As a 31 year old woman, I thought I knew what I was doing when it came to my period. Thankfully, I am also a very curious person and someone who is humble enough to admit that I was actually ignorant and didn’t know sh*t about my menstrual cycle and all of the issues, products and options surrounding the matter. Here’s what I’ve recently learned and what you need to know. Period. …. but like, a seven day period….
My investigation into how I was handling my “time of the month” started when I read a Vice article (as many have) back in June about a model who lost her leg because of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Now all I can really remember anybody telling me about TSS as a young girl was “whatever you do, don’t leave a tampon in too long or you’ll get toxic shock and DIE.” So naturally I was terrified and always made sure I never left one in for longer than 8 hours and figured I would never run the risk of getting it. WRONG. Now TSS can kill you, or cause a myriad of other major problems, but the article blew my mind by letting me know that a tampon alone is not enough to cause TSS. What actually does cause TSS is a complication of bacterial infections involving Staph bacteria, AKA Staphylococcus aureus. About 20 percent of the general population carries this bacteria, and this is not limited to females, guys carry it too (it is a natural part of our human flora, and no, there isn’t a test you can take to see if you’re a carrier). But there has been a link between getting TSS and tampons for decades because of the synthetic materials in tampons that create a perfect breeding ground for TSS. Many tampons are made with mixes of viscose rayon and cotton, or pure viscose rayon (you mean white fluffy stuff doesn’t mean pure cotton?!?!?!), which are perfect incubators for TSS, should the toxigenic strain of Staphylococcus aureus be present in the woman using the tampon. As a loyal Playtex® consumer, I was immediately embarrassed that I genuinely assumed they were just made from cotton, not potential plastic and man-made materials. And upon learning that the risks of TSS can dramatically drop with 100% cotton tampons, I jumped online to the Playtex® site to find out what exactly I had been putting in my body all these years.
Clicking on the Playtex® Sport section of the website (my tampon of choice) I saw the familiar hot pink box with neon green jogging girl in headphones that always makes me believe whoever designs these boxes has never had a period. Ever. Why do feminine hygiene products always seem to look like an insane explosion of confetti cake? Or like they’re always trying to convince me they’re gonna be “fun”? They will never be fun. Never. Anyway, as I scrolled the site, descriptions, reviews and more, I couldn’t find a single thing that said what this product (or any of their products) are made of. NOTHING. All I could find was this Q &A under “Tampon Myths”:
Q: I read on the Internet that there are all kinds of toxic chemicals in tampons. Is that true?
A: We all know how easy it is for the wrong information to get passed on the Internet. However, there are government organizations like Health Canada that have strict requirements for the production of tampons to make sure they are free from any harmful materials.
Which I guess is great for Canadian’s? And also sounds like something that creeper dealer dude at a college party would say, trying to convince you that his brownies are “clean, safe, and pure”. If they aren’t made from anything harmful, WHAT ARE THEY MADE FROM? I was getting pretty irritated at the lack of information available and started wondering if Tampax or Kotex® would have anything better. Nope. Nothing. Each of the main brands websites focus on helping you find the right absorbency, and making sure you know that you should change your tampon every 4-8 hours to lower your risk of TSS… as if its a risk, its sooo rare… but it can kill you, DON’T THESE TAMPONS LOOK FUN! Officially feeling like all feminine hygiene products were just wolves in sheep’s clothing, I said screw the Internet and took to the store to get my hands on the real deal. Finally, product in hand, I scanned the back of the box, then the sides, and there it was in small white print: INGREDIENTS – Rayon and/or Cotton Fiber, Polyester or Cotton String, Polysorbate 20. Reading it made me feel like my tampon was having an identity crisis. What do you mean “and/or”??? And that Polysorbate 20 stuff that’s in there, that’s to help serve as a surfactant to disperse fragrance (even though I purchase and was reading off of a fragrance free pack). Super. And I don’t mean absorption.
In a store aisle full of options, every product instantly looked the same and undesirable. I felt like I had been duped by good marketing, and that the only option was to never use any of these mainstream products again. But then what? Take it to Victorian times and start walking around with cotton rags in my pants? Back to the Internet I went to find a better tampon, and wouldn’t you know, I totally did.
There are a few companies out there who are creating fabulous feminine care, but I’m going to focus on the service I chose since I’ve been so happy with them. May I introduce you to… LOLA!
Here’s the short list on why I love them:
– You can read all of their ingredients, including where their cotton is sourced right on the website. No more CIA secrecy to decode in order to figure out what you’re using. Bye bye deceiving shady patent holders.
– It’s a delivery service. That’s right, once a month I get a box dropped off in my mail box that I control the frequency and quantity of. They send you a reminder before every shipment incase you need to make adjustments. Goodbye awkwardly standing in the checkout line with that pint of ice cream, bottle (or 6) of wine, and that brightly colored box of “Hey, I’m hormonal!”. Stop judging me cashier man.
