This Vagina Smells Like My Candle

This Vagina Smells Like My Candle

What do vaginas smell like?

In 2020 Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous wellness company, Goop, debuted a $75 candle with the inscription, This Smells Like My Vagina, scrawled in large, chic font across the front. It was instantly engulfed in a wave of media attention and think pieces, internet humor and criticism. I think this is partially due to the fact that anything with the word Vagina meant to be displayed prominently on a coffee table is thought of by a lot of people as a taboo. Goop opted not to use a vaginal euphemism and for that I do respect the effort. 

However, the other side of the coin and, I think, the real reason why it lit a flame of internet fury, is that one would be hard pressed to find any vagina in the world that actually smells like this candle. Per the product description: “With a funny, gorgeous, sexy, and beautifully unexpected scent, this candle is made with geranium, citrusy bergamot, and cedar absolutes juxtaposed with Damask rose and ambrette seed to put us in mind of fantasy, seduction, and a sophisticated warmth.” 

…..Okie dokie. 

I don’t know anyone who owns this candle nor was I about to purchase it at that price tag research purposes. Bad journalism? Perhaps, but based solely on the product description and the bold inclusion of floral scents, I can already tell you that getting a whiff of this candle would rub me the wrong way. It’s not that I believe Gwyneth and her collaborators at perfumer, Heretic, actually think this is what a vagina smells like. It’s that there is an ever-looming cultural pressure for a vagina to smell not like vagina but like a flower, specifically (walk down the aisle of any store that sells vaginal washes to see how deeply ingrained this floral-vagina concept is). The makers of this candle are feeding directly into this flower-spiracy by selecting the scent palette that they did. Vaginas are not a “fantasy,” though the culture at large treats them as such (not to reference my own writing…but I’m about to reference my own writing). They do not constantly exist in a state of “seduction.” They are, in fact, lived all day everyday by the people who have them.

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Interview with Courtney Sender

Interview with Courtney Sender

A red line of thread that connects us

My first time hearing fiction writer and essayist Courtney Sender’s short story, “To Do With the Body,” was on the porch of an artist residency. It was dusk, a hot summer. She read it aloud. Her speaking voice reminded me of the way many singers’ voices embody the content of their songs. She delivered the story with evocative vulnerability, brutal honesty, and acknowledgement of the hard truths and uglier emotions that inhabit our bodies and minds when we experience heartbreak. The story is set in a museum of period clothes, a play on words in this case meaning a museum of clothes that have been stained by menstrual blood. The story hit me like a ton of bricks. I ruminated on why. Sometimes we can’t really know why certain art affects us so much, but I think in this case it had a lot to do with its bodiliness. The way it didn’t shy away from the physical experience of people who menstruate in tandem with the universality of heartache and the longing to be loved. 

This short story originally appeared in prestigious literary journal, Prairie Schooner, and will be part of Courtney’s debut book, In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me (which was just announced this month and will be published in spring 2023), “a series of interlocking suites populated with past lovers who resurface, lost mothers and fathers with secret pasts, ghosts of the Holocaust and messages from the dead, collectively mining themes of isolation, love, loss, and longing.” Courtney’s work has been widely published in literary journals as well as The Atlantic and The New York Times’ “Modern Love.” I called her up recently for a candid conversation on art and the body. 

“I love my period.” Courtney laughs. “I totally understand why a lot of people don’t love it, but I do. It makes me feel connected to ancestral knowledge. It’s a red line of thread that connects me to other women.” This connectivity of the self to the body and in turn, other people is a hallmark of Courtney’s work. “It’s interesting,” she says. “If periods and menstruation appear in stories at all, they are often used as plot points, not just as something that’s a normalized part of the character’s experience. There’s the coming-of-age storyline of getting your period or the drama of missing your period, getting pregnant. But that’s not really how we actually experience menstruation in our daily lives. It’s so much more ubiquitous than these singular moments.”

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The Best Underwear for Your Vagina

The Best Underwear for Your Vagina

No UTI and no VPL?!

Cotton truly is the best underwear material for your vagina. The key is that it’s breathable and moisture-wicking in a way that a lot of synthetic fabrics aren’t. If you’re someone who revels in wearing cute underwear, we know that it can be frustrating to forgo the veritable rainbow of material and texture options out there that aren’t cotton. We also very much feel your pain when it comes to not wanting a UTI or a VPL (visible panty line, if you’re still trying to discern this acronym). So, here’s our round-up of the best cotton underwear options for comfort, vaginal health, and when you kinda just want your cool new leather pants to be the star of the night, not your panty line (or, alternatively, when you just wanna wear cool underwear as clothes). 

