Summer's Eve's new marketing blitz is obsessed with "vagina." But another dirty word is conspicuously absent from its campaign: "Douche."
Vaginal cleansing company Summer's Eve is dedicated to promoting the genital area for which its products are designed. Last week, the company launched a new marketing campaign centered on "the power of the V." Now, Summer's Eve markets its own "Vagina Owner's Manual." It suggests replacing the term "That's Awesome" with "That's Vaginal." It invites women to pinpoint the vagina on a genital map. It imagines what black, Latina, and white vaginas would say if they could talk. In spots aired before the latest Harry Potter film, it situates the vagina as the inspiration for all history's wars. Its online "Vaglossary" demystifies vagina-related terms like "camel toe," "crowning," and "bidet."
But one word is conspicuously absent from Summer's Eve's new marketing blitz: "Douche."
Summer's Eve is the most visible manufacturer of douches—devices used to irrigate the vagina with vinegar, water, or "Island Splash"—in the United States. But the D-word appears nowhere on the company's website. Its black, white, and Latina vaginas do not speak of douching. Online, Summer's Eve hawks washes, cloths, sprays, powders, and gels designed to freshen a woman's genitalia—externally. But I had to take a trip down the "feminine care" aisle to confirm that Summer's Eve still sells cleansing products, complete with bags and nozzles, meant to enter the vaginal canal.
"We want to end talking in code," Angela Bryant, director of U.S. marketing for the brand, told me when I asked her why Summer's Eve isn't saying "douche" anymore. "Stigmas surrounding feminine care are the result of multiple factors, including decades of talking in code about the female anatomy and feminine hygiene." Bryant called the process of widening the discussion around women's health "empowering."
But perhaps the easiest way to end "talking in code" about douching is to stop talking about it at all. In recent years, douches have fallen out of favor both medically and metaphorically. The U.S. government has a "douching fact sheet" stating that douching is medically unnecessary and potentially unsafe, and advising women to allow their vaginas to clean themselves (Q: "Should I douche to clean inside my vagina?" A: "No"). Colloquially, the term "douche" has spawned a long litany of schoolyard insults.
Despite the devaluation of douching, the market for vaginal cleansing persists: 20 percent of women still cop to irrigating their vaginas. Summer's Eve's new marketing campaign resides at the center of that contradiction: How do you promote a product that is publicly ridiculed, but privately exercised?
Summer's Eve is hoping to bridge the gap with a little bit of sleight of hand. Its new campaign swaps a disconcerting and shameful taboo—"douche"—in favor of a trendy, "empowering" one—"vagina." As it rides the vaginal empowerment wave, Summer's Eve claims to be facilitating every woman's genital edification, enlightening her with clit diagrams and vaginal dictionaries. Perhaps she'll never notice her vagina does not require a hose.