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Why is a new feminine-care ad so shocking?

Alessandro de Leo/Thinkstock

How would you describe the substance that comes out of a woman's private parts when she's not menstruating?

Let's just call it what it is: vaginal discharge.

That's what Carefree did in its latest ad for underwear liners, which shows a naked young woman, her body hidden behind white flowers, discussing the often taboo subject of female bodily functions.

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"How well do you know your body?" the woman asks. "Even that bit of discharge … is our body working to keep the vagina healthy."

Ads for "feminine care" products are replete with euphemisms (and what's with the blue liquid?), featuring young women beaming at the camera while they strike a yoga pose or jump off a diving board.

"You never see a bathroom, you never see a woman using a product," Elissa Stein, co-author of the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, told The New York Times in a 2010 article about menstrual product ads. "They never show someone having cramps or her face breaking out or tearful – it's always happy, playful, sporty women."

After the Carefree ad aired Sunday night, the Advertising Standards Bureau in Australia starting receiving complaints – five so far. But the company has defended the commercial, saying it is "the first time a major brand has had the guts to use real words, not euphemisms or diminutive terms."

Campaign spokeswoman Debbie Selikman told Nine News in Australia that Carefree conducted research and found that women wanted ads to use the proper terminology for their anatomy; other words used for vagina made women feel like they should be ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies.

It wasn't until 1985 that the word "period" was said on TV in a Tampax commercial by none other than Courteney Cox (before Friends, of course). That was 27 years ago. Maybe one day we'll look back and think how silly it was that "vaginal discharge" would be described in any other way.

Should advertisements for feminine products do away with euphemisms?

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