Best High Rise Underwear

SKIMS Cotton Jersey String Bikini - $18 (90% cotton, 10% spandex)

Inspired by the string bikinis of the 90s, the SKIMS high rise string bikini is effortless and flattering on all bodies, with just enough coverage. 

Softest Cotton Underwear 

Kent Organic Pima Cotton Bikini - $18 per pair  (100% cotton)

These undies manage to be both 100% cotton and incredibly soft. If comfort is absolutely paramount to you (Guessing it is for most of us), these are an excellent option.

Best Sustainably-Made Cotton Underwear 

Oddobody 3-Pack - $61 for 3 pack  (100% cotton)

Oddobody cares a lot about both vaginal health and creating products for it that are sustainably and ethically made. All of their underwear is 100% cotton and 3 packs come in three style options and a handful of color choices. 

Best Cotton Underwear for No Panty Line

HANRO Invisible Cotton Thong - $26 per pair (86% cotton, 14% elastane)

Although it does contain some elastane, HANRO is amazingly still mostly cotton. It’s seamless, invisible under clothes, and super comfortable. 

Best 100% Cotton Thong 

Oddobody Thong - $22 per pair (100% cotton) 

Getting as close to 100% cotton as possible is key, and it can be really hard to find thongs in that range. Luckily, Oddobody just dropped their completely cotton model.  

Best Cotton Underwear Set 

The Knickyy Starter Set - 5 pairs for $65 (95% cotton, 5% elastane)

This set is basically a sampler of every style that The Knickery makes. You get one pair in each style and you get to choose all the colors! 

Brand with the Best Cotton Underwear Style Options 

Natori Bliss French Cut Briefs - 3 pairs for $48 (94% pima cotton, 6% lycra)

If you are trying to appeal to multitudes within yourself while also keeping your vagina happy, Natori’s got you covered with endless classy styles and colors to choose from. 

Best Cotton Boy Shorts  

Pact Boy Shorts - $14 (95% cotton, 5% elastane)

If boy shorts are your vibe, Pact makes an excellent cotton pair that’s extremely comfortable and stylish. Not to mention they have tons of color and pattern options.  

Chicest Cotton Underwear 

Araks Mabel Hipster - $60 (100% cotton)

Araks makes extremely comfortable underwear that is so beautiful and cool we’d honestly prefer not to wear clothes over them. If you’re someone who values style and treats underwear shopping with the same seriousness as shopping for the perfect pair of vintage jeans, you may have just met your match. 

Best Embroidered Cotton Underwear 

Poppy Undies - $55/$60 (94% cotton)

Art artful take on the classic white undie, these come in a French cut and are hand-embroidered. Options include everything from a cactus and strawberries to a little uterus.

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Vaginal Wellness Myth-Busting

Vaginal Wellness Myth-Busting

You’re gonna put what in your vagina?

Just like with many other viral health and/or beauty hacks and trends, the world of vaginal care is filled to the brim with a veritable minefield of bad advice from the blatantly untrue to the downright dangerous. Much of it is plagued with the same subliminal messaging that seems to follow women everywhere; the body you were born with is not good enough and you should willingly go to extremes to change it. Of course, many of these trends are things people try out of desperation. Folks who experience chronic vaginal infections or UTIs might be willing to do anything at a certain point, and, trust me, I get it. In my early twenties putting cloves of garlic up your vagina was all the rage amongst my hip NYC friends. And, sweetie, I did it. Did it do anything positive for me? Not that I could tell. Did it do anything negative? Also, nothing noticeable, luckily. But the point is that I did it without really knowing whether it was a good idea. It could have just been harmless snake oil or it could have turned out to be poison, and that’s the point really. Don’t subject your vagina to things that might be a good idea. It’s not worth it to find out that it was a really bad idea after all. 

I do wonder if it's the tabooness of everyday conversations about vaginal wellness and thus a lack of understanding about the vagina itself is what allows misinformation and malpractice to fester so readily online. In a recent interview with Harvard urogynecologist, Dr. Emily Von Bargen, I asked for her medical opinion on a number of vaginal care practices that circulate on social media and via word of mouth, and she had some very definitive answers. No doubt, vaginal wellness falsities will continue to live on the internet for a long time to come, so in a sea of opinions and information, how do you discern fact from myth? According to Dr. Von Bargen, it’s actually pretty simple. The bottom line is; don’t put random things in your vagina. 

