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Selling Sexual Certainty? Advertising Lysol as a Contraceptive in the United States and Canada, 1919–1939

  • Kristin Hall

Abstract

During the interwar period, Lysol Disinfectant was sold throughout Canada and the United States as a contraceptive douche for women. In fact, Lysol became the leading over-the-counter contraceptive sold on the euphemistically termed “feminine hygiene” market. Though the sale of contraceptives were illegal in both Canada and the United States since the latter part of the nineteenth century, by the 1920s, astute manufacturers were selling goods with supposedly contraceptive properties, including vaginal jellies, foaming tablets, and as was the case with Lysol, vaginal douches. As contemporaries argued, advertising played a central role in the success of the feminine hygiene industry. This article investigates Lysol's interwar advertising campaign to determine how the company attempted to communicate the purpose of its product to white, literate, married, Anglo-Saxon, middle-class female consumers while evading legal ramifications. It argues that North American Lysol advertisements were designed using euphemistic language and emergent modern advertising techniques that appealed to consumers' emotions (as opposed to their sense of reason as had previously been the case) to capitalize upon contextually specific trends, including women's fear of premature aging and loss of sexual attractiveness, the danger of maternal morbidity and mortality, as well as the threat of marital disunity, to convey the intended purpose of the product. This work also demonstrates the central importance of considering the historical context of companies' intended consumers when analyzing historical advertising and marketing campaigns.

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Selling Sexual Certainty? Advertising Lysol as a Contraceptive in the United States and Canada, 1919–1939

  • Kristin Hall

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