Women Used What??? How???

I recently read a book that was memorable only for this information:

For years, McCall’s magazine had been advertising Lysol as a “feminine hygiene aid for nervous wives,” and everyone knew what they were really promising:

No pregnancy and no lysol_products_croppeddisease.

Wait.  What?


Lysol, as in, what I use to clean my toilet?

Was advertised as birth control?

This called for further research.  Naturally I started with Wikipedia which, though I’ve been known to knock it, is a place to start.  I was assured that, yes:

In the late 1920s Lysol disinfectant began being marketed as a “feminine hygiene” product by maker Lysol, Inc. and distributor Lehn & Fink, Inc.

It was claimed that vaginal douching with a diluted Lysol solution prevented infections and vaginal odor, and thereby preserved youth and marital bliss.  This Lysol solution was also used as a birth control agent, as post-coital douching was a popular method of preventing pregnancy at that time.

This led to further research, and I found plenty of information out there including this 2013 article from the estimable Smithsonian magazine:

Smithsonian (2)

Which included a link that led to this 2012 piece in MotherJones:

MotherJones (2)

Both articles feature what they call “vintage ads” touting Lysol as the solution “if married love begins to cool,” and other euphemisms to that effect:

intimate neglect underlined

Well, an unintended pregnancy can certainly put a damper on love, “married” or otherwise.

And people have being trying to prevent unintended pregnancies since – well, one article suggested “15,000 B.C. in France; the first known depiction of people using a condom was found in a French cave drawing”:

cave painting
Researchers argue that the 15,000 B.C. carvings found in the French Grotte Des Combarelles caves represent an ancient person wearing a condom.

Ever since we figured out how pregnancy happened, we’re been looking for effective birth control.

And birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 for married couples, and 1972 for single people.

Shocking?  I hope so.

So, during the time period of the book I referred to earlier – the late 1920s and into the 1930s – it’s no surprise that Lysol’s widespread advertising campaign made it “the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression,” according to another link in the Smithsonian article.

see a need croppedAll Lysol did was find a need and fill it, disregarding facts including (a) Lysol did not prevent pregnancy and, (2) Lysol could cause serious damage and even death for women

By 1911 doctors had recorded 193 poisonings and five deaths as a result of douching with Lysol.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that douching with Lysol began to fall out of popularity, as more birth control methods became available for women to access.  By then, Lysol had changed to a less toxic formula and began marketing itself as the common household cleaner we recognize in our cabinets today.

And in my toilet.

Here are more Lysol “vintage” ads.
Perhaps funny to us now, but back then – deadly.

Ad_10 larger.jpg Ad_09
ad_03 AD_08
Ad.jpg AD_06.png


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