WARNING: THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSION OPENLY ADDRESSES FEMALE MENSTRATION IN A FRANK AND HONEST MANNER. THOSE WHO ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THE NATURAL CYCLE OF ALL HEALTHY WOMEN… YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I think it is fair to say that in this culture it is taboo to discuss a women’s monthly menstruation openly. After all, it’s sad but true but it would be inappropriate for me to write this article without providing a disclaimer to ward off squeamish males. But why does it have to be this way?
I blame the makers of maxi pads and tampons and their clever marketing ploys which began in the late 1940’s after the tampon was invented in 1936 (MUM.org). They pushed the notion that a women’s period was meant to be kept as a secret and that the worst thing that she could ever face was a leak. Today, this is still the primary idea behind most Always or Tampax advertisements. Commercials show how girls can conceal their compact tampons as sugar packets so their guy friends will be none the wiser that it’s that time of the month. These ads and products also tell us that menstrual blood is something that is dirty and that we should never have to touch it or let anyone else smell it. Scented maxi pads are designed to leave us fresh and daisy smelling. These products are designed to leave us believing that white = sanitary, and that there isn’t any other clean option for us, when truly, it is often the alternative solutions which are healthier for our bodies and the environment.
In regards to our health, the way in which maxi pads and tampons are made is potentially very harmful to our bodies. According to a top selling natural personal care products company, NatraCare.com, the plastic undercoating of pads, and the chlorine and bleach used to whiten the cotton are full of toxins. Using pads every month exposes women to low levels of dioxins, a carcinogen found in most plastics and paper pulp products. These dioxins build up in our bodies and leave us at an increased risk of cancer. Also, a previously mentioned, the fragrance used to mask the socially unacceptable odour our blood, leads to rashes and infections in some sensitive women, I know this from personal experience. Tampons are perhaps the deadliest way to deal with menstrual blood. Cotton and artificial fibres such as rayon are used to make them. Even the FDA writes about how these abrasive fibres cause tiny cuts/ulcerations in this vaginal wall and this has been traced at the likely cause of TTS (Toxic Shock Syndrome), which can be lethal if not properly dealt with immediately.
In regards to the environment, pads and tampons are absolutely terrible. Firstly, cotton, a very heavy pesticide and insecticide crop, is used to make these products. A
Secondly, the use of these paper products (cardboard applicator, tampon box etc.) place further stress on our endangered forests, wildlife habitats and leads to erosion of our landscapes. Also, the quantity of waste created by one woman alone is enough, but times that by all her family, and friends, and their family and friends and you have an incredible amount sanitary waste contaminating our waters. The National Women’s Health Network states every year over 12 billion, 7 million tampons are used once and disposed of to wait around for hundreds of years before biodegrading.
When I decided to take on a sustainable lifestyle, tampons were one of the first things to change. I researched alternatives and found that the menstrual cup (AKA Diva Cup or The Keeper) was what I needed. This isn’t a new invention; in fact these have been around since at least the 1930s in
When I don’t feel like using the Diva Cup, I rely on reusable organic cotton pads. I know what you’re thinking - “Ewww, that’s gross, and must be so unsanitary!” Well, wait for one minute, think about your underwear and tell me how that so much different? Its not, so relax and open your mind. Women used cloth rags for centuries before the “wonderful” invention of the convenient tampon came about. Being the blonde that I am, it wasn’t until recently that I finally made the connection of the term “being on the rag” and women actually using rags during menstruation. But then again, I was never exposed to any other options.
When it comes to cleaning my cotton pads, I find it easiest to keep a small bowl under my bathroom sink to soak the used pads in cold water to help get the blood stains out. Thanks to a tip from a lovely Filipino family doctor, I now sometimes use that blood soaked water to water my plants. Again, the power of women! I am telling you! We have it in us to give nutrients which benefit a beautiful, air purifying house plant. It makes sense though. You can pay for high priced blood meal fertilizer in the garden centres, or use what nature provides us with every month.
There is also another alternative which uses a sea sponge in a similar manner to a tampon to catch the flow of blood. Although I have heard of sea sponges before, I didn’t really research them until I decided to write this column. I check out the Sea Pearls Company. There is concern that they are harvested from an already fragile ocean ecology, and since they are technically a animal by-product, they may not be suitable for vegans. But in many other ways, sea sponges are great. They are an affordable natural solution which comes form the earth and because of this they are much gentler to the vagina than bleached cotton tampons. They can be trimmed to fit your needs, and can last up to four months. After that the sponge can be composted. Isn’t that wonderful? What humanity needs nature answers with whispers. We have the solutions without the need for excess pollution and chemicals. But sadly it is our cultural barriers that are inhibiting us from using anything than products which reinforce our reliance on consumerism.
In the end if you’re still not comfortable with using anything else but tampons or pads, for yourself and Mother Earth, choose organic, chlorine free, unbleached products available in health food stores.