Periods have a reputation for being messy, gross, and inconvenient. Even worse, period related products seem to promise relief that sounds too good to be true. Thanks to the endless stigma and discomfort around discussing periods outside of your annual GYN visit, there’s a good chance you’ve fallen for a few period myths out there. How the heck did women survive periods before tampons anyway? Have you ever wondered when tampons first sat on the shelves at a pharmacy? Or whether or not it really is okay to have sex during your period sans birth control without getting pregnant? What about sharks, are they more likely to attack menstruating women? And what are those period panties anyway? With all the myths, products, and stigma surrounding periods in our modern world, it’s no wonder so many women feel lost and confused when it comes to choosing the best period products for them. From knowing the history of how period products have evolved, the potential safety and environmental risks, and finding something that just feels right, there should be ample discussion about periods and managing them well. While everyone has their own ways of coping with aunt flow (chocolate, anyone?), these thirteen facts will help you feel more knowledgable about the most annoying time of the month. From the history of how menstruating women have managed their periods over the centuries, to eco-friendly period protection, trends, myths, and how to stay safe while managing your period, these facts will help you get informed and stay healthy (and happier) during your period. Throw away the shame and get ready to get educated. You may just find a new way to manage your own period.
You may have heard the myth that women cannot get pregnant during their monthly menstrual cycle. At first, this seems like a logical statement because for a fertilized egg to attach and implant into the uterine lining, a woman must have that thick layer of blood inside her uterus that is currently being shed (i.e. her period flow). However, there’s more to the story than just the lining of the uterus being present or not. What makes it possible to get pregnant from having unprotected sex during your period is that sperm can live inside the uterus for a while after the actual sexual act has occurred. The American Pregnancy Association notes that in ideal conditions (your womb), healthy sperm can live for up to five days after they’ve entered your uterus. This means that even if you have sex during your period, if you happen to ovulate early on in your cycle, the awaiting sperm can fertilize the newly released egg, resulting in pregnancy. If you’re going to have sex on your period, make sure you’re using effective birth control if you want to prevent pregnancy.
Menstrual pads have been around for a long time. As FemmeInternational.org notes, the earliest recorded information about pads dates to Greece during the 10th century when a woman supposedly threw a used menstrual rag (pad) at a man to get him to leave her alone (gross, but likely effective). Over the years, pads have evolved to provide more effective protection for users while also striving to maximize comfort and reduce bulk. The evolution of pads not only benefits women now by providing a product that provides protection and (strives for) comfort, it also reminds us that women’s health and comfort has become more and more of a priority throughout history.
Tampons are everywhere. From television commercials to advertisements in magazines and large displays in your local shopping center, it’s hard to go anywhere without having some reminder of the convenience and discrete nature of tampons. As Tampax notes on their website, the tampon itself is an old technology that dates back to ancient Egypt, where absorbent papyrus was used to make disposable tampons. If the idea of inserting something foreign into your lady parts makes you shy away from tampons, the learning curve isn’t bad. Tampons constantly evolve to become easier to insert (and remove) and most companies state they shouldn't be worn for longer than eight consecutive hours.
Diva Cups, Luna Cups may be one of the most cringe-worthy forms of period protection for first time users. It’s hard to imagine how such a large device could comfortably fit inside your body, let alone handling it. While these items may seem modern because of there recent popularity, various forms of this technology have been patented for over a century. Menstrual cup company Lunette notes on their website that the first patents for menstrual cups were developed in the 1860s, but that an actual product didn’t hit the market (in the U.S.) until 1937. While menstrual cups do have a learning curve, this eco friendly, cost effective and relatively safe form of period protection is worth trying if you haven’t already.
We get it. The idea of handling a sanitary product can be gross as it is, let alone reusing something that has been saturated with period blood. This ultra sensitive mindset most women seem to have today about their own bodies while menstruating makes products like reusable pads seem downright disgusting when in fact, they have many benefits. Like the menstrual cup, reusable pads are cost effective. Yes, you have to wash them but so long as you have a good supply of pads and wash them frequently, you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of needing to go to the store in a rush to get disposable options. Many reusable pads come with their own convenient carrying bags and have snap closures to ensure they stay in place.
If you’re someone who isn’t comfortable using a menstrual cup or you find you are sensitive to even the most gentle conventional tampons on the market, you should try cloth tampons. While these products can be somewhat harder to find in stores, they can provide you with the same convenience and protection of standard commercial products without exposure to unwanted chemicals. Health food and eco friendly stores that carry a wide variety of products will often have cloth tampons available. Brands like Seventh Generation, Veeda, and NatraCare all provide excellent chemical free tampon options. Not only are these options free of harmful toxins, they are better for the environment by reducing the amount of chemical laden waste that is created.
If you’ve ever read the label on a tampon carton, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the warning about Toxic Shock Syndrome, or TSS. Whether you’ve heard of TSS or not, it is something every menstruating woman needs to be aware of. WebMD describes Toxic Shock Syndrome as a disease that is created from an excess amount of staphylococcus aureus, aka a staph infection. This serious infection can be fatal without proper medical treatment. While WebMD notes this is most commonly found when women use super (highest) absorbency tampons, the site warns that any menstruating woman who becomes ill with a fever and vomiting while using a tampon (or other barriers like a sponge or cervical diaphragm) should remove it immediately and call their doctor.
Tampons are the queen when it comes to preferred period protection. They’re small, convenient to carry, discrete, and provide excellent absorbency. The book For Women Only!: Your Guide to Health Empowerment by Gary Null and Barbara Seaman notes (on page 777), as 70 percent of women use tampons regularly. If you’re one of the 70 percent of women and you change your tampon every 6 hours over a standard 5 to 7 day cycle, that means you’re using 20 to 28 tampons per cycle and no less than 240 tampons per year. Not only is that a lot of money (about $1,680 per person at around $7/box), it’s a tremendous amount of waste in our landfills.
Period panties are popping up everywhere. With alluring images of women (lacking the bloat and other less-than-attractive features of a period week) in cute and seemingly normal underwear, these panties are a bit of a mystery. While the idea of a “period panty” may make you think someone’s just come up with a clever name for an adult diaper, period panties are not Depends. Period panties are typically designed to replace panty liners. While some brands (like THINX) say you potentially can use them in place of other period products, it is not recommend. Period panties are intended to provide moisture capturing, stain resistant underwear protection that works in conjunction with your menstrual cup/pad/tampon. If you’re worried about losing your favorite pair of panties to period stains, invest in some period panties.
Sea sponge tampons are just what they sound like, a harvested sea sponge that is used as an alternative to a cotton or synthetic tampon. Why would someone want to use a sea sponge in place of a tampon? They’re absorbent, lack chemicals, and reusable. Companies wash, inspect, and prep sponges for customers to make them ready for use after an initial washing. While these products are said to be incredibly soft, the FDA has placed restrictions and has an approval process for companies wishing to promote sea sponges for menstrual use. Most sea sponge menstrual providers are found online, such as GladRags and Jade & Pearl Sea Sponges.
While creating and producing a mass-market tampon was something that took decades of work, Tampax notes on their website that it was on March 7th, 1936 that Tampax Incorporated became official. This step toward providing commercially available tampons meant that women’s health was beginning to take center stage in the marketplace. When the potential for this product was realized, the promotability and exposure for tampons and other menstrual products began to snowball. While the interests and intentions of selling tampons had a duel purpose of convenience and profit, this beginning step helped to change how women manage their periods.
The days before menstrual products were mass produced and could be afforded by (most) women, options for menstrual protection were varied in their availability, accessibility, and effectiveness. Much of what a woman used for period protection had to do with how much money she had, where she lived, and how society viewed menstruation in general. As BeingGirl.com notes, Women use everything from natural fibers like cotton and animal hides to sanitary belts (that were likely as uncomfortable as they looked). In a time when commercial period protection wasn’t even a concept, women worldwide used whatever means were available, practical, and common to provide themselves with the best period protection they could get.
The myth that a shark will attack you if you’re swimming in the ocean and on your period is one that has created intimidation in beach goers everywhere. While there is some validity to the idea that menstruation could potentially make a woman more attractive to a shark, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that women that are menstruating are at a greater risk of being attacked by a shark than a woman who is not menstruating. As the Florida Museum of Natural History website notes, more than 90% of recorded shark attacks have occurred with males. While the FLMNH notes not swimming around sharks while on your period could lower your risk of an attack, there’s no current findings to suggest begin on your period will make you more attractive to sharks.