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ActiPearls and Having a Happy Period

2012 July 3

“Hi, nice to meet you. You’re looking great today, really confident and independent, good for you! A shame about the smell, though. I mean, really, everybody’s noticed it. And we all know it’s coming from, ahem, down there.

“Oh no, no, it’s OK, don’t get offended, it’s not your fault. You can’t help it, I understand that. Your genitals are disgusting and they stink, especially when they’re bleeding and there’s nothing you can do about it. You didn’t ask to be born with such a terrible curse, and nobody expects you to take responsibility for it. Help is at hand, though! If you give me lots of money every month for forty years of your life, we can help! Because believe us, you need it…”

I will admit up front that I am not a trained marketer, but it’s plain to see that the above isn’t the most convincing of sales pitches. Unfortunately, it’s a far more honest pitch than the current campaign for Always sanitary towels, which proudly declare the addition of “odour neutralising ActiPearls” as the next step in the evolution of “feminine hygiene” products. What the ads coyly decline to mention is that they’ve taken lessons in odour neutralisation from the Lynx school of “synthetic chemical stench and hygiene are THE SAME THING.”

This is straight-up vagina-shaming. It’s insulting and inexcusable. And giving me yet another reason to be pissed off when I’m already simmering with ire about the massacre going on between my legs is inadvisable. So congratulations, P&G: you’ve lost my custom for the next thirty years.

The packaging claims to “neutralise odours rather than just masking them”. This is at best a delicate glossing over of the truth. It’s impossible to tell whether “odours” (those vaginal FIENDS!) are neutralised or not because of the perfume.

Oh God, the perfume.

I appreciate that scent perception can be a highly subjective thing, so I’ll attempt to keep the description as general as possible. Cloying, synthetic, sweet florals with an undertone of disinfectant, false and stereotypically feminine. It hits you as soon as you open the packaging, before even unwrapping the first towel. A scent that lingers for hours even if you switch to an unscented brand immediately after using one of these. A scent that does not mask menstrual blood, but mingles with it into a nauseating aberration.

What I Expected

Photo of an always pad with some pearls laid on top of it

A thoughtful free gift from Always!

What I Got

Photo of an Always pad with the slogan YOU STINK! SORRY :) written on it


The problems presented by this are manifold, but there are three main ones that leapt out at me. Bullet point list time? Bullet point list time!

  • The obvious implication that people who have vaginas are utterly clueless about personal hygiene and how to take care of themselves, plus the completely ignoring the fact that vaginas are self cleansing and look after themselves without much intervention from their owners beyond showering/bathing regularly. The idea that menstruation makes a person malodorous or otherwise “dirty” is an outdated and misogynistic notion. If a vagina IS smelling bad, whether through illness or neglect, adding an unpleasant artificial scent to the crotch is only going to make the problem worse.
  • Following on from this, people who are at least vaguely aware of their sexual health can tell from changes in vaginal scent if something untoward or unusual is going on. Trying to cover that up with perfumes isn’t going to help anybody stay in touch with their genitalia.
  • The choice of such a blatantly “overt femininity-pink-and-flowers-BECAUSE-THIS-PRODUCT-IS-FOR-GIRLLLSSS” fragrance risks alienating trans* men and genderqueer customers who choose to use these products. As if the patronising “have a happy period, always” slogan weren’t bad enough. Not only are Always trying to insist that a reminder of nature not necessarily assigning the genitalia that most closely match an individual’s gender identity should be a matter for celebration, but also that everybody should smell like a field full of artificial blossoms when their loins are creating underpant carnage. Way to consider the needs of your whole customer base, there.

Now, at the risk of incurring violent flames, I’ll admit that I am not the biggest fan of my vagina. I appreciate the vast capacity for pleasure that it and its associated physiological paraphernalia provide, but for the most part our relationship is one of tacit acknowledgement and grudging acceptance. This does not mean, however, that I do not appreciate the inherent beauty and wonder of such genitalia.

A vagina should smell like a vagina. A vagina should not smell of roses or perfumes or any number of artificial masking agents. Every healthy vagina has a personality and life all of its own and scent to match.

At a time where in the USA, the wealthy, middle-aged, cis-male elitists running the country seem determined to drive women’s bodily autonomy and sexual rights back into the Victorian era, now seems a very prudent time to turn our eyes to our genitals and send a clear message to politicians and megabucks sanitary product manufacturers alike that our bodies belong to nobody but ourselves. Their efforts to undermine and deny our sexuality will be met with the resistance and fight it deserves, until they back the hell off what’s between our legs.

