“Hail to the V,” the new Summer’s Eve ad campaign, is trying to sell us their line of feminine washes by telling us just how great the vagina is. As Christie Thompson explains, whether or not the ads are actually empowering is up for debate. But even if Summer’s Eve had managed to put together the most incredible, pro-women’s empowerment campaign in the history of feminism, it still wouldn’t be okay. A company like Summer’s Eve using pro-vagina empowerment to sell douche products is like a cigarette company saying, “Lungs are so amazing! Why don’t you treat them to a cigarette?”
At the end of the day, Summer’s Eve is a company that sells douches, products that are absolutely, positively, NOT necessary for your vagina and probably pretty unhealthy for it. The vagina is a naturally self-cleaning organ and regular douching can cause yeast infections by upsetting the normal pH balance. The perfume and other chemicals can also irritate the skin. Additionally, masking your usual smell with perfume makes it hard to notice a change in odor, which is an important signifier that you may have an infection needing medical attention. Some women turn to douches to cover up a bad odor, not realizing that they need treatment.
Douching has been associated with a number of serious medical conditions including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), bacterial vaginosis, cervical cancer, low birth weight, preterm birth, HIV transmission, sexually transmitted diseases, ectopic pregnancy, recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis and infertility. Though the physiology of this association is not definitively proven, experts speculate that douching removes the normal vaginal flora (the “good” bacteria) that protect us from more harmful pathogens thus encouraging infections that, left untreated, can have serious medical outcomes. There’s a reason feminists have embraced the word “douche” as our insult of choice.
However, this causal relationship is exceeding difficult to prove (requiring many costly scientific studies) and as a result, there are no official medical or public health advisory policies regarding douching or regulation of douche products. (This statement was made in 2002, but a search for new policies suggested there has not been any progress made since then.) Still, according to Jenny L. Martino and Sten H. Vermund’s 2002 article in the Epidemiologic Review, there is near-universal agreement that douching is not necessary for vaginal hygiene, and even broader agreement that pregnant women should not douche.
Traditionally, Summer’s Eve sold douches by making women insecure that their vaginas didn’t smell like a “fresh, summer’s eve.” For decades the company has sold the idea that you can only be confident if you’ve recently washed your vagina. Summer’s Eve even went so far as to say that douching is an important first step in asking your boss for a raise. Now it looks like they are taking a new approach to appeal to us savvy feminist types: instead of telling us that our vaginas smell bad and need perfume, they’re telling us our vaginas are awesome and deserve “special care.” But Summer’s Eve products are not what your vagina wants or needs. What it wants is for you to love it the way it is, and all it needs is soap and water.
So, as great as it is to see someone recognizing the vagina as the great and wondrous thing that it is, it doesn’t change the fact that Summer’s Eve sells products that are definitely unnecessary and potentially a health hazard. This ad campaign isn’t a “Hail to the V”; it’s a “Fail to the V.” A pro-vagina empowerment message is well and good, but until it’s being used to sell a safe and healthy product, it’s all just lip service.