There are, of course, certain things that can go in there. For example, nontoxic period products (removed in a timely manner), non-toxic and non-irritating lube, certain suppositories (when directed by a medical professional, certain over the counter suppositories to treat things like yeast infections, or over the counter boric acid suppositories in the case of severe yeast infections), clean sex toys, washed apendages, a penis after a conversation about testing and consent. But in regards to the vast majority of objects - both organic and inorganic - Dr. Von Bargen says, “We should really avoid putting anything in the vagina that we don’t need to.” The vaginal biome does not need to be protected because it is fragile, it needs to be protected because it is a self-possessed environment that contains its own powerful system of care, which usually works very well if you let it. 

Put it in the soup, not the vagina. 

Two of the popular practices we discussed in terms of DIY infection remedies were the good old garlic clove trick and soaking tampons in yogurt. Neither of these are scientifically-proven to alleviate or prevent vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. In fact, because the garlic clove or the yogurt might not be completely sanitary when placed into the vagina, they could actually start an infection or make an existing one worse. 

Boric acid suppositories should only be used to treat severe yeast infections

Recently, the use of boric acid suppositories has become more widespread. I was telling a friend that I was struggling with some chronic bacterial vaginosis, particularly after sex, and her immediate response was “Just pop a boric acid suppository in there after you do it! It’ll clear the irritation right up!” It sounded so easy, like just popping a magical bean inside of my vagina...So I bought a pack and tried it. Did it help? It might have, but Dr. Von Bargen warned against the overuse of boric acid suppositories. “They are often used for the stronger and more resistant strains of yeast that can grow. Yeast infections that are refractory or nonresponsive to more mainstream treatment.” It’s not something that’s recommended on a weekly basis. “You don’t want to change the microbiome of the vagina,” she says. “The boric acid is going to change the pH and that’s good if you’re treating a pathogen or bacteria that’s there, but if it’s not there then you might be changing the normal flora which can lead to more infections.” And, reminder, Never, EVER, under any circumstances, ingest a boric acid suppository orally. They are toxic if taken by mouth. 

Honestly, yeah, I was bummed to hear that boric acid wasn’t the magical cure all that my friends and the internet wanted it to be, but, hey, sometimes the truth hurts. And it's OK. Onwards and upwards.  

Vaginal douching

 

There’s a is a longstanding tradition in our patriarchal society of dictating to women that there is something wrong with their body, that the optimal body is not their actual body, but some nonexistent version of Woman projected upon all of us (see Shea's article on hairless vulvas in art history if you want to spiral on that shit). As I mentioned at the beginning, the pervasive drive for bodily perfection that permeates the health and beauty industry at large is unfortunately also very present in our orientation toward vaginal care. Sure, waxing, shaving, and lasering could fall into that category (that’s more of a vulva care thing), but what I’m really talking about here are invasive practices like douching, vaginal steaming, and the use of scented and flavored suppositories to alter the smell and taste of the vagina (yes, honey, I said flavored.) 

“Vaginal douching is basically putting anything in the vagina to wash the tissue,” Dr. Von Bargen says. I.e., water, vinegar, cleanser (putting garlic or yogurt up there to cleanse it would be considered douching as well) or an actual douching device to stream water or other substances into the vagina to clean it. The practice dates back to the 1800s and has a long, toxic history involving a parade of horrifying water tanks, hoses, syringes, and bags meant to clean and freshen the vagina. People have attempted to use it as a form of birth control (washing out semen won’t prevent pregnancy), but mostly it's purpose is to try and eliminate natural things that people find undesirable about the vagina. Scent, taste, discharge, menstrual blood. The underlying messaging with all of this is that the vagina and its normal and healthy processes are dirty. This messaging is especially toxic considering that douching is not only unnecessary but actually quite dangerous. According to OSHA, douching can cause bacterial vaginosis, pelvic inflammatory disorder, ectopic pregnancy, vaginal irritation and drying, and can increase your risk of contracting STIs. “You really don’t want to douche,” Dr. Von Bargen says. 

