Canesten is on a mission to help young people with a vagina understand their body and have confidence to look after their intimate health.
At Bayer’s heart is the purpose ‘Science for a Better Life’, which drives a passion for science-based education. Canesten is committed to empowering society with greater knowledge on intimate health because education and awareness surrounding intimate health is low.
· 6%[i] of UK women (aged 16-25) find out about intimate health conditions through education
· 60%[i] of UK women (aged 16-25) find out about vaginal infections when they experience them
The UK is seen as a progressive nation for sexual health education, but research suggests vaginal health education is inadequate, which leads to feelings of shame and distress.
· Almost half [ii] of UK women (aged 18-24) feel worried about their vulva’s appearance
· Two in three [ii] UK women (aged 18-24) would change something about their vulva
· 55%i [i] UK women (aged 18-24) avoid seeking medical help because they feel embarrassed to show a healthcare specialist their vulva
Images of vulvas are either over-sexualised via media and popular culture, including pornography, or they’re inaccurate metaphors and illustrations. These images don’t represent reality and cannot tackle the shame young people feel about their bodies.
To reduce embarrassment and stigma, we developed a revolutionary education-at-scale, digital first initiative; The Truth, Undressed. The unique programme targets people with a vagina, aged 11-24. It’s designed to break down misconceptions and taboos surrounding vulval anatomy and vaginal health.
The Truth, Undressed is a ground-breaking initiative that provides the bare-naked facts about vulvas. The programme targets young people, teachers and parents. By fearlessly confronting the topic, we can teach the reality of how our bodies look and behave by providing access to uncensored, unsexualised and accurate information.
To provide real education, we can’t be afraid to talk about vulvas, vaginas and vaginal discharge. The microsite includes content covering cultural pressures, labiaplasty, health conditions, pubic hair and what a vagina should smell and taste like. They’re truths that get taught inadequately by schools, either because it isn’t directly related to reproduction or is deemed inappropriate for minors.
When developing the content, we utilised Canesten's 40+ years of intimate health knowledge and collaborated with Dr Anne Henderson, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, who reviewed the depictions of vaginal discharge to confirm their medical accuracy.
For the first time in education, we showed real photographs of vulvas and discharge. Our intention was to move imagery away from sexualised depictions into an informative, educational space to equip young people with essential information. Sophie Mayanne, an award-winning photographer shot unedited, real-life photographs of vulvas of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and types of pubic hair. In our efforts to represent all people who have a vulva, we worked with people from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Great attention was given to ensure the images show vulvas in a desexualised, educational context. For example, depicting daily nude situations outside of sexual scenarios, such as dressing or showering using daytime lighting which shows the anatomy and avoids night time connotations.
We worked with the Unstereotype Alliance, a thought and action platform that seeks to eradicate harmful stereotypes in advertising, to ensure no one feels excluded by our language, images, or actions.
To enable this campaign to exist in the public realm, we created video ads for TikTok and Instagram to drive traffic to the microsite. Our films encourage people to not settle for metaphoric or euphemistic images to learn about their bodies.
It was critical that safeguarding measures were in place ahead of the materials launching. We applied regulatory rigour too – all films were approved by the social media platforms with exemptions made by TikTok in support of the educational nature of this content.
To achieve long-term societal impact, we ensured young people receive this education as part of the national school syllabus. Four lesson plans were developed in partnership with the PSHE Association, for Key Stages 3-5 (ages 11-18). A supporting guidance document was created to provide teachers with support, covering safeguarding, inclusivity and parental consent.
Dr Ester McGeeney and Dr Elly Hanson, specialists in youth centred research on relationships and sexualities, supported the development of the educational programme. A teaching pilot was carried out with 100% of respondents finding the resources engaging, relevant and helpful.
Teachers can choose lesson plans with photographs, realistic illustrations, or without imagery. This enabled schools to ensure the learning is approached in an age-appropriate way.
The Truth, Undressed is recording an impressive impact. In its first month, more than 42,000 people visited the website and stayed on average for more than two-and-a-half minutes, 40% more dwell time than on Canesten’s branded website, showing that we’re offering relevant and engaging content. To-date the teaching materials have been downloaded 1,000 times, demonstrating high engagement already.
Since launch to date, across social we have reached 3.4M people, and received 36.4K likes. And we’ve received positive comments highlighting the impact of this initiative. One user commented: “Thank you for the fact that this even exists. It gives the opportunity for people to actually get educated on these kinds of things and normalises vulval and vaginal health.” – Lucy, 23
The work has secured coverage across national, consumer and marketing trade titles across the UK (including The Times, The Sun, The Express, Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health) Europe, US, Asia and Australia. With 60 pieces of targeted coverage so far, the work has reached a media coverage audience of 91 million, with 547+ media coverage engagements.
Daria Costantini, Brand Lead for Canesten, Bayer Consumer Health UK says: “I’m excited to see how young people and schools will use this unique resource as it continues to run into 2023. It’s truly a first-of-its-kind. By empowering young people with a vagina to look after their health we’re paving the way for better vulval and vaginal health across the nation now and for the future.”