birth control misogyny vaginas

Lysol, in MY vagina? Why those old ads urging women to douche with Lysol are EVEN WORSE than you think

By David Futrelle

With safe, legal abortion and even some forms of contraception under siege, it’s worth revisiting one of the most shamefully misogynistic decades-long ad campaigns in advertising history, when Lysol — you know, the cleaning product — was marketed as a great thing to douche with.

If the idea of squirting Lysol into vaginas isn’t horrifying enough in itself, it gets worse. These ad campaigns weren’t just trying to convince women that killing the good bacteria in their vaginas would make them smell better (it doesn’t); they were also — perhaps even primarily — trying to hint that Lysol was an effective form of post-sex birth control. (It’s not.) Hence the references to using it “every time” in some Lysol ads — see below.

As sociologist Lisa Wade notes:

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.

But this is what desperate women have resorted to when they didn’t have reproductive rights.

Here are some of these old, horrifying ads for Lysol. I’ve done my best to clean up the images but they may be hard to read unless you enlarge them; click on the pics for a direct link to the images themselves.

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2 years ago


No, it only counts as “murder” if it’s inside a uterus-haver’s body.

“The egg in the lab doesn’t apply,” Clyde Chambliss, state senator and sponsor of the abortion bill, said during the Alabama legislative debate. “It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

But what if the lab tech is a woman, huh? Should we go after her then? Surely, that a missed opportunity. /snidity


OT, and I know I don’t comment here much, but I thought everyone should know: I came out to my parents as trans about two hours ago, and it went far better than I was expecting.

Congratulations on doing this! And the better than expected reaction! Fantastic!

My parents are not at all religious, but I have no plans to come out to them because I don’t want to deal with the consequences of their reactions and the ripple effect. So I admire your choice and actions.

2 years ago

Congratulations Mabret! I can’t imagine how much courage that must have taken.

epitome of incomprehensibility

@Mabret – Congratulations!

I was looking at that first ad and I can’t help scratching my head at “Her husband would have traded most of her virtues to correct this one fault.” Um…so she’s “lovely, efficient, economical, affectionate and cheerful” but the fact that she apparently has a smelly vagina overshadows all that? OK, hyperbole to make a point, but it kiiiind of makes the dude look shallow and stupid.

I guess it makes more sense if the ad is also signaling Lysol’s contraceptive use (ugh) because having children when you don’t want them would be much more serious. But nowhere does it say what she wants.

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