceptives to UNMARRIED WOMEN !! Then demanded I leave his store !
Muttering something about that being a decent ,moral business,and making some very derogatory remarks about damn hippies and LOOSE WOMAN !
I'm I'm surprised they didn't brand my forehead with the word WHORE
It was eye-opening. ....and scarey as hell.
The American version of the religious police in the Middle East...the ones who threw acid on women's faces who weren't covered properly,or hair showed. When the return to the Muslim women being forced to cover up,stay home unless accompanied by a male relative.or their husbands,etc.
Birth control info was a very dirty subject..Even for married women. How DARE you interfere with God's decision to have you reproduce!
Back then,It was not uncommon for single women who were afraid they were pregnant ,to drink or douche with Lysol, turpentine, watered down bleach to abort an embryo. To be unmarried and pregnant was one of the most shameful things you could do. It destroyed your reputation forever..Destroyed your family' s image and acceptance in the town. Destroyed your single sisters chances of getting married. It was as if your disgrace made them no longer desirable as marriage prospects. Most girls were sent away to Unwed Mother's Homes,under guise of taking care of a sick Aunt's children/ house until she was well. Lot of very sick Aunt's back then.
The babies taken away. Parents made the decision. Girls had no say so.
This was in 1969's. LATE 196O's. I knew teen girls who tried everything to abort a surprise pregnancy . More fearful of parents finding out then drinking things that could kill you,using wire hangers,being pushed down stairs / kicked or punched in abdomen ,HARD.DOUCHING WITH SUPER HOT WATER . I knew unmarried girls and young women who resorted to these things. Imagine an unmarried Muslim girl getting pregnant in the Middle East right now. The fear in American single women was the same. Father's would beat the hell out of their daughters,call them skuts. Some threw them out and disowned them. This was in late 69' s and 79' s where I lived in Ohio. It was such a misogynistic time still. Women were second class citizens. Men could beat their children,their wives. I saw cops go to my neighbors condo,due to phone call. Man their beat his wife weekly. We watched cops come,order the husband and wife to come outside. Sunny ,midday Sunday. Wife was severely beaten,crying,face swollen,bloodied. Cops said...Someone called and complained about noise here. Keep it down. Don't make us come back out.
Nothing done because wife beating,marital rape, child beating was no big thing..Considered okay in a marriage. No big deal. Those two Euclid,Ohio cops never even asked the beaten,bloody woman if she needed an ambulance. Never asked her husband anything about her condition or what happened.
All of this wasn't that long ago..The beating incident was in 1975. I had just moved into a condo. I was divorced, in my mind 20' s. I was shocked how the cops acted like this was a normal, thing . No big deal. I'd been fighting for years for Birth control for all women,nommatter marital status. For women's right to divorce,and get jobs. Employers were against hiring women. Said they'd get married,then pregnant and leave the job. Couldn't get a credit card unless married and husband applied for with his name on it too... first.
Clinton talked about being refused a credit card in 1974, in only her name. They wouldn't issue unless her husbands(Bill) name was on it. She said she made MORE MONEY ,at that time than Bill did! All this was only 42 years ago !!!
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