This is still a topic that will make a lot of people feel somewhat awkward, but just like breastfeeding it is something which is so much part of our biological make-up as a female mammal, it shouldn’t require a second thought.
As a teenager, I spent a lot of time wondering about how “they” did it before tampons and disposable sanitary products were invented and became readily available. Of course, in the 1980s and ’90s, people were only beginning to wake up to the fact how plastic and our culture of wastefulness was causing utter devastation to ecosystems and wildlife and ultimately ourselves. Just like plastics, female hygiene products are amongst the worst culprits polluting our ocean and rivers.
Right from the start, my mother encouraged me to wear tampons. And this is one of her stories: Tampons were invented for WWII female jet pilots, because pads would have been so uncomfortable to them and would have prevented them to venture into the world of men and do their bit in the war (this is the urban myth she fervently believed in, being the 1970’s feminist that she was and still is).
The stories I was told then also coloured my view of a drab and unhygienic past with swill buckets full of blood-stained horribleness. To my horrified teenage mind, that must have been a time when women needed to be bathed in a Mikveh or to be separated from the group as they were considered “unclean” while menstruating. There is no space to discuss some of these often deeply held religious beliefs and customs, but there is a lot more to it, as the time of the menses can also, in a spiritual sense, be seen as cyclical event of renewal and also reminding women of their femininity, as can be seen in the fascinating account of the Jewish Mikveh or Mikvah.
- But where are we now?
I was personally a bit taken aback when the campaign to make sanitary products available to girls in schools was hailed as another great step in the fight against so-called period poverty. It is definitely a good thing to help girls to deal with their periods discreetly and not face the embarrassment, but that is precisely the point.
Why not make more sustainable products available to them and educate them about it instead of having them spent their pocket money on throw-away products month after month?
I also feel quite disturbed with the adverts in service stations having to stare at a morose-looking girl while having a pee who is suffering the indignity of having a period and I would just need to text some word or other to a mobile number to give £5.
Reading the article on the link above, I was struck by the fact that the discussion is all centred about being teased, being bullied, shame, embarrassment etc. A lot of these things have to do with the position of women in society and menstruating being used as a pretext for excluding them from attending a school or other public places. And that is the actual problem. In some ways, it reminds me of the way lactating women are often being treated. Both of these things are part of women’s life-giving and nurturing biology. Think about it.
Are you still feeling embarrassed about it?
- Would disposable products wrapped in layer after layer of plastic solve this issue?
- Is dealing with reusable items more difficult?
- Is a throw-away product liberating them to such an extent that this enables them to partake in a world intended for men, such as the education system?
Needless to say, women probably menstruated a lot less than we do now, thanks to more frequent pregnancies (not necessarily a good thing) and most of all ecological breastfeeding (well, most women even these days would just look at you and wonder where the “ecological” came from – to them, it is quite simply breastfeeding, neither more nor less).
- But what can we do to tackle this problem? Are there any alternatives?
I first heard of the Mooncup (the precursor of these types of menstrual cups that are no flooding the market) when I was travelling in Mongolia and thinking – but where and how do I dispose of my used sanitary towels and/or tampons?
While staying out in the country in a yurt, all I had was a hole in the ground to relieve myself and a rickety screen to shield myself from any potential onlookers. Talk about feeling awkward. One might wonder, how did I wash my reusable products? In point of fact, I did not use them then, but the problem was much the same as I could not have safely disposed of my Always pads then, not unless I would not have minded much the plastic and litter I would have left behind on the Mongolian steppes. As long as you have some water to rinse somewhere and some hand disinfectant you should be perfectly safe. Look here for a DIY probiotic hand sanitizer recipe.
And here are a few things you can try.
⇒ STEP 1: Instead of tampons try using a menstrual cup.
- Intimina: The “Lily Cup” is my personal favourite due to the shape. It is especially good for women with a higher cervix. It has the added feature of being collapsible and it also has a non-spill rim. The cup comes with an easy-to-follow instruction booklet. If the Lilly Cup is too long for you, you can try the Compact variety which is shorter and may be more comfortable for some women.
- Mooncup: I have been a long-term user of this one and had to dig it out of my bathroom cupboard after my periods returned a year after giving birth (yehey!). The change in colour can be a bit off-putting after a while, but there is nothing to worry about. Just take the necessary precautions as outlined below.
These cups are made from silicone and usually come in different sizes (like A and B) to fit women depending on if they have given birth before or not, or are over 30. Make sure you boil them to disinfect them before use and just follow the instructions closely. At no time are they likely to cause more discomfort than tampons when used correctly and you will have done away with bleach and plastic wrappings. It sits inside your body and collects the blood and bits. These are also safer than tampons as far as the risk of TSS (toxic shock syndrome) is concerned.
⇒ STEP 2: Use washable sanitary towels along with your menstrual cup.
- Bloom&Nora – this is a bit more on the expensive side but goes hand in hand with the quality. They are also partnered with TotsBots, a UK manufacturer of reusable nappies. Bloomers are made from natural fabrics and have an absorbent bamboo core. Noras are bright-white if that is more up your street. They have also been tested for harmful substances and have been awarded the “Confidence in Textiles” (Oeko-Tex) label.
- Love Lady Pads – these are another personal favourite, mainly because these pads are made at Dharti Mata which is a sustainable workshop in Nepal. For every pad you buy, you are supporting the Nepali women who make them and their families. They are made with 100 per vegetable-dyed, hand-woven, organic cotton and they come in different shapes for lighter and heavier flow according to different body shapes. A plus is the day pads with inserts which you can add or remove depending on your flow.
You can soak them just like you would your baby’s reusable nappies.
⇒STEP 3: And as a back-up, try these unbleached cotton varieties.
- Natracare – plastic free, unscented, organic, unbleached. Need I say more?
The bottom line is: waste less, also when it comes to your period. Period!