If we really must accept defeat and acknowledge that we are no longer capable of keeping our own vaginas spring-fresh, then our next step is clear: begin a campaign to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab to produce their own range of sanitary towels impregnated with their gorgeous scents. Because if my vagina isn’t allowed to smell like a vagina any more, it can do a hell of a lot better than Procter and Gamble’s sickly synthetic flower bleach.

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Helen permalink
    July 3, 2012


    The “Have a happy period!” Line always has me grinding my teeth in anger. Surely no one who has ever had a period would write such a line? Even if you are lucky enough to have only light bleeding or avoid menstrual cramps it’s not really a cause for happiness so much as something to be tolerated.

    I imagine some people are happy to have their period but not anyone I’ve ever spoken to it about.

    I am now wondering what it would be like to have sanitary towels smelling of Days and Nights in Vaults and Charnel Houses

    • July 3, 2012

      I’m pretty certain there’s an episode of Red Dwarf where Kryten, in a horribly mis-informed act of kindness, gives Kochanski a tampon and puts up a banner saying “Have a happy period” – the joke being, of course, that this is an EXTREMELY inappropriate thing to say to a woman. (I’m sure the clip would be on youtube but can’t access the site while at work).

      I was mouth-open-shocked when I found out they were actually using it as the advertising strapline!!! Either someone has got a seriously dry sense of humour, or there has been a massive tastefulness-fail somewhere along the line.

      • MiaVee permalink
        July 3, 2012

        YES! I can’t believe I didn’t reference it above, perhaps because Kryten is so much more good-natured than pharmaceutical company types.

        Here be the clip:

  2. July 3, 2012

    In fact – and this is the bit that makes me scream – using heavily scented products on or around our vaginas *can disrupt the very friendly flora which maintain our vaginas’ delicately balanced health, CAUSING INFECTION*. And apart from any sensations such as burning/stinging, the first way most people realise they have a vaginal infection is an offensive odour/discharge. Not “eugh, girls, vaginas” offensive, but “medical term for nasty smell to distinguish from normal and healthy” offensive.

    In other words, using perfumed products on your perfectly healthy, not at all offensive, vulva and vagina can CAUSE unpleasant smells!

    Also, as one who has worked in healthcare, penises which are unwashed can smell unpleasantly strong and funky. However I have yet to see a product aimed at making men ashamed of the odour that might result from negligent ownership of a foreskin.

  3. E B Snare permalink
    July 8, 2012

    Great article that made me laugh and do that fist-pump-shout-yeah thing at the end.

    I accidentally purchased scented sanitary towels once. It was bloody horrible, like having a shot of ‘Charlie’ spraying out every time I unwrapped one, and it did indeed make me feel nauseous every time I changed it. As mentioned above, scents like this (and even certain fibres in the sanitary towel) can cause irritation and infection, so it makes me wonder how manufacturers can even produce/sell products like this.

    Maybe it’s because smell is so powerful (sensory-wise and connected to memory, etc) that it’s targeted so much with ‘hygiene’ products, especially for women. Everyone is going to smell sometimes of naturally-produced body fluids, you know? That’s ok. We’re humans. Sweat happens. I only realised recently that, guess what – people who are attracted to people with vaginas actually like the smell of healthy vaginas. There’s no point trying to Febreze that away, fool.

    Also, another thing: haven’t even touched on the use of blue liquids in visual advertising for sanitary towels, rather than a more representative red/dark red. Hygiene in action!

    I think they should just bring back the Bodyform song and we can all go back to enjoying sanitary towel adverts.

  4. Polly permalink
    August 13, 2012

    Oh my god, the smell of these new actipearls is absolutely disgusting….i use always as i think they are an excellent product but this new venture is just awful…i can get the stink of the actipearls worse than i could ever smell menstrual blood,( because i clean myself on a regular basis!), i was never conscious of how i was smelling when i have my period because, as i say, i look after my hygene, however , now using always actipearls, i think everybody must be able to get the whiff of this horrible, cloying smothering stink….

    • Miranda permalink*
      August 13, 2012

      Yes, this! They make it SO acutely obvious to me that I’m “on” where before I was just like “ain’t no thing”.