– You control your assortment. Want one light, sixteen regular and one super? No problem. Every pack of 18 is customizable so you can decide what’s best for you. Isn’t it nice to feel like a unique human being?
– Packaging. FINALLY. From the crisp white box, to the three shades of pale blues on the wrappers, for the first time in my life I don’t feel embarrassed by my tampon pack. They also have extendable applicators, meaning that they’re smaller in size to fit into your purse or pocket (I was able to keep two with my cell phone, cash, cards, and chapstick in a small wristlet). I also love that when you open the box it says, “This Too Shall Pass, and until it does we’re here for you”. Which is all anyone who cares should say to a woman on her period.
Lastly, its only $10 a month! All that control, convenience, customization and I’ve been extremely happy with the quality of the product. As far as I’m concerned, this was a life changing discovery. Follow the link to learn more or sign up yourself! www.mylola.com/fnvek
Super pleased with my new tampon pals, I still wondered what else I didn’t know about when it came to the world of the female cycle. And at the start of my next ride on the crimson wave, I knew exactly what I was looking for.
I switched my birth control over a year ago to a non-hormonal IUD (which you will hear all about in an upcoming piece, lucky you!!). One of the biggest adjustments I had to make from being on the pill prior, was never being 100% sure when my period was going to start now. Sometimes I’m consistent for a few months, then BAM! I’ll get two within two weeks of each other. The reality is that our natural bodies are always adjusting to our current lives. Activity levels, stress, what you’ve been eating, travel, can all effect the start, temperament and time length of your period. So as any woman who has tried knows, if you think you might be starting your cycle and try putting in a preemptive tampon when you’re not actually ready for one, taking it out is like having sex with sandpaper. NOT FUN. So you kind of just hope you’re in or around the bathroom at the right time during that time of the month or, wear pads (which is maybe the worst. Everyone hates pads, lets be honest.). What I’m getting at, to be blunt, is that I wasn’t expecting to start my period and totally woke up to blood on my sheets. Now it wasn’t like I recreated the Carrie scene or anything, but any girl who’s ever been in this position (which is like EVERYONE by the way) can agree its a real bummer way to start your day. My bad morning and additional load of laundry lead to an online investigation on pre-period solutions and ultimately, to these little wonders: Thinx.I was clearly not the only girl who was looking for this kind of thing because their entire line of Period Panties were SOLD OUT and backordered. Moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, absorbent, leak-resistant underwear that can hold up to two tampons worth of lady kool-aid, and come in three sleek designs. Besides that these perfectly solved my problem while being more environmentally friendly than pads, I instantly fell in love with the culture of the company behind the product.
Designed by a group of women in New York who are determined to break the taboo surrounding menstruation, they chose to take their product a step further and use it as an opportunity to empower other women. Over 100 million girls all over the developing world miss a week of school each month because of their period. With each pair you purchase, a pack of washable and reusable pads are provided to a girl in the developing world who wouldn’t otherwise have any real form of protection, to not only help keep her confidence but also enable her to continue getting an education. Because seriously, no girl should ever miss out on a week of anything, especially her ability to be educated, just because Aunt Flow came to visit!! THATS NUTS. They are also made by a family run factory in Sri Lanka that employs women and provides them with supplementary education and training. Basically, these panties are like super powered confidence boosters with a purpose. I ordered every style, and patiently waited for them to arrive. Once they did, OBSESSED. Comfy, cute, and totally kept my fresh white sheets just that, fresh and white, through an entire night of what I like to call “interpretive sleep dancing” (I would be a horrible Vampire, I cannot lie still). I couldn’t order extra pairs fast enough.
Meanwhile, I was infuriated to learn through the Thinx site, and other further research, just how many girls around the world end up dropping out of school because they get so behind in their studies all due to not having what they need to handle their period. But what made me even more hot blooded (and inspired this entire article) was that it is still referred to as a “week of shame” in many places and cultures. A WEEK OF SHAME. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So let me just shout it from the rooftops real quick, THERE IS NOTHING SHAMEFUL ABOUT HAVING A PERIOD. If anyone you know is making you feel bad about the most natural thing in the world, PUNCH THEM IN THE THROAT. No don’t actually do that (I mean it, don’t punch them at all!), but seriously stand up for yourself! How you ask (since punching is clearly off the table)? I realized that the only way to stop the stigma was to educate. So I started talking about what I was learning with everyone I knew (guys included), and guess what, everyone was interested and everyone felt the same: Women deserve more upfront product information, honesty about the risks involved with any product or service, and people need to be more open in the conversation of how periods effect men and women (but really, mainly women).
