My youngest, who is 9, asked me the other day why her vagina smells...and should she start using soap in there (I have taught both of my children to not wash inside their vaginas with soap, as that destroys the natural fauna and is damaging to the delicate skin). We generally use oats and or natural oils and warm water. That is not only enough but is healthy and safe.
Body odour, the bacteria it comes from, when old, stale and left unwashed for long periods is not only socially unacceptable but is also unhygienic. But I think we have definitely, as a society, built up an aversion to natural smells, to the degree where kids as young as 9 are seemingly encouraged by there parents to use unhealthy deodorants regularly and clean with perfumed soaps in their vaginas to stop all natural smells escaping. My youngest is not unhygienic, she has a shower every other day and washes her armpits everyday, but her body is changing, through puberty and the new natural odours are obviously a point for her to query... She is also starting to hear from her friends what they are encouraged to do by their parents, who in my mind are just passing on their own socialisation.
I'm not advocating that no one should use deodorant, or any soap at all, but the lengths to which people will go to to hide any molecule of natural scent I find really disturbing. So, I told my daughter that our vaginas, just like our armpits, mouths, ass, feet, bodies in general, emit a smell from a natural build up of bacteria. Yes, we wash every day (or other day) to reduce the build of bacteria that causes strong smells, but we can never get rid of it completely and shouldn't try to. Even when clean our vaginas in particular, emit a scent and, as I delicately attempted to explain to her, there is actually a purpose to this particular one. Pheromones, yes, is part of it.
It got me thinking about when I was a younger woman and I felt deeply uncomfortable with partners giving me oral sex because I worried that I wasn't clean enough, or more accurately that I hadn't cleaned my scent away enough. I was worried because we live in a society that teaches us that bodily smells are bad and that in particular, vaginas smell bad. I remember one lover telling me he was obsessed with my intimate smell and would spend an inordinate amount of time 'down there' and sometimes cum himself whilst making me cum that way ☺️ yet I also remember another asking me to shower before we made love because he didn't like the smell (at the time I thought it was just me, but maybe he was like that with all his lovers). Generally though my smell has never been commented on...but it still took me a long time to accept there was no issue with it, and over the years I have personally enjoyed engaging with my own smell in my own intimate forays... No, I did not speak to my 9 year old daughter about all of the above but I started looking into it and came across this amazing artist and instillation.
Anika Yi is a scent artist, or an artist who works through the medium of smell more than simply what is perceived visually. She has, from what I gather, created a number of interesting and thought provoking pieces, but for me her instillation, YOU CAN CALL ME F, stands out as genius and totally fucking zeitgeist.
She collected vaginal swab samples from many different women, cultivated the bacteria in a dish and through a scientific process I don't fully understand, extracted the scent molecules to produce a perfume, which she filled the exhibition space with... God, I would have LOVED to have gone, especially reading up on her vision for this particular piece. About the innate misogyny in the fear, shame and dislike of the natural smell of women's vaginas. You just have to look at the amount of products available over the years to ensure that women understand the importance of removing, not only all if not most of their pubic hair, but also any molecule of scent, feeding into this idea that vaginas in their natural state are something to be ashamed of.
Obviously, a lack of hygiene and no washing is going to produce a very strong smell, and could lead to an infection but that is entirely different to being comfortable with your natural odor and scent, which as I stated has a purpose, a purpose I think, as does Anika Yi, that is being eroded by our obsession with removing all natural odours and replacing them with fake ones: perfumes, deodorants, vaginal washes, wipes, scented sanitary products, douching etc... And in a world that aims to control every aspect of a woman's body: what it looks like, what it does and how it smells, what greater feminist statement is there than to uphold and celebrate the natural smell of a woman's vagina?
An olfactory note to end on...
Have you ever walked through a deer park in September - rutting season? The smell of the male deers pheromones is a thing to behold. It is overpowering, and hits you in the stomach. Personally, I don't find it unpleasant, albeit strong... Perhaps, oddly, a little arousing... That is it's purpose - not to arouse me, or humans, but to alert and arouse the females. No, we are not wild animals in that sense and as humans we have an array of more sophisticated (apparently) ways of flirting and attracting a mate, but really, our bodies are hardwired to work in a similar way to these wild creatures...and we are losing touch, as a race, with that ability, because we are being socialised to experience disgust at a wider and wider range of natural smells, that historically helped us navigate not just the world around us, but how we relate to people.
I had one partner who naturally had a very mild, almost non existent body odour. My memory of the sex we had was that it only ever really happened when we were both quite drunk... It wasn't natural, and now when I look at him (we are still friends), despite still thinking he is good looking in many ways, I just cannot connect with what I found attractive about him. It's because deep down, there was no real, hit you in the stomach attraction. It was surface level.
Another partner, he was not an 'unclean' man, as in he does not have hygiene problems at all, but his smell drives me insane. And my favourite thing to do with him (sexually) was fellatio... Partly because of the smell he emitted from his balls. Sorry, that is perhaps a bit too crude but it's true! And ties into what I am trying to say here. Our bodies emit smells for a reason. Years back, and this is unpleasant, I noticed that when I passed wind (farted basically) it had taken on a very unpleasant smell...this is partly what alerted me to my dairy intolerance. That has stopped now because I don't have dairy anymore, but our bodies tell us stuff sometimes with smell. I also know when my children are ill, upset, or even just present without even looking at them, partly because I'm so closely connected to their natural smells. I fell in love with my lover and partner because of his smell - no word of a lie there. In a group of people I could smell something amazing and thinking it was an amazing perfume, went round smelling everyone... It was him, and when he told me he wasn't wearing any scent I blushed inside knowing exactly what that was. Some primal shit at work 😂
Currently I can smell... My pot of lapsangsouchong... The little plate of sliced lemons beside it... The remnants of my nag champa incense from last night... The smell of cool, crisp, Autumn air coming in from my window... My armpits, as I have just done some exercise and thought I would sit in my own scentual bloom for a while... my neighbours are cooking, some kind of curry, with coriander and lots of ginger... My son making honeycomb (after becoming obsessed with Squid Game) Mmm, I'm getting hungry. Shower and then lunch I think. Today is going to be a good day...