Feminine Hygiene is something that’s rarely discussed in public places. And if this conversation makes you uncomfortable, you can always click away and come back tomorrow. But I encourage you, especially if you are a pre-menopausal woman, to stay and read on.
Every month our bodies create an amazing nest, hoping that a fertilized egg will implant on our uterine walls and grow into a baby. However, most months we do not become pregnant, and when our cycle is up, our bodies expel the unneeded uterine lining and we have our periods.
Advertising for conventional feminine care tells us that this bodily cycle is something to keep a secret. The ads promise fresh scents, silent wrappers, as well as discreet storage and disposal. While I don’t parade around announcing to people that I’m a fertile woman with a healthy, regular menstrual cycle, I also don’t think it’s something we need to hide or be ashamed of. This has been, and will continue to be for many years to come, a routine cycle of my life and part of my body’s own sacred rhythm.
On top of multi-billion dollar industry telling us that we need to somehow cover up and be secretive about an everyday part of women’s lives instead of celebrating its life-giving power, these same manufacturers are profiting tremendously by encouraging women to use disposable paper products of highly questionable safety, products which also create a huge amount of waste.
There’s a lot of silence surrounding what actually composes disposable feminine care items. Tampons and sanitary pads are classified as medical devices, rather than as personal care products, and therefore manufacturers are not required to disclose their ingredients. Tampons can be made from cotton (likely to be GMO), rayon, or another pulp fiber, all of which may contain dioxins, furans, or other toxic chemical remnants from the chlorine bleaching process (Scranton, 2013). Tampons and pads are also likely to contain pesticide residues (cotton is an extremely pesticide-intensive crop), surfactants, adhesives, plastics, as well as other additives. And all of this unknown and questionable stuff is inserted inside of your vagina – one of the most delicate and vulnerable parts of your body; vaginal tissues are more permeable than the rest of your skin, making them especially susceptible to chemical nasties (Donsky, 2013). This happens almost continually for several days straight, every month for a good portion of your life. That adds up to a huge amount of cumulative exposure to some rather unhealthy chemicals.
In addition to the health risks, disposable feminine care products are a big environmental issue. Conventional tampons can take centuries to biodegrade (Spinks, 2015). Ninety percent of conventional sanitary pads are made from crude oil plastics, which add the equivalent of 180 billion plastic bags to our waste stream (Donsky, 2013). At a time when all sorts of people and municipalities are moving away from using plastic bags because of their environmental impact, this seems like an important item to consider.
I remember as a teenager, I was very hesitant to try a tampon. It took some serious pep talks from a close girlfriend before I would try one in place of the pads I was using. So now, I will sit as your girlfriend and give a little pep talk to you about a better alternative to tampons and disposable feminine care products in general.
About 12 years ago, I started to use a reusable menstrual cup. I stumbled across one, and thought it seemed like a great way to reduce my reliance on disposable goods, a means to save money by not having to buy disposable products every month, and also a way to make sure I always had what I needed on hand (that is, I wouldn’t run out of something that isn’t disposable). At the time, I didn’t think about the health implications, though knowing them now they are certainly striking, and are important for you to consider for the sake of your own health.
To use a reusable cup, you have to be comfortable or be willing to get comfortable touching your own body. But they are very simple to use, you simply wash, fold, insert, and then give a gentle tug to make sure the cup is in place. Done. It doesn’t take longer any than inserting a tampon, and I find it to be more comfortable. Also, you can safely wear a cup longer than you can safely wear a tampon, up to 12 hours, depending on the heaviness of your flow (tampons carry the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome whereas cups do not). When you’re ready to remove your cup, simply squeeze it slightly between your fingers, pull it out, empty it, and reinsert it. You’re ready to go. I’ve never had a problem with leaking, and after the first bit of time wearing it, I no longer even feel that it’s there.
There are a few different brands on the market. I bought The Keeper a dozen years ago and have used their products ever since (I had to buy a new one in their “after vaginal delivery size” after my son was born). I’ve also heard great things about the Diva Cup. You can also find reusable sanitary pads, available in many places including Glad Rags (also available HERE), which come in an assortment of thicknesses and work just like disposable pads. It may feel like a big leap, but if you’re anything like me, using a tampon for the first time also felt like a big leap. I highly encourage you to give a reusable menstrual cup a try; your body and the Earth will thank you.
Donsky, Andrea (6 May 2013). “Conventional Feminine Hygeine Products: A Women’s Issue with Toxic Implications.” Naturally Savvy.
Scranton, Alexandra (2013). “Chem Fatale: Potential Health Effects of Toxic Chemicals in Feminine Care Products.” Women’s Voices for the Earth.
Spinks, Rosie (27 April 2015). “Disposable Tampons aren’t Sustainable, but do Women want to Talk about it?” The Guardian.