Juliette Cule

The Monthly Debate

One question for you – why do scented sanitary towels exist?

This question was provoked by Caitlin HT’s fantastic poem about periods, combined with Vagenda’s fantastic article on old wives’ tales. I was musing over ‘women’s health’ and our attitudes to ‘the painters’ all darn day (fun!) but the notion of scented sanitary towels had me hooked. How did this idea get past the ‘Dragon’s Den’ level of the production process? How did no one in the board room stop and say ‘wait…do periods actually smell? Must we febreeze our women?’. Perhaps no one in the board room has ever had one.

(Perhaps they are just heeding the wise words of Brick Tamland and I should stop complaining)

In my ten years as a menstruating woman (I’m not sure why that feels like a confession…?) I have never – not once – had any of my friends lean over and say awkwardly ‘hey…Jule…I can smell your blood’. This has not happened. Perhaps my friends are polite. But equally, in my twenty two years as a person, I have never smelt another person’s menstrual blood (we won’t go into the issue of nightclub toilets here…I’ll just say it would take more than a scented panty liner.)

Selling products like scented sanitary towels marketed with flowers and other ‘fresh’ symbols perpetuates the biblical idea that a woman who is on her period is unclean and should be ashamed, and that she should do everything within her power to hide this fact from the world.

It is alarming enough as a young woman to start spontaneously bleeding, but to then be told you need to keep this as SECRET as possible or people will sniff you out is tantamount to bullying. Besides which, scented sanitary towels have a migraine-inducing scent and will probably induce a excruciating bout of thrush, resulting in even more shame and confusion. Is this really how we are treating what is, in fact, a natural and healthy process? We have a rover on Mars and yet I still blush when I’m stockpiling on my SANPRO.

In summary – it feels like high time that multi-national corporations stopped trying to perfume our genitals and pretend we love roller-skating and white jeans whilst we secrete a mysterious blue liquid and instead we all focus on making the world a better place for everybody.

Starting with a rap about mooncups.

6 thoughts on “The Monthly Debate

  1. Fraid I disagree. Unfortunately, periods do actually smell for some girls. Not much, and clearly not for everyone, but it’s there. Maybe no one has ever needed to lean over to you and tell you that your period smells when you’re on, but truust me, I (and a friend) have wanted to do exactly that to another friend before, but obviously haven’t… cuz it’s awkward. Of course, this could just be a revelation that something is wrong with my friend’s vag, but I can’t deny that I have also been in conversations with other girls about this issue before where the general consensus has been that periods smell bloody awful (loli’msofunny). It’s not necessarily the blood itself but a combination of everything that comes out along with, especially if it’s heavy, and the bacteria that grows due to the warm environment down below. Sometimes, it’s aggravated by pads and tampons themselves. However, having said all this, I completely agree that the idea of scented pads is crazy and by no means a solution (if, as I’ve argued there is a problem). I definitely agree with what you said about scented products creating complications down below like thrush and most doctors/ health sites would advise you not to use them. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    • Juliette here! Thank you for your comment – I agree that perhaps it is a bit strongly worded to suggest there is no smell at all. I guess my issue is two-fold in that – it is creating a false anxiety, and then if there is an issue of smell it presents a false solution (most likely further aggravation) to anyone who is concerned – encouraging them to buy a product rather than check their own health. In terms of awkwardness, I think working from the bottom up in terms of education and how we talk about periods and our bodies generally would help change all of this – I just don’t know how we undertake that huge social shift! It seems like everyone I’ve spoken to doesn’t like these products and yet always seem to sell exclusively ‘FRESH SCENTED’ items. I despair!

  2. I inadvertantly bought some kind of scented version before, and spent a whole day wondering who was following me into the bathroom with that funny perfume on…
    Surely a simpler solution would be: it if smells…change it.

  3. I disagree. I like scented pads, I have a sufficiently hardy chuff to not get irritated by it even slightly and when I go to change I don’t feel like I’m handling biohazard waste when it’s a hot summery day. It’s not that strong, it’s just unpleasant and as with any unpleasant smell in my life I’ll take the nicer alternative smell if I can. I wear deodorant on my armpits so I feel I should be able to have a nicer smelling nethers if I want to. It’s nothing to do with societal pressure telling me that my waste is unclean, it’s real life telling me that nasty womb gunk is unclean in a literal rather than spiritual sense.

  4. Pingback: Celebrating Womb Wisdom | Belle Jar

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