I’d like to let everyone in on a little-known secret about the female body, one that is heavily guarded even from cisgender women themselves: vaginas are supposed to taste (and smell) like vaginas.

Perhaps, you think you already know this information, but you brag about your own vagina’s total lack of flavor. Or maybe, you’re standing in a drugstore wondering why scented vagina sprays and flavored lubes exist if we were meant to taste regular. Regardless, the narrative in which vaginas need to be fresh, fruity, or flavorless, rather than taste like themselves, needs to die.

“Wouldn't you prefer to be that girl who smells and tastes a treat down there?” one blog posts asks, before launching into a list of suggestions to make your vagina taste like dessert. 

In another article on Thought Catalog, thirteen men described the flavor of their girlfriend’s vaginas with answers ranging from “strawberry ice cream” to “nothing”. Meanwhile, flavored lubricant exists, and companies like My Sweet V sell supplements that promise to make our vaginas mimic a fruit salad. Feminine hygiene aisles are stocked with sprays, wipes, and powders that we use to soak up moisture and extend our fresh-out-of-the-shower flavorless-ness. All of this reflects a culture of shame when it comes to our vaginas.

As a teenager, vagina shame manifested as a reluctance for my partners to eat me out, although I was comfortable performing oral sex on them. In my early twenties, I was using every Summer’s Eve product in their lineup, even after my boyfriend reassured me that it was unnecessary. I kept my fridge stocked with pineapples because some Instagram guru claimed that ingesting them added sweetness to your lady bits. And while my behavior seems unusual to me now, it felt like a fundamental aspect of womanhood then.  

I imagined that some women were guilty of vaginal neglect, in which they were simply washing their genitals, rather than waxing, spraying, and dieting them into submission like I was. I had two roommates with their own rosters of feminine hygiene products and I remember us celebrating what this meant about our bodies -- that we were better partners because of this. But vaginas don’t actually require alteration. They don’t need special packaging, or to be flavored like ice cream. And men, whose semen can taste anywhere from bitter to sweet to bleachy, are rarely met with unrealistic flavor standards the way women are. To a degree, I think we accept that they might even taste awful sometimes.

Vagina shame teaches women that their genitals need to be unobtrusive and floral. We learn not only to pay attention to how we taste, but to the scent and appearance of our sexual parts. We learn that shaving and waxing is an essential part of feminine hygiene, even though pubic hair functions to protect our vaginas from bacteria and friction. And none of that is necessary because our body parts should be allowed to taste and smell and look like body parts. In fact, they should be more than tolerated, they should be celebrated.

If the concept of vagina shame seems hard to believe, consider that many of our grandmothers and mothers taught us to sprinkle baby powder in our underwear to stay fresh. Black families in particular passed on this tradition of using baby powder in feminine hygiene -- and companies like Johnson and Johnson marketed specifically and aggressively to black women. Later, they encountered more than a thousand lawsuits when it was discovered that they knew that their products could be linked to cervical and ovarian cancer. In many ways, this shows how the belief that vaginas are inherently pungent, collaborated with stereotypes about blackness, to form the idea that black women in particular needed to take steps to alter their natural taste and smell. Johnson and Johnson was able to manufacture an insecurity and then capitalize on it.

Similarly, some women spend money on douches or the process of steaming their genital areas, even though both of these can be harmful as well. When we are made to believe that there is something inherently wrong with our body parts, it’s easy to justify practices that will allegedly fix them. The problem is: our vaginas don’t actually need fixing.

Absent of an infection, vaginas always smell and taste normal, and normal varies. Some people describe vaginas as sour, while others claim they’re vinegary. Since vaginas are acidic in nature, a lot of people accept that as a good adjective for how they taste. To me, vaginas taste kind of like a jar of pennies -- only I’m really into the flavor of these particular coins. 

And what you eat does affect how your vagina tastes but it’s not that important. According to Women’s Health, garlic, alcohol, dairy, spices, broccoli, asparagus, and red meat -- which participate in most of our diets -- can impact our pH and negatively affect the way our vaginas taste. Fruits, on the other hand, can make our vaginas taste sweeter. And while I recognize that a little extra sweetness couldn’t be a bad thing, I don’t actually care that much to prioritize vaginas according to these minute differences in flavor. I think if any woman has a partner who requires dietary changes and special sprays to go down on her, she should find a new partner -- it would require less effort.

Of course, unpleasant tastes and odors do happen. Bacterial vaginosis causes a notoriously fishy odor, and other forms of bacteria can create an odor similar to raw meat. I’m not discounting any of that and if you’re ever seriously concerned, you should see a doctor. Otherwise, if you’re showering every day, your vagina probably smells and tastes great.

We have to abstain from the expectation that our vaginas will taste and smell like unwrapped Starburst candies. It’s an unrealistic body standard and it prevents us from celebrating and enjoying our vaginas in their natural state. Take it from someone who owns a vagina, and has tasted a few herself: they smell far less offensive than we’re led to believe.

Image Source: Hello Flo