Disinfect to Protect
October 9, 2009 2 Comments
I have been planning a post for awhile about Lysol’s secret past as a contraceptive douche, but the internet has beaten me to it, and this week articles appeared on Alternet and Broadsheet (that internet, she moves fast!) about the strange coded past of Lysol up the hoohaa. I highly recommend taking a look at the vintage ads linked to over at Broadsheet. Really great.
I found the topic through good old Norman E. Himes, economist and author of the Medical History of Contraception. As I mentioned in an earlier post (at the time I had only gotten to the middle ages and the smart idea of lemon half cervical caps), the book was written in 1934 and is as meticulously researched as can be in a pre-internet age. In the chapter “Later Medical Writers,” he profiles a Lysol Co. booklet written by a “Parisian woman gynecologist.”:
“The most frequent eternal triangle
A HUSBAND…A WIFE
“Fewer marriages would flounder around in a maze of misunderstanding and unhappiness if more wives knew and practiced regular marriage hygiene.
“Without it, some minor physical irregularity plants in a woman’s mind the fear of a major crisis. Let so devastating a fear recur again and again, and the most charming and gracious wife turns into a nerve-ridden, irritable travesty of herself. Bewildering, to say the least, to even the kindest husbands. Fatal, inevitably , to the beauty of the marriage relation.
“It all sounds very dreadful, doesn’t it? But it needn’t happen. The proper technique of marriage hygiene, faithfully followed, replaces fear with peace of mind. Makes what seems a grave problem no problem at all.”
“What is proper technique? To my practice, I recommend the ‘Lysol’ method. I know that ‘Lysol’ destroys germs in the presence of organic matter, and not just on a glass slide. I know that it has high penetrating power, reaching into every fold and crevice. And I further know that with all its power, it is very gentle. Soothing and healing enough, for example, to be used in childbirth cases. You see there is no free caustic alkali, such as you find in chlorine compounds [such as Zonite], to inflame tender feminine tissue.
“‘Lysol’ makes the whole ritual of feminine hygiene refreshing and agreeable. It contributes to a woman’s sense of fastidiousness, as well as to her freedom from fear. It’s a dainty and cleanly habit…and a wise one, if health and harmony are to dwell with her throughout her married life.”
(from McCalls, July, 1933, p. 85, excerpted from Himes, p. 129.).
Ah! marriage hygiene: the reason why I am bewildering to even the kindest of husbands!
I wonder about the correlation between marriage hygiene as described above, and Lysol’s current emphasis on family hygiene, where good mothers kill germs in their homes with the same attention to fastidiousness and harmony…
Perhaps with all this attention, Lysol will change up its slogan. I humbly suggest, “If it’s good enough for the vagina, it’s good enough for the counter.”
Your irritable travesty,
PS: I also recommend a visit to Lysol’s website. In it’s historical context, every picture is kind of astounding.