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Selling vagina insecurity

Clem Bastow
Published: February 11, 2013 - 7:57AM

“A clean beaver always finds more wood”. “A polished knob gets more turns”. These are not as it turns out, taglines from the triumphant 21st century return of the Carry On franchise, but actual advertising copy from Playtex’s latest invention, Fresh ‘N’ Sexy wipes.

These adults only Wet Ones are “designed”, as you might have gathered from the “suits you, sir” copy, for people to tidy up their bits before and after they love each other in a very special way.

Playtex’s press release put it this way: “[A] brand new before-and-after intimate wipe specially designed to help couples feel confidently clean every time they engage in sexual activity.”

Confidence! As you might already be aware, vaginal “cleanliness” is key to confidence, if we are to believe products like Summer’s Eve, which cheerfully advised women everywhere to douche in order to get a raise.

More from the press release, which reads increasingly like an Onion article the further you get into it: “The brand's tagline: 'Clean where it Counts' came out of the strategic insight that sex is more fun when you're confident. "Because when you're clean where it counts you're ready for anything," Ms. McCormick ads.”

Well gosh, Johnny, I didn’t think I was ready for that vaguely terrifying sex sling you’ve constructed from kitchen utensils and inner tubes, but now that my vag is confidently clean, I’m up for it!

If we’re clutching at straws, and other phallic allusions, at least the boys have been included in this latest witch hazel infused volley from the dark ages of sexual puritanism. Grab a cup of tea and we can unpack what’s wrong with the campaign: the idea that vaginas and penises (penii?) are unclean, the idea - by extension - that sex is dirty, the idea that clean vaginas are sexier...

Sex isn't always a planned event that can be prepared for. With Fresh + Sexy wipes, couples now have a way to be clean and ready for even the most spontaneous moments. They can be ready for intimacy whenever - and wherever - the mood strikes."

You beaut! I was concerned that I wouldn’t be ready for intimacy when I finished scaling K2, but I brought my Fresh ‘N’ Sexy with me!

Whatever happened to the innocent days where a couple would leap in the shower together? Are we expected to retreat to separate corners of the room and fiddle with little foil pouches until we feel sufficiently “confident” to return to bed for a play-by-play?

Now, I’m not interested in getting high and mighty here: criticisms of products like Summer’s Eve are too often less about attacking the retrograde marketing strategies that invent the “need” for the products in the first place, and more about attacking the sorts of silly women who think their vaginas are unclean. I don’t need to trot out the same old “the vagina is self-cleaning” line (even though it’s true) that we’ve been spinning since Germaine Greer had a crack at feminine hygiene way back in Oz in 1970 in her essay, The politics of female sexuality.

(And gee, I wonder why - bombarded as they are by fragranced tampons and nonsense like Fresh ‘N’ Sexy - women might start to wonder if their vaginas are unclean?)

The use of the things is up to personal choice; I’ve been known to pack a few off-brand vag wipes for a long-distance plane trip, or a comic convention where I’ll be spending over eight hours in spandex. Plenty of people will stow a package of vag wipes’ less politically charged relatives, Wet Ones, for a camping or road trip.

No, the marketing is the bad guy here. At its core, it’s insidious shame-based nonsense; it follows that the thought process in the consumer is “Wait, if there’s a cleaning product available for this body part, it must be dirty”.

Few people are interested in a heady whiff of l’eau de tang, but if it comes down to it, as it were, surely most adult humans would rather smell or get a mouthful of actual human body rather than “natural botanicals, like cranberry, chamomile, and aloe”?

My “peach” may be unclean by Playtex’s 1950s standards, but at least it doesn’t smell like a peach. And that, believe it or not Playtex, makes me confident and ready for anything! Even s-e-x.

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