Lysol is one of the most well known disinfectants around. According to its website: "Since 1889, Lysol has been striving to help families live healthier. Over the decades, we’ve improved and refined our products for homes, schools, and facilities around the world." Lysol claims that it is safer than the average household cleaner because it is free from harmful chemicals. But it wasn't always your reliable toilet cleaner.
Until the 1960s, Lysol was the most popular product for over the counter birth control. That's right. Birth control. It may sound unbelievable now, but it is true that our favorite disinfectant was once used to clean delicate lady flowers.
Despite the fact that the antiseptic soap was ineffective and sometimes caused vaginal burns, inflammation and even death, ads in the Twenties and Thirties continually pushed it as a safe and gentle method of birth control, even up until the Fifties. One such ad describes Lysol as 'the perfect antiseptic for marriage hygiene,' claiming: 'The fact that it is used as an antiseptic in childbirth is evidence that it is safe and mild enough for even the most sensitive female membranes.'
One of the biggest proponents of the commercialization of nonmedical feminine hygiene products was the company Lehn & Fink, which manufactured Lysol. While a device called a diaphragm had been proven to be 80% effective when it came to pregnancy prevention, the sale of the device accounted for less than 1% of contraceptive sales by the late 1930s. Why? Well, for one thing, it was only available to married women. Additionally, it could only be obtained by a doctor.
Over the counter methods were significantly cheaper and easier to obtain than the diaphragms distributed by physicians. Aside from a trip to the doctor and the cost of the diaphragm itself, it required planning, (thus removing spontaneity from physical intimacy), it was difficult to place, and it was hard to clean. In short, over the counter methods were more affordable, convenient, and discreetly obtained.
Of these over the counter options, Lysol became the most popular.
Today, of course, a bottle of Lysol - which is commonly used as a toilet cleaner and disinfectant - comes with warnings on the label that read 'flammable' and 'for external use only'.
But in the days when contraception and abortion were illegal and seen as deplorable, Lysol was viewed as a cheap and easy solution which could be purchased over the counter.
In fact, in a 1933 study, nearly half of the 507 participants who used Lysol as a form of birth control ended up falling pregnant. By 1911 doctors had recorded 193 Lysol poisonings and five deaths from uterine irrigation.Despite these reports, the medical community was unconvinced that it was necessary to take action. In fact, medical organizations like the American Medical Association claimed that they had no punitive power over these products, and they disavowed responsibility for distribution, sale, or use.Also read : Pregnancy Tourism:Women fly to India in Search of Pure Aryan Genes
The FDA asserted that feminine hygiene products were outside its jurisdiction because they were not products that were used as drugs to treat a disease. Additionally, the only information on products like Lysol either came from other women or the manufacturers themselves.
When adverse events were initially reported and claims filed against manufacturers, companies like L&F denied any responsibility. The company claimed it had never advertised these products for contraceptive use and even went so far as to question a woman’s sexual history in response to her allegations. Of course, some women sought and received justice in court, but without any sort of medical regulation of these products, most women were the uncompensated victims of a commercial industry that was far more concerned with profit than health or efficacy.
Later investigation by the American Medical Association found that the many European doctors quoted as experts in these ads did not even exist.