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October 31, 2019

When Women Used Lysol as Birth Control: 20 Shocking Ads for the Popular, Dangerous, and Ineffective Antiseptic Douche

Every once in a while the internet is abuzz being horrified by vintage ads for Lysol brand douche. The ads seem to suggest that women are repulsing their husbands with odorous vaginas caused by neglected feminine hygiene. In fact, it only looks like this to us today because we don’t know the secret code.

In the 1920s, ads for Lysol as a feminine hygiene product started appearing in women’s magazines, encouraging housewives to wash their genitals with disinfectant liquid.

“A man marries a woman because he loves her. So instead of blaming him if married love begins to cool, she should question herself,” read one ad. “Is she truly trying to keep her husband and herself eager, happy married lovers? One most effective way to safeguard her dainty feminine allure is by practicing complete feminine hygiene as provided by vaginal douches with a scientifically correct preparation like ‘Lysol.’”

Clearly, Lysol’s ads spread a seriously antiquated and problematic viewpoint that a husband’s infidelity or dissatisfaction with a marriage could only be due to his wife’s failings ― like her odors or fertility.

As another ad reads, “Sue was furious at Tom for the way he’d been treating her. But she was really to blame! She should have known better, for she was no stranger to feminine hygiene. It was just that she had been neglectful!”

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.

Here’s to safe, legal, effective contraception for all.

(via Sociological Images)


  1. another repeat gallery

  2. These ads are pretty scary, for sure, but I'm skeptical of the historian's assertion that "feminine hygiene" is a euphemism for birth control, because spermicides were available by doctor's prescription from around 1920. I actually used to have a pamphlet about them that was from the 1930's.




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