Positively sex: 160 years of douchebaggery

For the few years that Jersey Shore was on the air, it was more than just a show. According to Google trends, use of the word “douchebag” skyrocketed between 2009 and 2012. Jersey Shore gave us a cultural landmark, an unmistakable character, somebody whose tan was fake and whose ego was unreal. I’m talking, of course, about the Situation. In some ways, he is the definition of a douchebag. Odds are you've called someone unpleasant a douchebag at least once before, but what exactly does that mean?

The douchebag actually predates Ed Hardy by a hundred years — it was invented in the 1850s. Comprised of a fluid holding bag with a flexible tube attached, it dispensed liquid in a steady stream when squeezed. As useful as it was for washing out wounds on the battlefield, it found a place much closer to home.

The idea was that women could wash out their vaginas after sex to avoid getting pregnant. While most douches involved water, vinegar, salts or soap, the most popular method was Lysol — the exact same one that makes those pine-scented disinfectant wipes your preschool teacher probably loved.

Douching had its advantages. It was cheap, available over the counter and legal when actual contraception wasn’t. Word of mouth alone led to its popularity. But as more than a few of us may have learned in high school, the grapevine is never really the most accurate source of sex advice.

The downside to douching? It didn’t work. At all.

A healthy vagina has its stuff figured out on its own. In addition to cleaning itself, it hosts healthy populations of yeasts and bacterias. Nuking those populations makes room for more harmful microorganisms to take over and the results are ugly. Adverts around the 1920s marketed Lysol as safe, gentle and effective — it was none of those things. As early as 1911, “uterine Lysol irrigation” was responsible for 193 recorded poisonings and five deaths.

These ads also preyed on women’s insecurities in the most effective way possible — by creating them first. They assured women that keeping the house clean, being pretty and loving your husband simply wasn’t enough. Your married life was jeopardized by that one intimate neglect. Vaginal odor — though it was never referred to by name — could destroy your life if you weren't careful.

Conveniently, women weren't exactly shown what vaginas should smell like. So it probably always felt safe to assume that however you smelled, you smelled wrong and you should feel bad.

The birth control pill knocked douchebags out of the water. It was discreet with no need to jump up after sex and turn the faucet on to cover the sounds of surreptitious post-coital douching. Douches became vaginal deodorant, something to keep you “fresh” as if vaginas had a shelf life.

For the past few decades, doctors have been discouraging women from douching with varying levels of success. It’s entirely a result of poor medical knowledge and women’s shame — shame for having sex, shame for vaginal odor, shame for having a vagina. The same shame that the guy negging women at the bar wants to exploit... you know, that other type of douchebag. So let’s set a goal that everyone can be on board with and work together towards a douchebag-free tomorrow.