Thesis: Menstrual Protection Products and Modern Society

Rest easy, this this really isn’t a graduate thesis on period products, though I sure feel like I could write one, as much as I have read and written about them over the years.  Just in the recent past alone, I have blogged on the history of internally worn products, provided facts to address myths and false information found online about periods and puberty, and responded to questions about changing period needs.  Along with blogging, I have answered hundreds of period questions and, once upon a time ago, I was even been a monthly user. 

Funny thing though, I never get tired of the topic.  Guess it takes all kinds! 

So, let me get on my nurses uniform and support hose because here I go again.   Usually the questions I get are from teens and their moms or from women seeking help to find the right product for them, especially when they first start or as their periods change when going through perimenopause.    Along with an answer, when appropriate, I offer links to some great online places for further information, such as brand websites or kidshealth.gov, beinggirl.com. ARHP.org (Association of Reproductive Health Professionals), or http://www.youngwomenshealth.org/menstrual6.html (Center for Young Women’s Health from Boston Children’s Hospital).

Important to guiding the user to the best product for them is having an understanding of their lifestyle, cycle and comfort with their body.  For example, some women never feel comfortable inserting a tampon, others like the reassurance that they feel wearing a pad brings to them and others prefer using an internally worn product, like a tampon. 

Especially important for a new user who wants to try a tampon or menstrual cup, is to educate about toxic shock syndrome because every vaginally inserted menstrual protection product carries a small risk. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TSS, it is a rare and serious disease that involves fever, shock and problems with the function of several body organs. Although the earliest cases of TSS involved women who were using tampons during their periods (menstruation), today about half of current cases are associated with such events. Toxic shock syndrome can also occur with skin infections, burns, and after surgery. The condition can also affect children, postmenopausal women, and men.  

It is critically important to know the signs and symptoms of TSS, if you use any vaginally inserted menstrual product, such as tampons or menstrual cups.   All are labeled with information about TSS when you buy them.  For a good reason!  The part of this that truly is dangerous is when someone wrongly believes that only tampons made of a certain material can cause TSS or not, like a 100% cotton tampon.  They may then ignore the symptoms if they have a false sense of safety.   The symptoms are flu-like.  If someone suspects that they have TSS, remove whatever product they are using vaginally and see their physician or health care professional (HCP) immediately.  Let them know you are menstruating.  Since it is so rare, many HCPs have never seen a case of TSS and may not suspect it immediately thus delaying treatment.   



Just so you know, I strongly support a woman's choice to use whatever menstrual product she wants to use.  The point I am making is that no mater whether it is an all cotton tampon or a menstrual cup, they all pose a risk of TSS.  More information about TSS can be found at: http://www.toxicshock.com/  or at the FDA site: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/AlertsandNotices/PatientAlerts/...

 One of the great aspects of the Internet is that there is a wealth of information to be found, lots from medical and scientific experts.  Unfortunately, there is also unsubstantiated scary stuff that gets shared by well-meaning storytellers.  Here are some facts to address some particularly concerning information that I read recently about disposable feminine protection products: 

No Dioxin:

Purification (bleaching) is an essential part of the process required to make pulp, cotton, and rayon in pads and tampons pure and absorbent. The most advanced, government-approved testing methods indicate that the bleaching methods used does not form dioxin.  The bleaching methods used by pulp suppliers (known as Elemental Chlorine-free [ECF] or Totally Chlorine-Free [TCF]) have been established by the US Environmental Protection Agency as standards for the pulp and paper industry.    

Electricity and Washing:

Every product has an environmental impact.  For example, washing clothes uses water and electricity, which is created by the burning of fossil fuels.  Also important to note is that when water use has to be conserved, during drought conditions or because of natural disasters, washing clothes becomes more of a luxurious strategic effort because the least amount of water that can be used is important.  Using disposable products becomes a necessity and not an option.   For those women who prefer reusable menstrual protection products, I say go at it.  It is all a matter of personal choice.  As for me, I will find other ways to preserve the environment, like refilling my water bottle, managing our thermostat efficiently, properly processing our recyclables, helping to maintain our compost pile and on and on and on. 

In the end, I say decide to use or not use any type of period product, use it according to the guidelines and instructions approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and don’t feel that you must sacrifice comfort, convenience, hygiene and safety to manage your monthly needs!

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