Throughout history, menstruation has been considered a taboo topic and women have been made to feel shame for having one. Although we as a society do not like talking about periods, it’s important to break through the discomfort in order to advance women’s health and empowerment. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still much to do to ensure these conversations are normalized not just in female circles, but in schools and the workplace, and by non-menstruators as well. By talking about periods we can help normalize them and provide an opportunity to better serve women with period products that safely and sustainably fulfill their needs. Simply having more options and choosing what’s right for you can be liberating for women and empowering for menstrual destigmatization.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRADITIONAL PERIOD PRODUCTS
The misconception surrounding periods being dirty and shameful is prevalent in many cultures and persists throughout the centuries. While period products have a history of their own, so do period stigmas. Here, a brief timeline of both:
- 5th – 15th century—Women use rags as makeshift pads, leading to the term “on the rag.” During this time there is a lot of religious shame surrounding menstruation.
- 1850s—The sanitary apron is invented: a rubber apron with a strip that runs between the legs to prevent blood from getting on women’s skirts and seats. They save furniture from stains, but they are smelly and uncomfortable.
- 1896—The first commercially available pad hits the market: Lister’s Towels. However, menstruation is still a huge taboo, so women don’t want to be seen purchasing Lister’s Towels, and the product ends up a failure.
- 1931—A man named Earl Haas invents the modern tampon with applicator, which allows women to insert tampons without touching their vaginas or menstrual blood. As vaginas (particularly menstruating ones) still carry cultural and religious taboos, many women feel uncomfortable engaging with their private parts, so the applicator was popular.
- 1933—Gertrude Tendrich creates the company Tampax. But tampons are advertised to married women only, as people believe you can lose your virginity by using them.
- 1975—Rely tampons hit the market. They’re ultra absorbent, made of polyester and carboxymethyl cellulose. Unfortunately, these materials also breed bacteria more easily than cotton, and Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) awareness hits the mainstream.
SHEDDING THE PERIOD STIGMA WITH THE RISE OF INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS
We’ve come a long way when it comes to period care, but there are still loads of stigmas around menstruation that women come up against regularly. But today we’re blessed with all sorts of period care options, from menstrual cups to period underwear. All of which involve direct contact with menstrual blood while cleaning the product—putting women more in touch with their body, and creating a sense of menstrual liberation.
Periods have been shamed and sterilized for so long that the only way to really connect with it is just by looking at your blood and accepting it as something normal and healthy.
Period underwear are a comfortable, simple and sustainable alternative to more traditional tampons and pads. Period underwear have an absorbent lining to prevent leaks, odor, and moisture, and can hold up to four tampons worth of liquid. Some women may use period underwear for lighter days, but they’re especially great as backup for heavier days, so menstruators can go about their day with confidence and without fear of leaks.
Menstrual cups are an environmentally safe alternative to pads and tampons that were originally invented in the 1930s by Leona Chalmers but the idea was not a commercial success until the 2000s. Most cups can last up to 10 years, and can be worn for up to 12 hours per day. The cup is perfect for travelling, exercising, being in the water, and for everyday activities. Because you can wear one cup for your entire period cycle (while cleaning it between uses), cups are arguably the most sustainable period care option for women on the go.
Menstrual discs are similar to menstrual cups, the main difference being the shape and where they sit once inserted. Menstrual discs are shallower in design and sit higher in the vaginal canal, so that period sex is still possible while it’s in place—alowing women the freedom to better know their bodies and further empower their sex life at the same time.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN’S MENSTRUAL CARE
It’s so important to give women options when it comes to period care. Feminine care and public opinion towards menstruation have certainly come a long way, but there is still progress to be made. For example, it’s important to consider that while Western societies are becoming more frank in discussions and rhetoric around periods, many developing countries are still far behind, and many women don’t even have access to feminine hygiene products. With the steady rise of innovative period brands and products, more advocacy for the health and equality of women and girls worldwide is increasing, as is the need for more purposeful periods. We’re excited for this momentum to continue, and for the amazing innovations we’re sure to see in the future of period care.