So, yeah, basically, the douching vibes are bad. Very bad. The same goes for vaginal steaming (sitting over a bowl of steaming water, sometimes infused with herbs) - essentially just douching in steam form - it can cause infection, irritation, and if the steam’s too hot, it can burn you. 

In 2020, Health magazine did a full run-down of the scented/flavored vaginal suppository fad that went viral on TikTok. The company that makes the vaginal “melts” claims that they are completely natural and nontoxic or irritating, but as an OBGYN in the article notes, “Just because something is ‘natural’ does not mean that it won’t alter the vaginal pH.” It’s no different than the garlic clove issue. Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it won't be irritating or cause infection. And ultimately, if you’re hell bent on trying one of these vaginal melts, it seems important to have an honest check-in with yourself about why. 

“You do not need to buy any soap specifically for the vagina.”

So, now that we know what we are not supposed to do to clean and care for the vagina, the next question is, what are we supposed to be doing? Dr. Von Bargen’s answer is extremely straightforward; “Nothing. Just let the water run down the vagina. You don’t want to put anything in it, because it is going to make things worse.” Really? Nothing? Really. Nothing. “You can lather your public hair or the top of the vulva, but you don’t want to go down lower where it can get into the vagina. The best bet is really just to let the water run down while you’re cleaning your body. You don’t want to put anything inside the vagina because it can lead to infection, which is what I think a lot of women don’t realize. Because we think cleaning is always better, but actually, in the vagina it's not. You do not need to buy any soaps specifically for the vagina.” You heard it here, folks. Save your money, skip the vaginal soaps completely. 

There’s a lot of vaginal care information and misinformation floating around out there. And on top of that, a lot of cultural shame about vaginal care and the vagina itself. It’s not a great combo for having open and informed conversations about health. Though it can sometimes feel isolating to wade through all of it, we are truly all out here together trying to figure this shit out. My new vaginal health motto is going to be; friends don’t let friends vaginally douche. How bout we make that go viral. 

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Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday Gift Guide

A very cheeky holiday to you

The Cheeky’s inaugural holiday gift guide includes creative products for everyday vaginal health, fun & shame-free brands that celebrate the body, and gifts that help us get to know ourselves and the world around us. We hope this curated list gives you some cheeky, outside-the-box holiday inspo. 

TUSHY Bidet - $99

Bidets for all! That’s TUSHY’s goal. This easy to install bidet is a great way to achieve both a cleaner butt and buy less toilet paper. And, lucky you, right now the bidet is available in limited edition pink.

The Cheeky Hoodie - $48

Official Cheeky Bonsai swag for the Cheekier Than Average. Our exciting first foray into apparel comes in cozy cream or apricot lettering. Pick your pigment and tag us when you wear it @cheekybonsai #cheekierthanaverage 

Cosmic Cultures probiotics - $15.99 

Cosmic Cultures probiotics makes yummy probiotic foods like yogurt and kraut which support gut and vaginal health. Stardust period tracking app founder, Rachel Moranis swears by them for vaginal biome support. Instead of sending fruit cake or Edible Arrangements (not that you would, but…), consider the gift of probiotics. 

Zomchi Safety Razor - $16

If you’ve been following our TikTok, you know that we love safety razors. They’re better for ingrowns because you don’t have to tug at the hair by applying pressure, and better for the environment because, in this case, you simply swap out razors on a pretty rose gold handle. 

Quinn - $4.99/month 

Quinn makes audio porn for women and has literally any vibe you’re looking for. Their slogan is Quinn girls come first, and listening to Quinn, that checks out. 

Nipple Sweater - $95

Perhaps one of the cheekiest of all the companies included on this list, Fashion Brand Company specializes in the quirky, the ironic, and, sometimes, the downright absurd (we think the Nipple Knit Top is a perfect balance of all three). 

Cheeky Bonsai UTI Care Bundle - $44 

If someone in your life struggles with UTIs or is interested in exploring more ways to stay on top of everyday urinary health, give the gift of Cheeky Bonsai.

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What is a UTI?

What is a UTI?

UTI How-To's

What’s a UTI?

A urinary tract infection is an infection of your urinary system, which can include infection in urethra, bladder, kidney and uterus. Usually infections are in the lower urinary tract, meaning the urethra and bladder. 

People with vaginas and penises can both get UTIs, but people with vaginas are at higher risk and tend to get them more frequently. 

What are common UTI symptoms? 

