Can I share with you one of the greatest discoveries of my life? This is a TMI post, but don't be embarrassed and stop reading even if you are a guy, because you might want to change your wife's life with this.
I'm into natural living for two reasons. One, because it's the big fad right now.
Just kidding. One, because I care about my health. I want to consume foods and other products that do not introduce any toxins to my body. (Beyond that, products and foods that nourish my body are highly preferred). Two, because I care about the earth. I really care about the earth. And I realized a couple years ago that my way of living --- the standard American way of living --- was hurtful to the earth.
I have a long way to go in averting hypocrisy on both counts, but I've come a long way. More on that some other time.
Today lets talk about my reasons for questioning my lifelong use of menstrual pads and tampons.
Even the ones made from "organic cotton."
Even the ones with "biodegradable applicators."
Even the "chlorine-free" ones.
The catalyst to my research was the realization of how much WASTE I was creating every month. (This book estimates that the average woman throws away up to 300 pounds of feminine hygiene products in a lifetime --- and that doesn't take into consideration the destructive production processes for these products). But I soon realized there was so much more.
It came down to this: menstrual pads are slightly more destructive to the environment than tampons because of their plastic components. (See this study done by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm); tampons are more destructive to the body because they simply make more contact with some of the most absorbent tissues in the body, exposing them to dioxins --- yes, even since bleaching processes have been changed to reduce dioxin content. (See page 22: "Dioxins are known to cause cancer in animals, and probably cause cancer in people. People exposed to high levels of dioxins may be at risk for a damaged immune system, increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, and reduced fertility." Here's what the EPA has to say about dioxins.) Both products are also likely to contain BPA or BPS, as most paper products do, as well as phthalates and DEHP.
All this in one of the most sensitive and absorbent areas of the body! Not to mention that these plastic/paper products restrict air flow, promoting yeast infections and bacterial growth in the vaginal area. Tampons also absorb not just blood, but all moisture in the vagina, including healthy fluids that are necessary to protect the vaginal walls and maintain the correct pH level and beneficial bacteria populations.
In this article by Dr. Mercola, a few other tampon/pad risks are mentioned:
- Conventional tampons contain pesticides: A whopping $2 billion is spent annually on pesticides to spray cotton crops.
- Conventional tampons probably contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). According the USDA, 94 percent of all U.S. cotton is genetically engineered.
- Tampons and pads with odor neutralizers and artificial fragrances are virtually a chemical soup, laced with artificial colors, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene and propylene glycol (PEG), contaminants linked to hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness and infertility.
So What On Earth Am I Supposed to USE?!
Rags, right? You want me to use rags like the pioneer ladies.
Sure, use rags.
It may alter your gait for one week of the month, and increase your laundry pile a bit, and use a bit more water for cleaning, but rags are a great option. Lots of people use homemade menstrual pads and love it.
But I use a menstrual cup.
Yes, it just fits right inside. It catches the blood. Then you remove it, dump, rinse, and replace.
Mine is a Diva Cup, although there are lots of brands out there. Here is a forum for people to compare and discuss brands and trouble-shooting that might be useful to you. (See? I'm not the only one.) Keep in mind that you will need a larger size if you have given birth vaginally.
|You fold and insert, and give it a full turn so it opens up and suctions to the vaginal wall. Source.|
- No waste. This thing will last for years, and I will not need to throw away a pad or tampon (or its packaging) ever again.
- This also means I'll be saving a lot of $$ on hygiene products. It's a one-time purchase of $30 or so.
- No paper or plastic. Made of medical-grade silicone (non-latex). Goodbye dioxins, phthalates, BPA, etc. etc. etc. etc.
- You only have to change it every 8-12 hours, depending on how heavy your cycle is.
- NO LEAKING. Mine only leaked once the first cycle I used it, and that was because I left it in (overnight) longer than 12 hours, and it overflowed. So it leaked just a tiny bit onto the panty liner I was wearing as an extra precaution.
- It is completely comfortable: I don't even know it's there.
- I went camping during a cycle, and didn't have to pack a whole bag of STUFF. I just used my cup. Thankfully we were car-camping this trip and there was a sink I could use for rinsing, but I think it would be just fine backpacking too. You could use a water bottle for rinsing --- away from the camp so as not to attract bears.
- Rinsing the cup is easy. If you are in a public place and don't have access to a sink in your stall, you can put it back in as is and rinse when you get home. Since you don't have to dump it more than every 8-12 hours, probably you won't need to rinse it while you are away from home much.
- A lot of people say that it takes some getting used to, some trial and error. Mine worked perfectly the first time.
- It has been enlightening to know visually how much I actually bleed during a period. As someone who charts, this data is somehow interesting to me.
- While reusable cloth pads are great, this allows for freedom of movement (and swimming, etc.) the way a tampon does.
- It comes with a cute little bag for storage. I put it in my purse when I know my period will be starting that day. (I always know because I chart my temperatures).
A menstrual cup might not be for everyone... maybe.
But for now, it is the only thing for me. I know I won't be going back.