  5. August 17, 2012

    Absolutely Spot-On with everything you said. I hate that smell!! That floral horrible smell that smells EXACTLY like a badly deodorised period! I have stopped buying Always, the smell makes me want to vomit, especially when I feel like I have thousands of miners stamping on my ovaries and all I want to do is lie down. I HATE advertisements for “feminine hygiene” products. I think the entire product development team, scientists and marketing department responsible for that need to have everyone of their testicles individually stamped on in retribution. Where’s the masculine hygiene product for stick arse or cock cheese? Wankers!

  6. September 2, 2012

    I’m in the middle of an asthma attack prompted by this perfume ambush. Angry doesn’t begin to describe it.
    I’ve also just discovered that the unperfumed product by a rival manufacturer has in fact picked up some of the scent from just being on the shelf next to the offending items.

    Bloody marvellous.

  7. Annemieke permalink
    December 12, 2012

    Great article… Smell-covering tissues are a crime against womanhood. I accidentally bought them last week and keeping them on the shelf since I was reluctant in letting them anywhere NEAR my vagina, my whole house started to breathe that disgusting smell. My sister and a friend have had similar experiences, so we stopped using Always.

    • Miserabelle permalink
      January 3, 2013

      I also stopped using Always since they started with that horrible smelly stuff. It just made me itch and burn down there, instantly! I’m actually surprised that a product that is so bad for women’s health is allowed to be sold. I e-mailed the Always customer support a while back, with a very angry mail saying thanks for the message they send that women have stinking c**ts, and I won’t ever be using their products again. Weeks later I just got a marketing reply with bla bla, and no reply at all to the contents of my mail.

      Actually I feel like contacting a member of (in my case Dutch) parliament to ask questions about this. A product like this should be prohibited, because it’s bad for vaginal health. First thing a doctor will ask when you have a yeast infection is weather you use scented pads / toilet paper / soap or stuff like laktacyd (or whatever it’s alled) down there. They will advise you to STOP using that stuff straight away! Really, they should be prohibited. It really angers me!

      Conclusion: GREAT ARTICLE! :D

      • Ellie permalink
        August 27, 2014

        Great article, so true. I’ve stopped using them – they were giving me thrush. After contacting always and getting a generic copy and pasted email back , something about ‘our products are all carefully tested’ etc and ‘we can’t always predict individual reactions’ , I just decided they’re actually really incompetent morons who don’t follow common sense advice from medical professionals/GP’s as any decent doctor will tell you to stay away from perfumed products in genital areas. Switched to li-lets now and so much happier, no more horrible burning/itching after day 3 of using the things.

  8. Sally permalink
    February 24, 2013

    Completely agree! Totally offensive – both their assumptions and the foul ‘perfume’ itself. I too have stopped using Always and won’t go back

    Great to see am not alone in this!

  9. Julie permalink
    March 3, 2013

    Finally found some outrage on the net about this highly misogynist move by P&C.
    thanks ladies for sharing my thoughts about a product that should be boycotted.

    funny that no deoderant companies are making products to combat “smegma”…

  10. sarah permalink
    April 23, 2013

    Now ALL sanitary pads are scented even Tesco brand :( I did buy Halo but now they have been removed from Tesco shelves. Bodyform every brand is scented. Scented causes thrush and cystitis and stinks. Do we customers have any say at all in what we want to buy. I want to buy unscented HELP perhaps I will use mooncup now

  11. sarah permalink
    January 22, 2015

    Always – ive used them for years the green packet. Highly absorbant and worked a treat. Then they introduced actipearls – I never realised until I kept getting cystitis during period which never happened before i then noticed the awful lemon scent.

    I went to shops and every place I searched back street chemists shops supermarkets all actipearls. I phoned Always and they suggested Always Silk pads are unscented.

    I bought a pack and ha-presto they stank of mint…… is that not scented?????

    I was a loyal Always customer for years, boots, sainsburys, tesco NOW ALL scented then i discovered Halo yes absorbant and unscented – I bought every packet off the shelf because they were also cheap.

    Then tesco stopped doing them – they only sell halo tampons now.

    Tampons – all scented too

    Bodyform, Always, Lillets, Tesco, Sainsbury, Boots all pads abd tampons scented…….why?

    Are they trying to say we stink? If you change pad often it wont stink

    Every gynecologist will confirm scented products no good for the private area as it causes theush cystitis and allergic reactions.

    Why do Always change their WHOLE range to be scented? Why not have scented and unscented versions of all ranges give us women a choice?

    We should all phone slways and complain?

    Or just Mooncup from now on?

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