UTI symptoms can include a burning sensation when peeing, an urge to pee frequently, cloudy urine that might smell off, pink or bloody urine, and pelvic pain. 

What causes UTIs? 

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. This can occur in many ways, but triggers can include sex (sometimes a new partner can increase risk), not completely emptying your bladder or holding your pee for extremely long periods of time, certain types of birth control (diaphragms and spermicide primarily), and menopause. Having a vagina increases your risk since the urethra is shorter and bacteria doesn’t have to travel as far to get to the bladder. 

Are UTIs an STD? 

UTIs are not an STD. 

How are UTIs treated? 

More severe UTIs including blood in urine or burning that won’t go away will likely require medical attention and potentially antibiotics. Less severe UTIs can be cured without antibiotics. If you are concerned about your UTI symptoms please contact your doctor. You can relieve UTI pain with Cheeky Bonsai’s fast-acting tablets while treating the infection with or without antibiotics. 

How can UTIs be avoided?

Symptomatic UTIs can be treated with antibiotics, but other measures can be taken to cure and prevent them:

- Stay hydrated (!!!!)

- Pee after sex

- Wipe front to back

- Wash sex toys after use

- Wear cotton underwear

- Change out of sweaty clothes after exercising

- Use Cheeky Bonsai’s UTI Drink Mix (with D-Mannose, cranberry antioxidants, and electrolytes to support a healthy urinary tract) 

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Cranberry Juice For UTIs?

Cranberry Juice For UTIs?

To cranberry or not to cranberry

If you’ve ever had a UTI chances are that someone on the internet or in real life has recommended chugging cranberry juice to make it go away. But is that actually effective? To get to the bottom of this, we sat down with Cheeky Bonsai medical advisor and Harvard urogynecologist, Dr. Emily Von Bargen, who shed some light on the whole cranberry fixation. 

“It depends on the type of cranberry you’re using,” Dr. Von Bargen says. “We actually recommend avoiding cranberry juice because it’s high in sugar and very low in the amount of cranberry. You want to try to have the purest form of cranberry, which is not found in juices.” OK, so pure cranberry: good, cranberry juice: not so good. Feel free to go cranberry crazy over Thanksgiving, but don’t drop cranberry juice in the cart the next time you feel a UTI coming on. 

So, why cranberries at all though? There’s actually a very good reason. “Cranberry produces this enzyme, this byproduct that prevents bacteria from attaching to the lining of the bladder,” Says Dr. Von Bargen. “It’s similar to D-mannose, which is also in the Cheeky Bonsai UTI Drink Mix.” D-mannose is a type of sugar that similarly prevents bacteria from attaching to the bladder lining. And what’s really great about both cranberry and D-mannose is that they are all natural. “They have some really promising health benefits for the bladder.” Especially if you’re someone who suffers from recurring UTIs, natural remedies can be a lifesaver when repeat rounds of antibiotics are beginning to cause more problems than solutions. 

“UTIs can go away on their own,” Dr. Von Bargen says. “A lot of women’s fear is that it's going to go up and affect the kidneys, but that’s pretty rare. There are cases where women are able to get rid of the UTI on their own so they don’t always need antibiotics.” A study published by the journal of Translational Andrology and Urology states that “by some estimates, 25 - 42 percent of uncomplicated UTI infections clear on their own.” UTIs don’t need to be treated unless they are symptomatic, meaning burning, pain, blood in urine or frequent urination. To curb a mild UTI without antibiotics Dr. Von Bargen recommends drinking lots of fluids. “You’re trying to cleanse the urinary tract,” she says. “The best treatment for a UTI that’s symptomatic is going to be antibiotics, but not all UTIs need to be treated and definitely if a woman is not symptomatic, it doesn’t need to be treated.” 

So, how do you know when it’s time to go to your doctor versus treat the UTI yourself? “Women know their bodies so well,” Dr. Von Bargen says. “Especially women who get recurrent UTIs. They kind of get the sense of whether or not it’s a low grade UTI where they can drink enough liquids to flush out their system and it will go away. But, if you’re having blood in your urine or other significant symptoms, that’s unlikely to go away with just hydration. It will make you feel better to stay really hydrated, but if you’re uncomfortable you’ll probably want to do the quickest thing and that’s going to be an antibiotic.” 

