I am writing this article specifically because it has never occurred to me to sit down next to another woman and go “Hey gurrrrrl! What soothing essential oils are you swabbing your labia majora with these days?” In fact, my general philosophy is that douches... are douche-y (see: this patronizing, racist Summer’s Eve ad). Thus far, I have gone about my business without a cervix redolent of mulling spices or rainstorms or freshly laundered towels, and have yet to receive complaints about perceived lack of ambiance.
So you might say I was highly skeptical when several women we interviewed brought up their fondness for intimate wash. Lady bits rinses are, of course, different than douches in that you don't put them inside you and they're not made of Lysol. But the feminine hygiene industry also has a history of making women feel broken in order to sell questionable products (not douching will destroy your life, apparently), and I prefer to keep my reproductive organs chemical-burn-free.
However, before I climbed any higher onto my tiny sex-positive soapbox or started chucking Susan B. Anthony commemorative coins and copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves at my frightened coworkers, I thought it would be prudent to see what, exactly, people were talking about. And thus began an intellectual, physical, and emotional journey. A Vagina (Inner) Monologue, if you will.
The first thing I realized upon further consideration—TMI, as is this entire story—is that I, personally, am profoundly grateful when individuals requesting a certain something that rhymes with “schmowjob” try to make administering said “schmowjob” a pleasant experience by keeping the affected area clean and free of debris. So similar female politesse in such matters, I reasoned, would not be 100% evil.
The second thing I realized was that I was actually gonna have to try the stuff in order to write this damn post. But as Ms. Frizzle, Magic School Bus driver and arch mage (why, again, was a wizard teaching science?) always said, "Take chances! Make mistakes! Make...even more mistakes!!" Once I'd secured the actual rinses, though, the mechanics were still a little vague. I mean, they're liquids, but what's the preferred delivery method—hand towel? That's a great way to be super disrespectful to whatever sweet, elderly relative gave them to you as a graduation gift. Cotton pads, maybe? I am open to suggestions, dear reader. Oddly, I couldn't get anyone on the record for this piece, so I guess we'll never know what substrates various global tastemakers use to wipe down their external genitalia.
As a result, I have to nominate Sweet Spot Wipes as best all-around, simply because they do not confuse me. They are towelettes, come in little individual packets, and should have a radio ad that's like, "Radio announcer: Are you about to get some? Person: WHEEEEEE! Announcer: When was the last time you showered? Person: ... Announcer: Sweet Spot! They're like Mentos for your labia." These will also give you immediate street cred because they suggest you have crazy spontaneous trysts in real life, probably with male models named Damien or Sven, as opposed to spending long, torrid nights with Catfish reruns and Tinder.
I've also heard that Santa Maria Novella Intimate Wash is a popular one among ladies in the know. Rachel Antonoff once very wisely noted that you cannot use Irish Spring soap in your no-fly zone because horrible, terrible, no good, very bad things will happen. Which is why something like Santa Maria exists. It has a low pH, so it's supposed to be antimicrobial and gentle, and if you're the sort of person who likes having separate products for literally.every.part. of her showering/bathing ritual, it is probably just delightful.
I even managed to find an all-natural version from Organyc, for next-level crunchies who have no qualms about putting cottonseed oil next to and around areas responsible for The Miracle of Life™.
Really, though, with all these products you have to ask what you're looking for and why. Also maybe why you're not just using Cetaphil and Wet Wipes. Liberated chicks in the '70s were doing yogurt masque vajacials, Gen X had grunge bush; I would say that perhaps baby wash for your baby maker is just the vaginal equivalent for Millenials, except that I hate the word "Millenials."
Regardless, as long as you're not putting anything up there—again, douching is terrible—using one of the cleansers in question doesn't merit getting your Feminism Club card cancelled, nor are they an anti-woman plot by The Man as far as I can tell. So feel free to, ya know, do what you gotta do.
[1-3] Photos by Mathea Millman, [4-9] Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe.