Updated: Mar 27
Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman's monthly cycle (United States National Library of Medicine, 2020). It is estimated that the average person will spend 3500 days menstruating (Helping Women Period, 2019). The beginning of menstruation is a major event in a girl's life (Children's Hospital of San Diego, 2020). A qualitative study learned that girls associate their period with negative words, such as "painful," "uncomfortable," "gross," and "inconvenient." The emotions experienced by the girls to describe their first period were "scarred," "embarrassed," "unprepared," and "I thought I was going to die" (Rios, 2020). Studies show that one in four girls in the United Kingdom stated that they felt unprepared for the beginning of menstruation. Girls who reported learning about menstruation in school mentioned that their education focused solely on the biology of the menstrual cycle, and important information related to their bodies' anatomy and the use of sanitary products was left out from the school curriculum (Rios, 2019).
Furthermore, it was recently reported that 33% of parents feel uncomfortable talking about periods to their children (Broster, 2020). Social media and sanitary products commercials display unrealistic representations of women's experiences during menstruation (Wilson, 2017). A research study discovered that 50% of people between 14 to 21 years of age would not consult their healthcare provider if they were concerned about their period (Broster, 2020). Broster (2020) believes that censoring health information about menstruation and sanitary products can seriously impact people's attitudes and how they view their bodies. It can also prevent people from seeking medical help, and can contribute to the prevalence of period poverty.
Providing accessible education to the public about menstrual education is a good initiative to address the fear and stigma towards periods (Rios, 2019). This post will discuss different menstrual products and compare how they impact physical activity, cost, environmental sustainability, ease of use and time efficiency. As well, we will talk about what we can do to support women and community organizations that are fighting against period poverty.
Pads and Tampons
Pads, followed closely by tampons, are the most commonly used menstrual products (The University of Texas, 2020). Pads are adhesive and can be placed on the inside of the underwear to absorb the flow. No matter the flow volume, the pad should be changed at least every 3-4 hours. Tampons can be a little more challenging to use. Similar to other period products, tampons involve internal insertion, which can be uncomfortable for some users. Since they rest inside the vaginal canal, in addition to menstrual flow, tampons absorb the vagina's natural lubricant and bacteria; this has not been observed in pads (The University of Texas, 2020). Toxic Shock Syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication that results from the overgrowth of bacteria that naturally exists in the vagina (The University of Texas, 2020). Tampon and pad users should be aware of symptoms like high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, severe aching, weakness, dizziness, and rashes (The University of Texas, 2020). They should seek medical help as needed. Good personal hygiene practices during menstruation are critical to prevent infection. It is recommended to change the tampon every 4 to 8 hours and not use tampons if you have a skin infection near the genitals (The University of Texas, 2020). The average cost of a pad or tampon box in Toronto is $10. On average, women use 9-12 boxes per year (The University of Texas, 2020). Although the frequent change of sanitary products is vital for our health, it is not sustainable for the environment.
A sustainable menstrual product option is the menstrual cup. Although they have been on the market since the 1960s, they are becoming more popular now. They are made from medical-grade silicone and do not dry out the vagina's natural moisture as a tampon would. To insert the cup, The University of Texas (2020) recommends, "fold it like a taco and pinch it between your fingers. Maintaining the pinch, insert the cup into your vagina, and release. The cup uses suction to create a seal between the rim and the vaginal canal, so manufacturers recommend rotating the cup 360 degrees upon insertion to ensure the seal is intact. To remove the cup, break the seal by pinching it before removing.". Many women say that the menstruation cup makes their period cramps more manageable because the flexible material moves with uterine contractions instead of pushing back against them. The University of Texas (2020) suggests that you can leave a menstrual cup in for up to 12 hours and that this is a highly cost-effective option since the cost of one menstrual cup ranges from $13 to $25 and can last up to 10 years if taken care of properly, as per company's instructions.
Menstrual Discs and Period-Proof Underwear
Menstrual discs are a menstrual product that many people are not aware of. The disc is similar to a menstrual cup, except it collects the flow instead of absorbing it. They are one-time use only and are made of polymer that moulds into your unique body shape when it rests at the cervix base. The University of Texas (2020) suggests that " To insert the disc, fold it in half and push it up the vaginal canal so that it rests behind the pubic bone.". The menstrual disc has one benefit not shared by other menstrual products- it can be used during sexual intercourse. It collects the flow in a malleable "bag," so there is no risk of injury for the partner. Some women prefer this menstrual product when they exercise during their period because it has less leakage risk. A box of menstrual discs includes 8-12 packs, and they can cost between $10-$20. Women can use up to 8 discs per cycle. Lastly, we will address period-proof underwear. This underwear is made with multiple layers of different materials to prevent menstrual leakage. The cost ranges from $24 to $65 per pair. It can be washed and dried for multiple usages. Some women like to combine period-proof underwear with an additional menstrual product to achieve better leak protection.
One in four women in Scotland struggle to access period products, and 66% of low-income women in the United States did not have the resources to buy menstrual products last year (Leasca, 2020). Period poverty refers to people who need menstrual products but can not afford them (Alvarez,2019). In November 2020, Scottish authorities passed the The Period Products Bill, which makes period products free to anyone who needs them (Leasca, 2020). Hopefully, this new bill will stimulate other nations to take action about period poverty.
How can we help?
Finding the right period product can be overwhelming and expensive. It is important for us to acknowledge how fortunate some of us are for having access to montly menstrual products.
Learning and donating to local community organizations who advocate against period poverty, is a valuable contribution to our community, and can make a huge positive difference in a woman’s life. Here are some benevolent organizations that are taking action against period poverty:
1. The Period Purse is a charitable organization that aims to provide education and free menstrual products to marginalized communities in Ontario. They offer a lot of opportunities for community involvements. https://www.theperiodpurse.com/
2. I Support the Girls collects and distributes essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products allowing women who experience homelessness, impoverishments, or distress to stand tall with dignity https://isupportthegirls.org/
3. Happy Period is a foundation that believes that no one should go without menstrual care. They believe in ending the stigma about menstruation and supporting homeless, low-income and/or living in poverty. Indluding LGBT, non-binary, teens, veterans and disabled. https://hashtaghappyperiod.org/our-story/
4. Pads4Girls was started by a Canadian Company in 2000.They helped provide access to education and supported menstrual and reproductive health in Global South https://periodaisle.com/pages/dignity-projects
5. You do not need to look as far to find someone in need! You can also Google the closest homeless shelter from you and call them to ask how you can help out.
Alvarez, A. (2019). Period Poverty. Retrieved from https://www.amwa-doc.org/period-poverty/
Broster, A. (2020, October 09). A Third Of Parents Feel Awkward Talking About Periods During Coronavirus, Study Finds. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicebroster/2020/10/07/a-third-of-parents-feel-awkward-talking-about-periods-during-coronavirus-study-finds/
Helping Women Period. (2019, April 09). 7 Amazing Facts About Periods That Everyone Needs To Know. Retrieved from https://www.helpingwomenperiod.org/7-amazing-facts-about-periods-that-everyone-needs-to-know/
Leasca, S. (2020). Scotland Is the First Country to Make Pads, Tampons, and Other Period Products Free to Everyone. Retrieved from https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-news/scotland-parliament-period-products-free
Rios, G. (2019, August 02). The Importance of Menstrual Health Education. Retrieved from https://www.girlsglobe.org/2019/05/28/importance-menstrual-health-education/
The University of Texas. (2020). Period Products: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Retrieved from https://uthealthaustin.org/blog/period-products
United States National Library of Medicine. (2020). Menstruation | Period. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/menstruation.html
Wilson, A. (2017). What If Tampon Adverts Were Honest? Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/april-wilson/tampon- adverts_b_17080000.html?guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNhLw&guc e_referrer_sig=AQAAAMVOSVj4oIiVcPFtFwO1s6v1- WMpV_vnYXlDsuu8OQdtenDBt_6nb81qOR6- XRaagw0p8uVnJHZWCgddH9rqgyx7v10cm-vQ40Gp- QbYlAz2Ov0UpL02k7qquEohp4nXGG0RmLF- 8RJjZ4_qASHsoeZxO36kd7vJ1b2c4y6ct2u3&guccounter=2