In my household, about once a month I tell my man “Congratulations! You are not the father.” to let him know we are once again not having a baby (which is our current goal) and that I am, in deed, on my period. We refer to tampons as “tampoons” (I don’t really know why), and I’m always upfront with him if I can tell that I’m feeling more edgy or short-tempered due to my hormones (read, just don’t say anything to me). Point being, my period is a part of our life. We don’t overly discuss it, but we’re open about it too. Its casual, no big deal, and allows him to support me, feel comfortable asking me questions about it, and for me to be left alone with Nashville episodes, crying for no reason, no judgement. It also gives me a level of confidence, because I don’t feel ashamed about what my body naturally goes through, and neither does my guy. So if you are a fella reading this, don’t be afraid to talk to your lady about her lady business. We’re a lot less scary when you understand us. And ladies, if your guy does approach you to talk about this “stuff”, try to resist using the accurate but intimidating “I just laid an egg and now my body is violently ripping down the walls of my Uterus” explanation. BUT, feel free to email, read aloud, or print off and tape to the bathroom mirror this hilariously poignant piece by Gloria Steinem from 1978, “If Men Could Menstruate”.
Finally, I did have to accept that there was one period product I was ashamed to ask about or even look at because I just thought it was weird, and maybe a little creepy…The Menstrual Cup. How could I be running around telling women to be proud of their cycles when secretly I was still embarrassed? So back to researching I went, and once again I was shocked by what I didn’t know…. Oh the cup. The little box on the bottom of the shelf at the drugstore that you randomly see and go “what’s that?” only to decide that its a sketchy little cup you shove up inside yourself and have to clean. No thank you. However, to really know what it was I knew I had to try it. Rather than tell you about all the different brands available, I’m going to focus on the one I chose (and still use), LENA. Here’s why:
LENA is pinky peach in color, shaped like a bell with a stem (which can be trimmed off, I did), and has its own little decorated cotton bag for storage. It is a biocompatible-with-the-body menstrual cup, that is reusable, made in California of 100% medical-grade silicone, is good for the environment and collects, rather than absorbs, your monthly fluid. Ok I know some of you are still going “WHY WOULD YOU WANT THAT!?” but here’s where the light came on for me… Turns out, tampons can cause dryness for many women, even allergic reactions or other irritations. Most of us just believe this is a normal part of the unpleasantry of periods, but using a menstrual cup allows your body to maintain it’s natural balance. Sensitive skin ladies rejoice! Where tampons and pads collect all of the moisture your body creates (which can be too much and cause discomfort), a menstrual cup only collects your code red. My favorite part, it can be worn day or night during any activity for up to 12 hours. Did you catch that? Twelve hours! Talk about convenience! So let’s discuss operating details…
LENA comes in two sizes (Small and Large) and there are instructions online to help you determine your size. I initially clicked the small and added it to my cart, only to hear the voice in my head shout “Seriously Sarah? A small?? What are you trying to prove?!? You are an adult woman with an adult uterus. It’s not gonna have a tag on it, smalls are for teenagers.” So I effectively shamed myself into ordering the large instead. Upon arrival I examined the goods, washed my cup and learned about the insert process. Let me start by saying, YES this is something that takes a little practice. First, you fold the cup (there are three styles shown, I chose the C-fold) and then insert it to your desired position and release. The first time I tried, I was super nervous, only to be surprised at how easy it was. The cup pops open, creating a sealing suction, you wash your hands (no, they’re not that messy, if at all) and then literally you get on with your life. For HOURS. When it’s time to remove, you simply wiggle at the base of it to pull it out, pour any liquid collected in the toilet, rinse in the sink with mild soap and water, and reinsert (there are multiple instructional videos online). Life carries on once again. I was thrilled with how well protected I felt, even daring to wear white workout pants during an hour long Pilates class. WHITE WORKOUT PANTS. I celebrated my success with leak free backbends and headstands. However, after a few days getting used to it, I did feel a little pressure from my cup and opted to use LENA’s super easy exchange program, and ordered the smaller size after all. After making the size switch, I can honestly say that my LENA is the most comfortable I’ve ever been and is now my number one choice for handling my period. On average, one woman will use over 11,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime, which end up in landfills or in the sea. You can use one LENA for decades. Learn more about LENA and get a 15% discount by ordering here, www.lenacup.com/share.
I was (and still am) shocked that I had never known how easy and comfortable this was to use, or that this really was the safest choice for women today (there have been no links between menstrual cups and TSS). But again, that’s in part because it’s still a conversation we can feel a little funny having. How sad it is that our fear of embarrassment can trump our desire for knowledge? But, to quote a great lady of history who also had a period, Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is to be understood.” I hope this piece has helped you understand a little bit more about some of the risks involved using certain menstrual products, and about just how many options really are out there. Necessity is the mother of invention, and women need to feel confident enough to speak up about what we need so that the right kind of responsible products can be created.
Overall, I’ve found that a combination of the three (Lola, LENA and Thinx) creates my ultimate kit for keeping my lady garden well maintained during my week of the roses (why yes, I did research every possible slang term for periods, thanks for noticing.).
I’m sure there are even more things to learn on this topic, so feel free to share (with PRIDE!) your thoughts or suggestion on how to have a better period. In the meantime, I will keep researching, trying things out, and of course, letting you know ALL about it. Happy hormones everybody!
Xx – Sarah