To wrap everything we learned; cranberry in its purest form is good for preventing and helping to treat UTIs, but cranberry juice or cocktail isn’t going to do much. Options such as the Cheeky Bonsai UTI Drink Mix which combines cranberry with D-mannose and electrolytes for hydration is a much better as a preventative measure as well as to help flush out low grade UTIs. If you have severe symptoms you should consult your doctor about whether you need to take antibiotics. The bottom line is that we are the only ones who truly know our bodies, and we need to listen to them. If you struggle with recurrent low grade UTIs there are options and strategies out there that don’t involve constant antibiotics, but as with anything it's a process of trial and error to find what works best for you. It can be extremely frustrating, but as Dr. Von Bargen says, “UTIs are very common.” Lots of women struggle with them and no one needs to feel ashamed or isolated while taking care of their everyday health. 

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Behind Cheeky Bonsai

Behind Cheeky Bonsai

Unapologetic musings

I’m interviewing Cheeky Bonsai founders, Catherine Nguyen and Elise Johnson, over the phone. Although I can’t see them, their closeness not only as colleagues, but as dear friends, is extremely apparent in the way they respond to questions, laugh, and make space for each other’s words. “We’re kind of business married,” Catherine says at one point, “You can’t shy away from problems, you have to learn how to communicate.” Elise chimes in; “Yeah, you really learn how to appreciate each other. And that appreciation deepens with time.” 

The two first met as Stanford undergrads where Catherine studied adolescent health and Elise was focused on product design. Across years of friendship they bonded over common passions surrounding women’s health. Like many (more than 50% of women!), they’d both dealt with UTIs and were sick of the societal shame that comes with literally just having a vagina. So, they decided to do something about it. 

They started developing the concept for a new kind of women's health brand during quarantine. Elise’s mom actually helped them come up with the name. “We were brainstorming over Zoom when my mom chimed in from the kitchen, How about bonsai like the bush?! And we added, Done, but let’s make it cheeky.” 

An unapologetic stance regarding everyday health has always been at the core of what makes Cheeky Bonsai what it is, and Elise and Catherine are no stranger to the difficult process of unlearning shame. “I was raised in a very conservative Catholic family,” Catherine says, “So there were just certain things we never talked about. There were all these taboos surrounding sex, but also just talking about vaginas and vulvas. I carried that shame into my conversations with friends, but after going to college I really came into myself and became more comfortable talking about my health.” Being shameless isn’t a personality trait, Elise adds, “It’s always a process to accept and love yourself. Legacy brands in our space are all about the act of covering things up, but we’re not about being discreet. We’re flipping the embarrassing conversation on its head. Just like your favorite fashion or beauty brand, women’s health should be something that you can actually relate to.” 

Picking a name, cake. Agreeing on what they wanted the brand to stand for, easy. The real hard work came in developing the type of science-backed products they wanted to see widely-available to all people with vaginas. The products they themselves wish they had access to over the past decade. A major step in moving toward that goal was connecting with a trusted medical partner. Dr. Emily Von Bargen, a Harvard urogynecologist (doctor specializing in pelvic floor conditions) and gynecological surgeon, ultimately served as their first medical advisor. And after lots of iterations, trial and error, and hard work in between, Cheeky Bonsai finally launched its first products for UTI care in August 2021. 

In the process of creating Cheeky Bonsai, one major thing that Elise and Catherine learned was just how much misinformation about vaginal health is circulating on the internet. Stigmas about vaginal scent, UTIs, and sex, bad advice surrounding women’s health...The list goes on. “We thought there should be a trusted, science-backed brand guiding these conversations,” Elise says. Neither Elise or Catherine were TikTok people pre-Cheeky Bonsai, but they saw an opportunity to use the platform for sharing accurate information in a way that was both straightforward and fun. They clearly scratched an itch because their videos addressing basic vaginal health facts and how-to’s quickly went viral. “People on TikTok are open to more real conversations. Things aren’t edited. They aren’t polished,” Catherine says, “Be real. Be weird. Be supportive of each other.” Those are the vibes that Cheeky Bonsai wants to embody. 

I signed off by asking Catherine and Elise what founding Cheeky Bonsai has taught them about themselves and about what it means to live unapologetically. This prompted two contemplative sighs, in unison. “Founding Cheeky Bonsai pushed me out of my comfort zone.” Catherine says. “Telling my own story and having it be broadcast.” I can feel Elise nodding supportively through the phone. “Yeah, we’re not the type of people who are going to yell in your face Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! I think it’s more about being comfortable in your way. Your comfort can manifest in many different ways.” It feels like one of the main reasons why Cheeky Bonsai has already made a poignant mark in the women’s health space, even though it's such a young company, is because of this very stance. They aren’t telling you to be anything. They are providing tools and resources to simply be comfortable being yourself. And that stance is a meaningful one for both the Cheeky Bonsai community and the founders themselves.

