I TRY my hardest to choose topics which I think are important. Ones I think people should talk more about, so on that note I am going to spoil the ending for you now and say this week we’re going to be discussing issues related to the vagina.

You might have one, or know someone who does, and you might even have come from one yourself. Regardless of your subjective experience with this particular body part, I believe that everyone should understand the manner in which stigma, shame and prejudice intersect and can have harmful consequences, not just socially, but medically.

If you think this sort of subject should be left private and not spoken about outwith the home, you are exactly the type of person I am hoping to reach. There is a shocking lack of general knowledge about vaginas, the care they require, and the issues which often arise as a result of neglecting this care.

Gaps in knowledge can quickly become a fertile breeding ground for stereotypes, rumours, and stigma, and it seems as though the people who are usually excluded from the discussion are those who need to be made a part of it the most. It is essential for parents, caregivers, partners, and friends to be adequately educated on the facts, as the best antidote to ignorance is education, and it is only through dispelling harmful preconceptions and stereotypes that stigma can be overcome.

I really want to avoid using cutesy euphemisms to describe one of the most stigmatised body parts out there, so today there will be no references made to hoo has, foofs, vajayjays or flowers. I think it’s important to say the word vagina just as we would any other part of the human body, and if it makes you uncomfortable then I’d invite you to unpack the reasons for that.

If you’ve ever needed to purchase period products, either for yourself or on behalf of someone else, you might have experienced the weird feeling that you’re doing something illicit. When HM Treasury announced the removal of tax on menstrual products, the image of a (clean) cartoon tampon in their marketing was branded ‘obscene’ by those who opposed it.

Adverts for menstrual products tend to emphasise discretion; although billions of people will experience menstruation as a healthy natural bodily function, heaven forbid we acknowledge it. Blue liquid is used in advertisements to protect the sensibilities of those watching, many of whom do not have the luxury of avoiding a monthly blood ritual.

A bubbly character in stark white shorts gleefully tells the audience through euphemisms and metaphors how quiet the wrapper is, and we hear how with the addition of an expertly blended, carefully curated scent, even the person using the products will forget they are menstruating. Some products even include a night-time scent in their range, which one can only assume is intended to lull the vagina to sleep.

These products were not created in a vacuum, they have been designed to capitalise on the stigma that vaginas, especially during menstruation, smell bad, and that smell should be masked at all costs. As with many products on the market, creation of a problem necessitates a profitable solution. If we convince people that their vagina is dirty, and smells bad, we can market scented products to counteract this.

These products aren’t just ineffective, they also have the potential to do substantial harm. The vagina is self-cleaning, it has a delicate microbiome and pH which, when left to its own devices, is pretty low maintenance.

The introduction of perfumes and other chemicals designed to mask scent can cause and exacerbate issues such as yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and contact dermatitis, none of which are fun. Often, a change in vaginal scent is a symptom of an issue which does require attention or medical intervention; ignoring or covering it up with perfumes can mask a concern which will not resolve itself and can worsen if neglected. Without adequate education on which products are best to use, combined with the shame felt in accessing help, people can be stuck experiencing unnecessary pain and discomfort for years.

The vagina should never be a sterile environment, like the gut it is full of healthy essential bacteria which work hard to fight against disease and infection. Douching, the practice of spraying water or chemicals inside the vaginal canal in order to clean, disinfect, or kill bacteria has been linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer as a result of HPV.

Lysol, a common American household disinfectant spray was marketed for years as the perfect product for people to use inside the vagina to avoid their ‘intimate neglect’ which could ‘mar a marriage’ and ‘lose a husband,’ a stigma which has somehow survived to this day. The use of chemical douches on the sensitive skin and delicate balance of the vagina can lead to people experiencing everything from allergic reactions to chemical burns. If in doubt, experts recommend leaving the internal genitalia alone and using warm water externally, with the addition of a mild soap or cleanser if desired.

People should be educated on proper vaginal hygiene and given information which is essential to maintain their health and safety, and the health and safety of those around them and in their care.

Despite the stigma which remains, thankfully the tide is turning. People are being increasingly open and honest about menstruation and the importance of vaginal health.

The Scottish government pledged to help overcome period poverty with the provision of free menstrual products, bringing vital exposure to issues which affect millions of people every day. The stigma and shame associated with both menstruation and vaginas in general cannot be overcome until open and honest discussions are held, including people with no prior experience of either.

It doesn’t matter if you have never, or will never experience a period, if everyone is given the proper opportunity to learn the facts, we can help address harmful and stigmatising stereotypes and alleviate the shame that people have been conditioned to feel. Period.