As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we’re thinking about the evolution of women’s product names, particularly for brands in the genital health space.
Did the word genital just make you uncomfortable? Well, hold onto your hat.
Although euphemisms like sanitary napkin have been on the way out for a while, the names of mainstream products designed to be “in it, on it, or near it” have remained rather demure, until recently.
Brands that refuse to be shamed and proudly embrace women’s body parts and all they represent—like Queen V, The Honey Pot, and VeeFresh—are becoming mainstream. They sit comfortably next to Summer’s Eve and Stayfree on the Walmart shelf. Recent market entries like Lemme Purr (Kourtney Kardashian’s vaginal health gummies), Happy Hoo-ha probiotics, and sexual wellness brand Dripping with Desire have meanwhile pushed playful vagitude beyond “feminine hygiene”* products.
There’s no question that this sector is big business, with 2021 revenue estimated at $37 billion and forecast to be nearly $58 billion for 2030. So what does this monumental shift in branding mean?
The trajectory of vaginal-care product names tracks pretty closely with the rise of the feminist movement and changing attitudes toward women over the past century.**
Consider the names Kotex (1920) and Tampax (1931). The first comes off as abstract but is derived from the more cotton-like texture of the pads (with c changed to k for greater kachet),*** while the second communicates “tampon.” But the tone of both brand names is the same: clinical and cold. And with the stress on the first syllable and the hard final “x,” both have sounds traditionally thought of as masculine (aggressive, definitive, percussive). These names say “Menstruation is a medical condition that should absolutely not be talked about in polite company and a (male) doctor will fix it.”
In the 50s, we got tampons from o.b., a name that comes from the German ohne Binde (“without napkin”) but for an American audience says “obstetrician.” Still clinical, medical, and very indirect.
The zeitgeist of second-wave feminism brought us Stayfree (1971), Carefree (1976), and later Always (1983). These names are still afraid to say “vagina” but do have a buoyant energy and a straightforward, confident communication style. The messaging signals freedom, reliability, and peace of mind—hallmarks of the independent woman. But while highlighting these emotional benefits reflects some progress for women’s empowerment, this era also produced Summer’s Eve (1972), a poetic expression of natural gentleness and fragrant freshness—and the poster child for euphemistic brand names in the world of women’s products.
The personal care industry fully recognized women’s economic power at this point, but women’s equality as humans with bodies? Maybe not. Note that advertising period care products on television was banned until 1972, and the word period—meaning menstruation—was not heard on TV in the U.S. until a 1985 Tampax ad.
Third-wave feminist riot grrls and beauty divas ushered in new feels. Their genital and period-care products came with sassy and self-aware brand names like GladRags natural period care (1993), Coochy shave cream and vulva lotion (c. 1995), DivaCup menstrual cup (2002), SweetSpot Labs vulvar skin care (2003), I Love My Muff vulva and vaginal care (2009), and The Honey Pot plant-based cleansers and period care (2014). Not coincidentally, The Vagina Monologues debuted in 1996, with the first V-Day taking place in 1998.
The embrace of the “V” in brand naming has exploded since then: Veeda natural period products (2012), VWash cleansers (2013), VMagic lotions (2013), Queen V vulva and vaginal care (2018), Happy V probiotics (2018), VeeFresh cleansers and supplements (2019), and V-loe aloe-based lotions (2019). “My Vag,” a 2012 hit from comedian-actress-rapper Awkwafina, helped usher in this unabashed fourth-wave feminist cycle.
The descriptive names for these products also quit the coy, with straight-shooting terms like vaginal care, period products, and vulva cream becoming common parlance. The Sanskrit word yoni (meaning “womb/vulva/vagina”) gained a huge fanbase, with products like yoni oil, yoni bars, and yoni eggs cluttering the webs. The word yoni (used in Hinduism and Buddhism), suggests anatomy but also veneration for women’s power, birth, and creativity—a compelling choice for branding.
It’s interesting to note that for brands with vagitude, women’s self-empowerment is often part of the company DNA as well as the name, with many founding stories following a similar arc: a woman fed up with personal care products that were inconvenient, expensive, unavailable, and/or filled with harmful substances, creates her own line and builds a business. These companies are typically women-run and dedicated to women’s and girls’ health (many are B corps), with robust information platforms and aid networks to distribute products to those in need.
In contrast, the big CPG companies (think J&J or P&G) have tended to stick with the old attitudes and vocabulary, at least on their packaging if not their campaigns. But even this sector is shifting. P&G acquired This Is L period and bladder care (the L stands for Love) and Just period care in the past five or so years, expanding its genital care portfolio significantly from its historic Tampax and Always brands.
Today, Gen Z’s body-positive meta humor is producing brand names with more vagitude than ever. In 2022 alone, a dozen lines launched, with names like She Juicy vaginal moisture supplement, Super Fresh Lady Parts cleansers, and Drippa Gel wash, along with the aforementioned Happy Hoo-ha and Lemme Purr.****
Does branding that displays vaginal pride mean that women, and society, have finally accepted the female body? Is it more about demanding that the world should evolve in that way? Or is it simply virtue signaling done to win a certain set of customers?
It could be all of the above. The category, like our avant-garde-yet-puritanical country, contains multitudes of vagitudes.
*Even the term feminine hygiene shows the discomfort society has with the reality of women’s bodies. Using this euphemism for products associated with genital health and cleanliness, menstruation, and contraception avoids any direct reference to female anatomy.
**For a look at menstrual product history, see this helpful overview from Voxapod.
***Thanks to the brilliant and ever-helpful Nancy Friedman for this insight.
****In other vaginal news, there’s legislation in multiple states to remove the sales tax from period care items, as well as a growing movement to provide free period products in public schools.