Lysol douche ads urging women to douche with Lysol were a cornerstone of feminine hygiene in the 1920s-1960s, but also a coded contraception technique.
In the 1920s Lysol was the predominant manufacturer of antiseptic chemicals used as disinfectants in medical facilities, industry, and private homes. In an effort to expand market share and to increase demand for its product, the manufacturers of the disinfectant and a distributor, Lehn & Fink, began to advertise their product as a douche solution to prevent vaginal infection and to remove purported genital odor.
A less obvious message, but one which was eagerly embraced by many women in the pre-birth control pill era, was also present in the advertisements: douching with Lysol was a form of birth control, with a coded contraception message in many ads.
The advertisement campaigns also urged women to douche with Lysol as a means to encourage a better love life with husbands, with the strong implication that the woman’s failure to maintain feminine hygiene was the cause of a withdrawal of marital affection and coitus from the husband.
Douche With Lysol for Feminine Hygiene
The tone of most of the advertisements was alienation of women from male affection from husbands. In the Lysol douche ads, women are fearful, sad, upset, apprehensive, and panicked. One popular advertisement (first image pictured below) shows a wife rattling an apparently locked door while pictures of padlocks are superimposed over the image. With words such as “doubt,” “inhibitions,” and “ignorance” captioning the padlocks, the message is loud and clear: the wife is locked out of her marital bedroom by her failure to be as fresh, clean, and appealing in her feminine hygiene as possible.
Portions of the text reinforce this message: “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’.” Douche with Lysol and rebuild the marriage. The message was brutally clear.
Coded Contraception With a Lysol Douche
Other advertisements in the Lysol douche campaigns depict loving mothers surrounded by cherubic children. In the second image below, the secret to successful motherhood is noted in the text of the ad: “…charm, gentleness, poise, and a certain untiring vitality which comes from knowing how to take care of herself.”
Mothers are urged further to use a Lysol douche and advised that “This effective antiseptic is three times stronger than powerful carbolic acid,” a coded contraception message as carbolic acid was a common abortifaecient in the 19th century and the early 20th century.
The Lysol douche ads focused on motherhood, then, sent an ironic silent message. Douche with Lysol and control the number of cherubs in the family and maintain one’s status as a loving mother.
Douching With Lysol Ends With the Pill
By the very early 1960s the douching with Lysol ad campaign ended as women began to embrace feminism and reject sexual mores that repressed women’s sexuality and basic biology. The creation of the birth control pill, increased access to various family planning methods, and Supreme Court cases such as Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1963 granted married couples and single persons unfettered access to birth control in the United States, removing the need for coded contraception messages and the famous Lysol douche.
- Reis, Elizabeth. American Sexual Histories. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001.
- Lysol company advertisements.