What the Hell is Feminine Freshness?

Last night, I received a text from my mom about a new product from Monistat – what they’re calling Complete Care Stay Fresh Gel. She was incensed. As she rightly pointed out, any unusual odor should be treated by a doctor, unless you are so prone to infections that you feel comfortable treating them yourself. But this doesn’t appear to be about actual health concerns. (I’m about to use the s-word, so please forgive me.) This is about vagina shaming.

I refuse to buy into the idea that vaginas or vulvas should smell “fresh.” It’s a meaty pocket, often surrounded by hair, that usually doesn’t get a lot of fresh air. It secretes its own particular fluid, designed to keep it healthy. It facilitates the seduction of a partner by exuding pheromones. It houses the clitoris and the G-spot, the centers of sexual pleasure! The vagina is not a rose garden, it is not the smell in spring air after it rains. It shouldn’t have to be. I will not be ashamed of the fact that my vagina smells like a vagina.

Monistat attempts to address concerns over the health effects of their new product. They proudly announce it’s paraben free! and contains no fragrances. Both of those things are good — they’re things I look for in a lubricant, after all. The fact that nothing in it is bad for our vaginal health is not comforting when you consider how damaging products like this can be for our mental health and our self image. Would you even wonder about how normal the smell of your vagina is if douching had never been invented? Long ago, this industry made up a problem so that they could sell us a solution.

If you’re having a legitimate vaginal health problem, there is nothing that Monistat Complete Care Stay Fresh Bullshit can do for you. Their traditional antifungal creams are definitely useful for women prone to infections that cannot afford to or do not have time to see a doctor. But this? This is not useful. This is not helping women. I would estimate that the majority of women purchasing this gel are doing so out of embarrassment. They have been convinced that their vagina is not normal. That vaginas smell bad. That “feminine odor” is something worth giving them your money for, and that “feminine freshness” is a thing that exists.

Monistat is profiting off of our insecurities. They are banking on a lack of anatomical and sexual education. They are cashing checks with smelly pussy jokes in the memo line.

Sarah Nitchkey has been working as a sex educator since 2010. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor's in Economics in 2012, mostly because Sex Toys and Dating was not an option. Currently, she's working as the Content Manager for KIIROO, the latest thing in teledildonics. Her blog, Marvelous-Darling.com, has been featured in Brazilian Glamour and on Kinkly.com; her proud parents tell everyone about it at parties. She has been writing about and reviewing sex toys for over two years and plans to continue her solo sexual escapades until someone pries her Lelo Mona 2 from her cold, dead hands. Oh, and she lives with her ever-patient husband and smelly old rescue dog in Kiel, Germany.
  • C_Mads_Go

    Don’t forget that the whole advertising niche for feminine freshness included telling women to douche with bleach http://forgottenhistoryblog.com/lysol-used-to-be-advertised-as-a-feminine-hygiene-product-and-birth-control/

  • http://www.theflounce.com AlexisO

    I loved this article! Fuck that feminine freshness bullshit. Let’s ask Monistat where their dick freshening gels and creams are.

  • Blahblee

    Monistat has produced these little educational videos, with an ob/gyn who has a few lines, and some actress-y women discussing feminine odor issues. They’re so earnest, it’s lame. This one is titled “Understanding Feminine Odor.” It really didn’t help me to understand it at all. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdxoH0y1bVE

    • botenana

      I, too, am also confused.

      I mean.. the Viking has never come in after a day at work and asked me if he doesn’t smell quite so fresh. He’s never come up after going down and said to me, “uhm, can you take a shower?”.

      While in the summer time I use baby powder to help with sweat, it’s not limited to my vagina – I use it under my boobs as well.

      I just don’t get it. And I’m not looking forward to having this convo with Sassypants at ALL. She’s already confused enough about the BS that she hears and me trying to give her facts and let her make a decision, the last thing we need is the whole “Does swampcrotch really exist” debate.

      • TheeLoveCats

        Mr. LoveCats looooves my “natural smell” and I feel very fortunate about that. It’s never really been an issue for any guy I’ve been with, except one. He was a little sheltered in ways – had only had sex with his high school sweetheart who later became his wife (and eventually, ex-wife). I was the first person he dated after they were divorced and he used to ask me to “wash” beforehand because “isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” Um. No? Apparently his one and only before me was extremely ocd about everything, including having squeaky clean genitals. To be fair (I guess) he also would “wash” ahead of time, since she basically trained him to do so. I was VERY confused when he excused himself to “wash” before the first time we had sex. O_o I suppose he was equally as confused over me just being cool with my vajay being “unwashed.”

  • http://katcanblog.wordpress.com/ Kat Pao

    “The vagina is not a rose garden, it is not the smell in spring air after
    it rains. It shouldn’t have to be. I will not be ashamed of the fact
    that my vagina smells like a vagina.”
    Hell to the motherfucking RIGHT! We should put that shit on a t-shirt!! Dude, my cousin and I used to work out with these two gay guys (I mention their sexuality because A- that’s what made me not slap them as they perhaps were not too familiar with the female equipment and B- to show that male priviledge and misogyny affects EVERYONE regardless of sexual orientation … But I digress.)
    Anyway so we used to work out with them and one of them, let’s call him Michael, would always say things like “Eww omg girl I can SMELL your vajayjay” in this mock horror voice like he was smelling the plague or some shit. And this a constant thing he did to my cousin to the point where she started buying those stupid deodorizing sprays. I explained to him how vaginas worked plenty of times but he was always just like “Eww” and my cousin was brainwashed that she could “smell her vagina all the time” and now uses those things and is more prone to infections. I try reasoning with her but I tell you, BRAINWASHED!!
    This stuff is everywhere, in my teens I always remember seeing those commercials about the “not so fresh feeling” and often wondering “omg do I smell or something down there?” I thought about it more than I should have and being from a traditional Colombian family; we didn’t speak about that stuff (in fact, my grandmother still believes in douching.)
    Sorry for the long comment it’s just that this topic INCENSES ME!!!