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Hairless Vulvas in Art History

Hairless Vulvas in Art History

Did Aphrodite shave or wax?

Yes, I am actively looking for someone to blame for the whole hairless vulva > hairy vulva situation. No thank you for the razor burn, countless dollars thrown to hot wax, and time spent removing pubic hair when I could be thinking about, I don’t know, making an NFT or this TikTok. I am firmly in the camp of all people have the right to body autonomy and if you want to be hairless and slippery from the neck down like a dolphin then that is your goddamn right. I’m actually equally disinterested in any argument that hairy is objectively better. Because, personally, I believe whatever you want is valid. I just don’t like being pressured into thinking that one is better for reasons of perceived hygiene or sexual desirability. There’s a Lolita-ness to the whole fixation with being bare that leaves me deeply uncomfortable. I know that I was not born desiring to have a bare vulva. I know that hair grows there naturally and serves the purpose of protecting my genitals. So, why is the image of the hairless vulva so seemingly ubiquitous and treated with such superiority when it’s not typically natural on an adult and isn’t particularly practical? 

The first culprit that came to mind was mainstream pornography. The fetishization of young women (Pornhub reported that “Teen” was the fifth most searched term in 2019), the image of the hairless vulva (often including a labia of a certain size and shape) is reiterated over and over again, seemingly infinitely. I’d love to blame dear old Pornhub for my woes, but that would be a grave oversimplification of what is actually a long (very long) and winding history dating back to the earliest known depictions of the human body in art. We’re talking 35,000 BCE (what does that even mean, cannot compute). Early humans carved a vulva on a cave wall in what is now Vézère Valley, France. It’s a rather crude rendition, but clearly sans hair. Of course, the question is; was that intentional? Or is it just really hard to carve tiny hairs into rock? I’m no expert in Paleolithic art (not that anyone thought I was), but my initial reaction was, yeah, it’s obviously just very hard to create detail with a blunt object in a dark cave…However, my pet theory was immediately challenged when I learned that starting in 29,000 BCE little Venus statues began to show up all over Europe and Russia, depicting women with huge boobs, curvy butts, and hairless vulvas. Not even the slightest etching of public hair. These Venus statues walked so that Bratz dolls could run. And later on, all around the world, there are more examples still of the ever persistent hairless vulva. “The Dancing girl of Mohenjo-Daro” from modern day northern India, depictions of the goddess Hathor in ancient Egypt, The “Burney Relief” in what is now Iraq. The list goes on. 

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Vulvas on the Runway

Vulvas on the Runway

I’m couturgasming

There’s nothing more meta than wearing your own body as clothing...over your body. We’re not talking Silence of the Lambs, we’re talking fashion inspired by the body, and of course, being that this is The Cheeky, we’re specifically talking about the representation of vulvas and vaginas on the runway.

There are a lot of shapes and colors in fashion reminiscent of the vulva, a lot of articles out there with pictures of celebs wearing flowing pink gowns with captions reading “Big Vulva Energy Rocks the Red Carpet.” But, in all honesty, the *essence* of vulva doesn’t really do it for us. We were on the hunt for something a little less...subtle. Finally, we stumbled across the holy grail of labial couture; a spring/summer 2018 collection by a then lesser known brand called Namilia, which now sells through the likes of hyper-ubiquitous, Dolls Kill. Founded by Nan Li and Emilia Pfohl, two designers who met at the University of the Arts in Berlin, they state; “Driven by the revolutionary spirit of youth cultures, Namilia uses clothing not just as an aesthetic tool but more so as a visual platform to proclaim their own beliefs, conflicts and dreams.” Well damn. Sign us up. 

As is customary in patriarchal society, people had a lotttt of opinions after the collection debuted at New York Fashion Week. Some called it bold and transgressive, others said it was tasteless and juvenile. Are these opinions important? Do we even remember them? Not really. What feels important to us, in terms of context, is that this was September 2017. That’s just a month before #MeToo went viral (movement founder, Tarana Burke, actually first used the term a decade earlier, but October 2017 was when the hashtag really caught on) and began a new conversation around communication and action regarding assault, consent and the body which, of course, continues to evolve today. 

