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Why are brands still telling us our vaginas should smell like flowers?

WORDS BY TIFFANY FORBES

Your vagina will never smell like the inside of a florist, and more importantly, it shouldn’t.

Out of habit, as we emerge from Melbourne’s seven-day lockdown I’ve found myself prioritising old comforts. This means my screen time has well and truly clocked 10 hours a day (and regrettably, my TikTok usage has made up for at least half of it). Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom.

On my quest to drown out the news cycle, I was presented with a fascinating video on my TikTok For You Page, where a teenage girl pointed out that women and vagina-havers walk into supermarkets only to be met with an entire aisle dedicated to female hygiene. 


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Think Femfresh wipes, PH balancers, scented pads, liners and god forbid, the dreaded douche. But when it comes to male hygiene, you hardly ever see anything beyond a can of Lynx Africa and perhaps some ‘cool ice’ scented 3-in-1 wash.

It’s not like those who possess a Y chromosome are suddenly exempt from odour, so why isn’t this reflected on supermarkets’ shelves? When I think back to high school, the expectations society had when it came to my vagina were almost on par with the expectations that accompanied the stressful final years of schooling.

And that in itself presents a massive problem. Does my vagina smell like flowers? Is it entirely hairless from front to back? Does it taste like fruit or candy? These are all questions my 16-year-old brain was conditioned to ask itself. And for what?

Hours upon hours were spent on Google looking up ‘How to get rid of vaginal odour’ and ‘How to always smell good down there’. Spoiler alert (one that I learned five years too late): your vagina will never smell like a flower, and as a matter of fact, it shouldn’t. 

For a body part that is almost entirely self-cleaning (yes, folks, your vagina is a balanced self-sufficient ecosystem of its own), I think it’s ironic how many products profit off claims they’ll leave your coochie smelling delicious all day long.

But when are we going to talk about the fact it’s a vagina and not a donut? If you take nothing else from this article, at least remember this: a healthy vagina will always possess a natural odour and it’s time we destigmatise that.

In saying that, if you’re experiencing a notably strong or pungent vaginal odour, that’s a surefire sign to see a doctor instead of having a night in with some scented body wash. Why? This could be an indicator of an infection or a sexually transmitted disease. 

As if our spirits weren’t already trampled by the unrelenting male gaze, it is with a heavy heart I inform you that discussing how we smell down there made me realise just how incredibly stringent the cleanliness expectations that are typically enforced on women are. 

You only have to walk a mere three more steps down our good ol’ feminine hygiene aisle to find wads of wax strips and fancy shaving tools because apparently, pubic hair is disgusting too.

I’ll admit, I’ve let Brazilian appointments claim a solid portion of my life and I have well and truly fallen victim to some odd razor bumps and ingrown hairs. I used to tell myself, “I feel fresher when I’m hairless.” But do I?

Do I really find enjoyment in ripping a bed of hair out of my most sensitive areas, sometimes even so much so that it bleeds? Only now do I realise it’s through years of patriarchal conditioning and perhaps a dash of undetected internalised misogyny that I feel this way. 

On a broader note, it’s a shame these vaginal expectations even extend to the look of vaginas and vulvas too. For example, we’re told they should be tight, the skin needs to be plump, the colouring should be consistent and the vulva symmetrical. But that is far from the case.

In a paper studying the range of female genital appearance, researchers found that “Women vary widely in genital dimensions”, but that “Detailed accurate representations of female genitals are rare… although representations of female nudity are common.”

In an article for The Guardian, writer Rose George sums up our worrying cultural obsession with ‘perfect’ genitals. “Rates for cosmetic genital surgery are soaring above rates of genital disease diagnosissomething is deformed, but it is with [our] thoughts, not [our] genitals”.

So I call on everyone to take a cold hard look at the expectations we have when it comes to vaginas.

Gwyneth Paltrow might have convinced you that a vaginal steaming procedure and shoving a $66 rock up your privates was the pinnacle of vaginal health. The Kardashians might have influenced you to clear the supermarket of pineapple products just so your vagina tastes like a tropical fruit.

That silly wellness company might have led you to believe that you need to insert Passion Dust intimacy capsules into your hoo-ha to make your vaginal fluids sparkle (I wish I was kidding). But a healthy, clean vagina usually doesn’t require any of these things.

And for my teenage self who would walk down those supermarket aisles in angst, I want to say that it’s normal to experience discharge, it’s okay if your vagina doesn’t taste like something off the production line of a bakery and – say it with me – it’s okay if your vagina has a natural odour. And for the love of God, ditch the expensive wipes and scented soaps immediately. 

For more information on how to properly and safely care for your vagina, head here.

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