Thursday, June 29, 2017
While listening to the CBC radio program “Under the Influence” on satellite radio the other day, I was astonished to learn something I never knew about the common household product, Lysol: in the late 1920s it was marketed as a feminine hygiene product! The disinfectant was promoted as a vaginal douche to kill intimate germs and odors and safeguard “dainty feminine allure.” Its active ingredient, benzalkonium chloride, is classed as a Category III antiseptic by the FDA and is a known irritant. The formula was even more concentrated back in the ‘20s than it is today, resulting in women becoming poisoned, experiencing severe burns and some even dying.
It turns out, however, that Lysol ads were not even really about cleanliness; rather “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism for birth control. At the time, using birth control or even talking about it was taboo. According to the CBC program, this fueled sales of “under the counter” spermicides like Lysol. In fact, Lysol became the best selling method of contraception during the Great Depression.
Fortunately, times have changed and so has knowledge and discourse about contraception. Women today have many more birth control options as well as safer real feminine hygiene products – and that’s the poise that modern medical knowledge gives!
Judith Wolf, MD Associate Director, WHEP