How are our menstrual products and reproductive reproductive health related? I remember my teacher, Rosita Arvigo, saying, “Nothing goes in during menstruation. It is a time of outflow.”
Menstrual Product Industry
On average, in her lifetime, a women will use over 14,000 tampons, or a comparable number of pads. For one woman this cost is approximately, $3,000, contributing to a $3 billion industry. An interesting and little known fact about tampons is that the FDA considers them a medical device which allows them to hold a lower quality standard than cosmetics. Because of this, it is not required to list the ingredients on the package. Ironically tampons are also considered a luxury item, and subjected to “luxury tax”. When we combine the low standard of quality with the high price and tax, it stands to reason that many women purchase conventional pads and tampons.
How do pads and tampons harm us?
Conventional tampons and pads contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and allergens such as:
- Pesticide residues
- Unnatural Chemical Fragrances
The vaginal tissue is densely populated with blood vessels, nerve endings and lymph tissue. This means our vaginas or “yonis” as I like to say have highly absorptive tissue.
Reflections and recommendations on menstrual product options
Many people like tampons because they are so absorptive. For this reason, women who bleed heavily prefer tampons. Women also like that tampons do not create a “bulge” in your crotch and are pretty easy to deal with in public restrooms. I generally recommend against tampons for a few reasons.
- They are so incredibly absorptive that they increase vaginal dryness, absorbing our natural, vaginal lubrication. This can create irritation and discomfort in the area, especially towards the end of menstruation.
- Menstruation is a time of outflow. My teacher Rosita Arvigo has always recommended against inserting ANYTHING into the vagina during menstruation. We want to allow the outflow, not block it in any way. This is particularly important for anyone experiencing symptoms of a displaced uterus or symptoms of congestion in the pelvis.
- Though women who bleed heavily like them, often times excessively heavy bleeding is a symptom of a hormone imbalance. Because of the endocrine disrupting effect of the chemicals in conventional tampons, they can exacerbate hormone imbalance.
Pads have certainly evolved over the years. Have you ever seen photos of the sanitary pad belts from the 1950s?! All joking aside, as long as you go organic, these can be a good option. They are easy to deal with in public restrooms and on the go. As with tampons, the cotton can be so absorbent that it can cause some vaginal dryness. Also, even the organic pads contain adhesives that can be an irritant to especially sensitive yonis.
Not here to impose shame or guilt on anyone, and the harsh reality is over 20 billion sanitary products end up in the North American landfills every year, which has a significant impact on our carbon footprint. Ultimately, reusable menstrual products safe money and resources. If you do go with this option, Natracare is a great brand.
Reusable Cloth Pads
These are my personal favorites so far. That occupies significant real estate in a dump somewhere. Some people do not like these because, though they are easy to change in a bathroom, what to do with them for the day if you are at work for 8 hours?! That’s understandable, though keeping a bag in your purse is always an option. Some find reusable cotton pads to be too bulky. I have had that experience with certain brands. My favorite brand is Party In My Pants. They have fun patterns and there are pretty comfortable.
These can be a fine choice if you have absolutely easeful, perfect menstrual cycles. If you struggle with cramps, PMS or any other discomforts around your moontime, I do not recommend menstrual cups. In order to remove them, one must break the suction that holds them in. This process adds strain to the uterus and the uterine ligaments. Difficult menstruation is often related to a uterus that is not in in alignment, so adding stress to the ligaments during the most tender time of the month would be counterproductive. Personally, I do have a cup, and I like it for traveling as an alternative to reusable cloth pads, but I much prefer pads.
Many clients have reported loving Thinx, so I finally ordered one and started using it for myself. They get 5 stars and might be becoming my favorite product. Thinx have 4 layers packed into what looks and feels like regular underwear. These include moisture-wicking cotton, anti-microbial lining, super-absorbent fabric (holding up to 2 regular tampons worth of blo0d) and a leak-resistant barrier. The only downside of Thinx is that if you have an excessively heavy cycle, you will likely need back up of pads, tampons or a menstrual cup.
Sea sponges can be a great option for some women. They are not quite as “plug-like” as tampons, so the potential menstrual backflow issue my teacher Rosita expresses concern about with tampons and sex during menstruation, is not quite as concerning with sea sponges. The downsides to sea sponges is that, like cups, it can be awkward to change them in a public bathroom. Also, my lived experience of working with so many women is that women who have a tendency towards yeast infections are often inclined to get them with the use of sea sponges during menstruation.
A note about our discomfort around changing our menstrual products in a public bathroom
Our discomfort around changing our menstrual products in a public bathroom is based on only patriarchal impositions that our blood is dirty or gross and to be hidden. We keep our bleeding time invisible and quiet and then everyone is “comfortable”. I think many of us feel this in a subconscious, subtle way. Part of unravelling the patriarchy is being comfortable with all the functions and experiences our female bodies have.
That concludes my reflections on menstrual products. Happy bleeding!