Vaginas: Gross At Any Age!

The need for douching (and panty fresheners!) spreads into menopause, courtesy of "Poise," a new line of unnecessary sanitary products.

Jul 10, 2012 at 2:30pm | Leave a comment

Menopause. The final frontier. The “lady problem” that dare not speak its name.

It seems like we’re finally making strides when it comes to talking openly about menstruation, but the other end of the scale is a vacuum of terrified silence with occasional nibbling around the edges. Something or other about “hot flashes” and “vaginal dryness” might be whispered under the cover of night, but for the most part, menopause is a deeply taboo topic and certainly not something for nice conversation.

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Even menstruation is still viewed as a pretty grody topic. 

In an era when people are expected to stay young forever and stave off the symptoms of age, it’s probably not surprising that menopause is a topic of such fear, because it’s the ultimate aging symptom. And it’s not something that can be managed with working out, cosmetic surgery and other tricks of the trade. Ready or not, here it comes.

Personal care giant Kimberly-Clark aims to change the conversation with Poise, a line of products specifically aimed at women over 40 that’s actually been on the market for two decades. It was originally introduced as an array of pantyliners for people with incontinence, rebranded “light bladder leakage” to sound more ladylike, evidently. Given the fact that some level of incontinence is actually not at all uncommon, especially for older people of all genders, I see no problem with calling it like it is to destigmatise the fact that yes, when you’re older, your urinary tract ain’t as sharp as it used to be. No shame, people!

The company’s rebranding and relaunching to thrust menopause into the mainstream with a line of products aimed at addressing a variety of symptoms of menopause, which sounds like a rad idea on the surface, right? Let’s talk about the fact that hormonal changes happen as people age and that going through menopause can be pretty intense! And let’s admit that the changes that take place during menopause can cause discomfort, especially for sexually active older adults.

Except, of course, that Kimberly-Clark is in the business to make money, not promote women’s health or destigmatise entirely natural events in people’s lives. Hence, a lineup of largely useless, and some doctors argue potentially dangerous, products aimed at people facing menopause.

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Note the pink and purple themes, because we are advertising to ladies, after all. 

Menopause is rather a long way away for me, so at the moment it’s a largely abstract concept. One thing I do know about it is that my knowledge of it is actually pretty limited, because it’s something almost no one talks about, which is one thing Kimberly-Clark and I agree on; people should be talking about it more.

The defining feature of menopause in the media seems to be hot flashes, but there’s much more to it than that, and talking frankly about menopause would be a fantastic idea that might help people better prepare, and make educated decisions about how they want to manage the symptoms.

The Poise line, though, is making menopause out largely to be something kind of icky that people should be buying “personal care products” to manage, rather than a natural part of someone’s life. There are, undoubtedly, some products that would help people feel more comfortable during menopause, but I’m not sure freshening towelettes and douches are the way to go, and that’s what Kimberly-Clark is marketing.

I mean, it’s bad enough that douches continue to be marketed to people who are still menstruating to manage their gross vaginas, but now apparently the need for douching (and panty fresheners!) spreads into menopause. The medical establishment is pretty firmly against douching at this point, arguing that it disturbs vaginal flora and exposes you to the risk of more health problems. In addition, covering up “unwanted odors” is actually a pretty good way to mask symptoms of an infection or another problem.

If your vagina is Making A Smell, in other words, your first stop should be the doctor’s office, not the “feminine hygiene” aisle.

I will admit that cooling towelettes, though, actually sound pretty cool (haha) for people of all ages; they’d be great for hot weather, not just for dealing with menopause. As a simple comfort measure, wipes to help cool down, manage sweat and relieve skin irritation would be rather nice. Given that skin changes also tend to occur during menopause, it would be nice if those products also contained some skincare benefits as well, like moisturisers to reduce cracking and drying.

Poise is also set to roll out lubricants, which I think is pretty awesome, because thinning and drying of the vaginal walls is also a documented issue with menopause, and it’s uncomfortable, and it makes sex particularly unpleasant. Will those lubricants be safe and comfortable for use, especially with condoms and sex toys? Unclear, from the information I can find, and given that the product is targeted at people in menopause, this information should be available front and centre.

All in all, the Poise product launch seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, with some good things hidden amidst the douches. I worry that the products will be positioned as a way to minimize the grossness of menopause, rather than as a way to manage something that inevitably happens with age, and that they may not do much to destigmatise menopause itself, though. 

I’d be interested to hear from older readers who are more likely to have an immediate use for these products; am I off-base?