Tuesday, 24 July 2012
Let's talk about periods
Yep, let's all blush and put on our embarrassed pursed lip faces as we pretend nobody bleeds from their vagina. Or we could take that face off and settle down with the knowledge that about 50% of people (that being all the women) will do this at some point in their lives. In today's disposable society, we think the best things to use for absorbing our periods are disposable tampons and sanitary towels, yes? Well, I think not. I use cloth pads. Mmmnhmmn. I know the idea of this tends to gross people out. because we've been brought up to consider that unhygienic. The most hygienic thing to do would be to use bleached materials which we throw away straight away, not fabric like that which we put near our vaginas every other day of the month!
By all means, it's your vagina, you do what you want with it. But I have plenty of reasons why I use what I use. I've been given the chance to think about what other options are out there for me, and to make an informed choice. A lot of women try not to think about their periods at all. But seriously, stop and consider for a moment: do you know why you use what you use? If you reason that you use disposable because it's better, do you know why you think it's better? Does it seem more hygienic to you? Do you actually know whether it's more hygienic or not, or have big disposable tampon/ sanitary towel brands told you it's more hygienic? What supposedly makes disposable more hygienic?The bleaching process used in making them? This makes them that shiny, unnatural shade of whiter-than-white which we associate with hygiene, cleanliness and purity. It also produces a toxic chemical called dioxin in trace amounts.
Another issue is that tampon companies are not required to tell you exactly what goes into their products; and we don't ask, do we? Another effect of our not wanting to have to think about our vaginas is that we don't think about what the products we use are made up of. We don't ask; we just assume it's all perfectly safe and nothing to worry about. I found some store own brand tampons which said, "These tampons are made from either cotton, rayon, or a mixture of cotton/rayon absorbent fibres". So either the company doesn't know either, or they don't want to tell us. which in itself is a little worrying, since usually people try to avoid telling us things like that because we wouldn't like the truth if we knew it. Another large company said nowhere either on the box, in the leaflet inside, or on its website what went into their tampons. And another large company said, "They’re made from combination of cotton and/or rayon, rayon/or polyester, and cotton/or polyester". Again, this answer, whilst specific in possible contents, is vague in actual contents. Rayon itself is not actually a harmful substance. BUT, both rayon and cotton are fibrous substances which means that tampons will almost certainly leave fibres behind in the wall of your vagina. Lovely. And that means that any dioxin is embedded in the wall of your vagina with it.
Plus, there are all these new products with things in with flashy names or which are meant to appeal to us, like certain odour-neutralising pearly type things mentioned by a few different companies - different things, same kind of advertising slogans. but nowhere do they actually say what these pearly things are which neutralise odour. Many come with a 'fresh scent'. But nowhere do they list the chemicals which go into that fragrance, such as phthalates (chemicals linked to hormone disruption which can affect development and fertility) - and why would you want a chemical fragrance to be coming out of your vagina, anyway?! They're constantly coming up with new additives to tampons and sanitary towels which sound flashy. But the names tell you nothing of what they actually are, nor are there any actual explanations of what they are or what they're made of. They're simply advertising slogans designed to appeal to the stoopid in us all. Companies aren't actually allowing you to know what's in the products you're buying at all!
The companies advertising their products to us are making us ashamed of our period. They tell us to be proud of our period, and in the same sentence reassure us that their product is so discreet nobody will know about it. They tell us that periods are a beautiful part of nature (gack!) and then describe their product as 'protection'. Since when did we need protecting against our vaginas bleeding? The advertising makes us feel ashamed about our periods, like they're something to be embarrassed about and to hide about ourselves - or to fight against. Let's be honest, they can be frustrating. They can be painful. But 50% of the world is in sympathy with our pain. And they're entirely natural and normal for 50% of the world too - at least at one stage in their lives, anyway. We shouldn't have to be ashamed of them. We should have access to information about alternatives. And we shouldn't be being taught that disposable are the only options, never mind the only 'clean' options.
There are some great alternatives offered to the standard route. Firstly, and for the most squeamish people, you can stay in your comfort zone and simply get unbleached, organic cotton sanitary pads and tampons. You may have fun trying to find them, though, considering all that non-communication the companies are doing about tampon contents. There seems to be a well-known company called Natracare who do these, though.
Then there are a few options. There's the menstrual cup, in both disposable and reusable forms. This is a medical grade silicone cup which sits in your vagina - the same way a tampon would - and catches the blood. You take it out, empty the blood, rinse it - although that's not necessary - and reinsert it. If it's disposable, you throw it away. If it's a monthly one, you reinsert it but at the end of your period for that month, you throw it away. These are completely safe, hygienic, and are cheaper than disposable products. If you buy the standard menstrual cup, it can last years and is approximated to cost the same as 3 months' supply of disposables, either tampons or pads. These do tend to have the downside of not being recyclable. But that's the same as all the disposable products out there.
Then you've got your cloth pads. You can make your own, you can buy them - there is a wealth of great information out there. I love mine. I've been making my own for almost 2 years, and I've been using them for longer than that. They feel like normal underwear, they never leak (which the plastic disposable ones often did for me), they're pretty(!), and I just chuck them in the wash with all my other clothes. Sure, lots of people recommend soaking them, or adding extra stuff to the wash, or doing a hot wash. But I don't bother. I just put them through like everything else. They hardly add to the laundry load, so they're very cheap, and they come through it almost entirely stain-free, despite 2 years of use. I love the pretty tops they have, in gorgeous fabrics. They make me feel special! Mine are made from a pattern by Luna Wolf, which is where my first cloth pads came from. She's no longer making any more cloth pads, but she's still selling the tutorial. There are millions of places on the web for buying cloth pads, though - etsy, for a start! They aren't available in stores, unfortunately - yet.
Then you can get reusable tampons - again, you can make your own or buy them. They can be made from fabric, or knitted. Along with this is something called an interlabial pad. There's not much about them, and I don't know very much; but they're sort of a cross between a pad and a tampon, and sit between your labia, hence the name.
You can use sea sponge - used like a tampon. Again, I don't know huge amounts about these. But the information is out there. It seems that you moisten them with water, and then just use like a tampon. Some people tie floss round them to act like the cord on a tampon. They seem to be less long-term than cloth pads or tampons, but longer term than disposables - some recommend using it for a few months then throwing it away.
And finally, there is something I have heard of only very briefly: free bleeding. It's really not discussed very much at all. But some women are perfectly comfortable with, say, sleeping without anything to mop up the blood; or wearing dark underwear on a light day and just not worrying about it. And some women say, apparently, that they can hold it with their vaginal muscles and let it out into a loo. I don't really know. It's not an option I'm interested in trying right now. But it might be for you. By all means, think about it!
I don't want anyone to feel ashamed if they use disposable products for their period. As I said earlier, it's your vagina so do what you want with it. And currently, the disposable products are the most easily available. But I do want you to be informed of all the choices out there, and to research into them, and not to dismiss them because the disposables companies tell you that their products are the only hygienic ones. Many of the options out there have been in use for millenia already. They've had plenty of testing. Go, research, read. Try out different options. I have a menstrual cup which I love, but rarely use because most of the time I find it to be too difficult (being an unmarried 19 year-old). But I tried it, liked it and disliked it, and will probably return to it in the future. Give other options a go. Then decide. If you still prefer disposables, stick with them. But you've got a heck of a lot of periods ahead of you - probably - so trying something new for a month or two isn't going to hurt!
Please love your vagina - it's a part of you! I'm not saying you have to spend all your time talking or thinking about it. But don't ignore it completely.
Love love xx