With all of that in mind, please enjoy this selection of vulvar lewks from that infamous show.

We would wear these both to a funeral and to the gas station. In our humble opinion, they are everyday shoes because vulvas and vaginal health are for everyday, so why not just keep it consistent. 

We’re not trying to fully live inside of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but we’re also not not trying to. In striving to make more space for conversations around everyday vaginal health, we will happily also take up physical space with this skirt, just to get the point across. 

Say it with us: Statement sleeve! Statement sleeve! Statement sleeve! 

This appeals to both the cowboy in us (chaps) and the dancing queen (bell bottoms). Imagine showing up to the club (or corral) in pants covered in vulvas. We actually already own multiple pairs of bell bottoms. And we are now this close to bargaining for a used sewing machine on Craigslist. 

Look, it’s OK, we’re all thinking the same thing; I’m going to need a very large and very feathery vulva tote to fit the vulva blanket I will lay over the restaurant chair to sit on while I dine in my vulva ensemble.

This is our favorite dress in the collection. We’re very interested in anything that allows one to be fully clothed from one angle and fully naked from another. We contain multitudes. Never forget it. 

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The Official Cheeky Playlist

The Official Cheeky Playlist

This is what my vagina sounds like

For us, everyday vaginal health is as much a conversation as it is a practice. With that in mind we’re curating an ongoing playlist of music that captures the vibe of open, honest, and shame-free conversations and expression that we at Cheeky Bonsai strive for. 

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the experience of not being able to narrow down a playlist to a *polite* hour loop, so, for now, here’s two and a half hours of Cheeky magic. Listen while peeing after sex. 

* LISTEN HERE * 

Some artists we’re loving who we’ve included in this iteration of the playlist:

COBRAH

An electro-pop sensation from Sweden, she’s always clad in leather and latex, occasionally with a strap-on. “Good Puss” is a chill, sultry electronic ode to the vagina that we placed at the very end to round out your listening experience.

CAROL ADES

For a vibe change, singer-songwriter, Carol Ades, has written hits for Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez but has since started her own project which includes a brutally honest (yet still tender) ballad called “Crying During Sex.” It's OK to feel your feelings. For real, it is.

DIJON 
Dijon has an extensive catalog of raw and evocative alternative R&B which includes a brand new album, “Absolutely” that is very worth diving into. We’ve included an old favorite “Skin” on this playlist because it’s bodily and beautiful. Dijon’s work is always sensitive, heart-felt, truthful and inspires us to be gentle with ourselves.

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Cheeky Weekly #1

Cheeky Weekly #1

We're in the pink and the pink's in us

Welcome to The Cheeky Weekly! This is our space for sharing interesting reads, views and listens exploring bodies, lived experiences, and everyday health without shame. 

This week’s picks include an old favorite from Alie Ward’s Ologies podcast, a short film about endometriosis, and a poem where a child asks about her vagina.

READ

After Reading Mickey in the Night Kitchen for the Third Time Before Bed” By Rita Dove 

Rita Dove is an acclaimed poet, essayist, and former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. This small but mighty poem tells the story of a little girl asking, without shame, about vaginas while a mother reflects on the ways in which we discuss our own bodies. It's poignant, direct, and honest. The ending is a stunner:

How to tell her that it's what makes us–

black mother, cream child.

That we're in the pink

and the pink's in us.

WATCH 

End-O directed by Alice Seabright 

Filmmaker, Alice Seabright, might be best known for writing and directing episodes of the Netflix hit, Sex Education, and well as showrunning her own upcoming BBC project, Chloe, but she’s also directed a number of smaller projects about little discussed realities of women’s vaginal and reproductive health. 

End-O is a short film about a woman with endometriosis who is literally just trying to have sex, something that can be extremely difficult when you deal with chronic pain and bleeding. The film is funny and entertaining but feels groundbreaking for its depiction of an everyday women’s health issue that’s almost never portrayed in media.

LISTEN

“Gynecology with Philippa Ribbink” on the Ologies podcast.

Ologies host, Alie Ward, is a wiz at the long-form interview format. Each episode of the podcast is driven by a scientific expert and while there are surely many great women’s health audio resources out there (see future Cheeky Weeklies), this one is a great place to start. They cover a ton of topics, it’s shame-free, and the tone is open and engaging.

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