When I started testosterone, I was excited and nervous. I didn’t have an end goal in sight, but I knew I wanted to be perceived as less “feminine” and feel more at home in my own body. I watched my body slowly unfold into its beautifully acned, lowered voice, hairy state over the next few months. Over a year later I’m still enjoying seeing my body shift in the ways that it wants to and to feel more and more at home inside of it.
Within the first few months, I started to notice how much more I began to sweat. I have always been a sweaty person. I overheat at the drop of a hat — I start to sweat even after drinking hots drink — even in cool weather. I’ve come to learn that this is one of the many qualities my chronically ill body has given me. My specific heat sensitivity is likely linked to either my fibromyalgia or my immune disease, or both. It’s hard to tell what the root cause is.
However, I always felt blessed that my sweat never had a strong smell. When depression has left me unable to take care of myself and shower as much as I would like or need to, this has been especially helpful. On testosterone, it wasn’t so much that I had more sweat, although I did sweat more easily, but rather that the smell of my sweat was STRONG. I found myself feeling frustrated that my body now demanded more stringent hygiene care than I’ve felt it’s needed in my past.
I am not a physically active person. In large part because of my disabilities, but also because my personality just isn’t inclined to find pleasure and motivation in moving my body a lot on a daily basis. However, after starting testosterone, I could stay at home, shower, and wear deodorant and still smell like I’d been out doing (playing? ugh) sport all day. Experiencing this with my armpits felt natural and expected. But what blindsided me was how this impacted the smell of my crotch.
Suddenly my crotch would have such a strong scent just from the sweat induced by existing, that by halfway through a day I could often smell its unpleasantness radiating off of me. I felt like I needed to change my underwear twice a day at least to stay fresh and not obviously smell. I felt that I needed to wash all my pants after wearing them once. I felt like I was drowning under the incessant and constant assault of unpleasantness from the new daily workings of my crotch area.
Being someone who is a compulsive (and I don’t use that description lightly) fixer, I read everything I could find about this. Wear looser fitting clothes, natural underwear materials like cotton instead of synthetics, hair removal, using baby powder (baby powder is an especially dangerous suggestion, as even regular Johnson&Johnson powder is found to be cancerous). Nothing was working for me.
There is the predominant idea amongst feminists that the “feminine” hygiene industry is largely oppressive — selling the idea that vaginas should smell unnaturally pleasant and be perceived as “clean” to the detriment of the vagina’s health. There is the attitude that this industry skews people’s understanding of what is normal and desirable, and leaves so many people with vaginas feeling anxious about their natural scents. This is, of course, true, and a lot of “feminine” hygiene products aren’t healthy and involve a lot of artificial ingredients and perfumes.
However, many products fully take into account the natural pH of vaginas, and don’t leave an artificial scent, but simply act as a fresh wipe. Finding these was an absolute revelation for me, and allowed me to feel fresh and deal with odour in a way that didn’t make me feel self-conscious, and was easy.
This left me feeling two things. One, guilt that I was relying on “feminine hygiene” products “as a feminist”, and two, how the fuck do cis guys deal with this, not having products they can use/are “geared” towards them? It blew my mind that the industry treats hygiene as feminine to this extent (although generally obvious when men who moisturize or use additional face products, for example, are seen as exceptions rather than the norm).
When I looked this up, lo and behold, I found the answer for men: “Dude Wipes” (https://www.amazon.com/Flushable-Individually-Wrapped-Unscented-Vitamin/dp/B008LXBZF2). The product reps say, “THE FUTURE IS NOW: We hated using toilet paper so we created the flushable DUDE Wipes, wet wipes specifically for cleansing your dude regions.”
Cis men have to rely on TOILET PAPER to clean daily sweat away? Hygienic genital friendly wipes for men ARE THE FUTURE? Y’all, we are truly living in a dystopia.
Ultimately I used Gynaguard Sensitive Individual Wipes, which are also helpful for those who are prone to vaginal infections. They have no scent and are pH friendly. They are also fairly affordable with a 12 pack costing about R33 (#notsponsored).
Ultimately, after all this, it just feels like although the “feminine hygiene” industry does 100% play into “women’s” anxieties about their bodies naturally occurring smells and ways of being, that also the way hygiene has been largely ‘feminised’ hurts men and masculine people as well.
I wanted to write this piece, for other trans people who might take testosterone and go through the same experience, and particularly for cis women feminists who bash the whole feminine hygiene industry (which led to me feeling a lot of shame, ironically). Also, for cis men, I hope you’re okay.
Honestly, we should all have access to products which are safe and make us feel good, gender marketing be damned.