Gynogirl Reacts to Vagisil ® Controversy: Vaginal Health and Menstrual Shaming
Recently, Vagisil unleashed a new product into the market of feminine hygiene–and I am not speaking of sanitary pads, tampons or cups. The new OMV ® line targets teenage girls with their wipes, wash and serum products. The feminine hygiene industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that usually only preys on the insecurities of women who have been indoctrinated to believe that their vagina should smell a certain way and we should feel shame around these issues. Now they have taken on vulnerable teenagers in a ploy to empower them by overcoming “period funk”and making their vag smell like orange creamsicles.
You got that right? Many of my colleagues and friends who are outspoken on social media, such as @mamdoctorjones and Dr. Jen Gunter, to name a few have already taken to calling out Vagisil® for its predatory products. I am here to reiterate this and also give an additional perspective as a woman of color, daughter of immigrants and Muslim woman.
First of all, this predatory marketing is rampant on social media.
You will always find a celebrity or an influencer that assures you that steaming, juicing or placing a large foreign object into your vagina is your way to reclaim and rejuvenate your vagina. News Flash, your vagina is a self-cleaning organ that does not need all the pomp and circumstance that someone will try to sell you for a net benefit to themselves and to the detriment of my patients.
Believe me, I know. I am a gynecologist that specializes in all sorts of vulvar dermatologic conditions and sexual medicine and I see the adverse consequences to your vulvar health every single day in my office. Not only that, I see the consequences of using these products or douches in your vagina causing the pH and normal healthy vaginal bacteria to change resulting in infections such as bacterial vaginosis or urinary tract infections.
So I am here to implore my readers not to utilize these products and if your vulva is itchy, red or swollen or you have a change in discharge color or consistency, vaginal itching or burning, please see your friendly neighborhood gynecologist to figure out what is wrong and do not visit your local CVS or Walgreens feminine hygiene aisle and contribute to this industry.
As a woman of color and a daughter of immigrants, I must say the education around menstruation and vaginal and vulvar health was lacking.
The culture of silence is rampant in our communities around vaginal and vulvar health and menstrual shaming is relentless. Growing up as a Muslim, I knew religiously we were exempt from prayer and fasting during our menstrual cycle. However, did you know many girls and women will fake fast during Ramadan due to the shame they feel around menstruation? In some small villages around the world, there are still menstrual huts for women to leave their house and enter a hut during menstruation for belief that they are dirty. According to UNICEF, in the Indian subcontinent, 93% of girls will miss one or two days of school a month secondary to menstrual shame, lack of sanitary products to deal with menses, and over 70% of those patients have periods pain. So, in addition to a negative stigma and shame, girls often have their education compromised.
Additionally, access to sanitary products is a problem when over 60 million people in India may not have an indoor running toilet. How will they use tampons or pads if they are not available?
The same can be said for the American girls and women in poverty or underserved areas.
How can they deal with their menses if they have no access to products? How can they overcome shame they have been carrying for decades around their lack of cleanliness?
The shame about a normal part of your reproductive cycle has to end. Access to medical care when your cycle is abnormal or painful needs to be made available.
We must learn to educate our next generation of children on the natural reproductive issue of menstruation so that they are not stigmatized any longer. In these situations, when it is not discussed, children receive lots of misinformation from media and social media and end up using unnecessary products.
The bottom line.
We must support organizations that are available to educate children about their reproductive health, including vulvar and vaginal health as well as menstruation. I have two young daughters and a son. My goal for them is to never feel shame around their menstruation and my son will hopefully never make them feel that way either . It is only through education and awareness and increasing access to both as well as appropriate medical care, tha t we will be able to break the stigmas related to women’s health issues . This way, our daughters will no longer be prey for the predatory industries that profit from their insecurities and lack of awareness.