This one is just for us girls.
In case you’re inclined to stick around, it’s about our periods. No, I’m not talking punctuation; I’m talking menstruation.
There. That should do it.
Now that we’re alone, I’m going to level with you ladies. Something about us has been bugging me for a while now, a highly personal matter that I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to address. It lately occurs that it’s probably best not to pussyfoot around such things, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: We need to seriously reexamine menstrual products. They’re bad for our bodies and our planet.
First, plastic tampon applicators have got to go. It’s not that I don’t understand the appeal—they’re smoother, slicker and give the impression, albeit false, of being more sanitary than flushable cardboard applicators. They also don’t require the intimate, icky touching of the applicator-less o.b. brand. I’m honestly surprised those are still on the market. Sure, they’re discreet—you can fit about a half-dozen into the fifth pocket of your Levi’s—but I have a very difficult time believing anyone prefers them. God bless any unsung heroines who do.
Regarding the plastic that’s not fantastic, in a story that estimated the cost of a period over the average woman’s lifetime (nearly $20,000!), Huffington Post reports that, on average, a woman will have 456 periods and use 9,120 tampons.
Given that 70 percent of us use tampons, of the 7 billion pieces of plastic American women cumulatively insert into our vaginas each year, according to Global Citizen, how many do you think get recycled?
You’re not going to find any judgment here, though. Even if they were recyclable, not even a greeniac like me faults a woman who would rather not rinse, dry and transport her tampon applicators to the recycling. Then there’s the fact that, because you’re not to bag these items, every time she wheels that can to the curb she’s risking her neighbors and garbage collectors spotting the telltale signs of Aunt Flo’s monthly visit. I’m as big an advocate for destigmatizing menses as the next gal, but some personal details are just not meant to be known by one’s refuse engineer. And let’s not even think about what the local dogs and wildlife might do if the trash service still uses those open-air bins. Shudder.
Skipping along hand-in-hand with the enormous environmental impact of petroleum-based tampon applicators is the fact that plastic isn’t exactly good for humans. If it’s not good when we press it to our lips, it’s probably less good pressed into an absorbent mucus membrane that doesn’t filter through our metabolic system, just goes straight into the bloodstream. So do yourself a favor and buy cardboard, Thinx period-absorbing panties, a menstrual cup (warning: not for the faint of heart) or become a heroine and use o.b.
On similar footing are the chemicals and fragrances—also chemicals—in many feminine hygiene products.
Two years ago, Time reported that, though it has improved in recent years, the bleaching process used in the manufacture of tampons leaves behind a small amount of dioxin, which can build up over time. Exposure to dioxins, which the World Health Organizations calls “highly toxic” and classifies as a “known human carcinogen” is really not something anyone wants from a product that spends hours inside one’s vagina, particularly not given that those hours add up to six-and-a-quarter years on average, per Huffington Post.
Further, as Time reported, some of the perfumes may include chemical “endocrine disruptors” linked to brain disorders, reproductive problems, obesity and cancer; including “phthalates, a class of suspected endocrine disrupters some research has linked to developmental issues like asthma.
If you’re wondering why you’re reading so many words like “may” and “can” and “might,” that’s because we don’t really know if or how much tampons, pads and panty-liners hurt us. Nobody likes to talk about periods, not you, not me, and not scientists, apparently. Thus there’s been little research into how the use of menstrual products affects us; there’s also very little in the way of real information about what’s actually in them. See, ’cause they’re deemed “medical devices,” the FDA doesn’t require companies to list what the products contain, which is some seriously messed-up governing, if you ask me and my vagina.
Not that our mostly older, male representatives would ask women our opinion on such matters as what’s in our tampons and how it affects us. They get squeamish watching those ads featuring an invariably happy, gorgeous woman skipping about in white pants looking like she’s just eaten a calorie-free six-course meal, had a couple of orgasms with the newfound love of her life and won the lottery.
Those ads probably help sell tampons, panty-liners and pads, but all I want to buy is peace of mind.