Riding the Cotton Pony
There’s roughly a 50% chance that you, beloved reader, are a woman. If you don’t personally identify as female then I’m willing to bet you at least know a woman (in which case, this article is for you). It’s common knowledge that biosex females menstruate about every twenty-eight days. From a young age, girls are taught by their mothers, doctors, and teachers that the only ways to face this natural phenomenon are pads and tampons. It’s so ingrained in our beings that few women stop to think of the ways these items affect their bodies or the environment.
The first scary truth nobody tells you is that tampons and pads can be damaging to women’s health. Most mainstream brands contain dyes, fragrances, absorbency chemicals, and many other toxins which then leak into your body while you’re using them. Companies didn’t always use these chemicals in menstrual products. However, since chemicals were first incorporated into pads and tampons, scientists have noticed a correlation between the increase of chemicals and an increase in diseases in women. For more information here’s a place to start, but I highly recommend you do your own research. In a spontaneous act of investigative journalism, I visited ye old Kenyon College bookstore in order to see for myself what has actually infiltrated my body. I expected to find a list of chemicals I could research and tell you all about; however, the ingredients list on a box of pearl Tampax simply stated that the product “may contain” cotton, rayon, etc. What does it actually contain? I don’t really know and that’s kinda scary.
The second less than desirable reality of pads and tampons is that they are incredibly bad for the environment. The average woman (who uses tampons) will use slightly less than 10,000 in her lifetime. That’s a lot of waste. Plus, menstrual products don’t break down easily. Most have plastics that sit in out landfills for a very long time. Not to mention the added waste when packaging and inserters are involved.
Now, these realities are unsettling, but there isn’t anything we can do about them. Or is there? Today, innovators have come up with different products women can use to solve these dilemmas and a few other issues that we were previously required to accept as a burden of our gender.
- Organic menstrual products – These products are very similar to normal pads and tampons except that they are made of 100% organic cotton and a wax covered string. They don’t use any fragrances, dyes, or other harsh chemicals so they’re body safe. Depending on the brand and style they also contain little plastic and so are better for the environment. They do cost slightly more than what you’re used to paying for tampons, but it’s an investment in the earth and your own health. I view it as money well spent. If you’re interested in trying these the bookstore carries organic tampons made by Seventh Generation.
- Reusable Pads – If you’re not a tampon girl then you may want to try these out. They’re made of cloth and designed to be used multiple times between washes. Generally, women who use this method purchase enough pads for their entire cycle, put used pads into an open air container (so they don’t smell), and wash them all together at the end of their cycle. If cared for properly, cloth pads can be used for ten years or more. This method decreases your carbon footprint in reduced waste and leaches no chemicals into a users body. If you’re feeling really crafty, you can even take a trip the Art Barn and make your own. Although I’m not sure it’s something a novice should attempt …
- Menstrual cups – These are the most innovative menstrual product on the market right now, which intimidates some women, but if you use them it might be the best decision you ever make about your body. To use a menstrual cup (which is about the size of a shot glass), hold the cup so it will fit inside you, insert it like a tampon, and you’re good to go for 10-12 hours. After the times up you remove the cup, dump the blood in the toilet, wash it with body safe soap, and reinsert it. Washing your cup in a dorm bathroom might seem awkward at first, but it’s really not a big deal in practice. If you’re buying a menstrual cup make sure it’s made of silicone or another body-safe material so there’s no exposure to harmful chemicals. Additionally, because the cups collect blood instead of absorbing it, there’s no risk of TSS. A menstrual cup lasts for about a year (or longer with proper care), decreasing your impact on the environment while saving you money on all the tampons you don’t have to buy. You can find these online or at the local Walmart or CVS.
Obviously, you don’t have to switch your routine for that time of the month if you’re not interested, but I hope that readers can take this information and make more informed decisions about their bodies. This is by no means an exhaustive coverage of this issue. It’s a starting block. What you do next time it’s that time of the month is up to you. Good luck ladies!