Menstrual Musings

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.

Ever since I started using the Diva Cup I’ve been really thinking about the tampon/pad industry and what it means for women and the environment. Honestly, I don’t think that the current mainstream menstrual companies are good for women and I know they aren’t good for the environment.

First off, there’s tampons. They seem like a perfect solution because they don’t hinder movement in any way and you can swim with them in. But, the biggest problem with them is the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which is life threatening. There are serious health risks associated with TSS and in some cases it can lead to death.

The FDA’s report on TSS says this:

Approximately half the cases of TSS reported today are associated with tampon use during menstruation, usually in young women.

The rest of the report is focused on minimizing the risks of TSS (it says that “In 1997, only five confirmed menstrually-related TSS cases were reported…” but that number relies on proper diagnosis of TSS by doctors as well as a reason for them to declare it
“menstrually-related”). For some other good information, there’s a discussion on Scarleteen’s message boards.

One of the Associate Editors of the online magazine posts this:

From what my medical informers tell me (I just called my local sex-positive Nurse Practitioner to verify this stuff, so I assume she knows her stuff), the toxic bleaches and synthetic fibers can contribute to TSS by creating a less immunologically sound climate
inside the vagina, and because superabsorbent tampons can actually dry out the vaginal lining so that there’s none of that nice protective immunologically functional mucous left to help protect the body from bacterial invasion through the vaginal wall.


Both things can happen with tampons that aren’t changed often enough or with tampons that are too high absorbency for a woman’s needs and which a) collect a lot of blood in them, making a staph breeding pool, while simultaneously b) drying out the vagina and increasing the chance of bacteria and toxins getting into the bloodstream. Any tampon can do it if the other circumstances are right. Some are more likely culprits than others.

There are some more common problems with pads, too. Scarleteen’s article, “On the Rag” discusses some of the problems on Page 5:

If you’re going to use pads, make sure you do not get any that are scented, or have any added perfumes, as these can cause vaginal infections.

From what I can find, very few objective studies have been done on the effects of popular pads and tampons on women and their bodies. I feel like this is just yet another product of the shame culture that surrounds women’s bodies, but I suppose that’s a rant for another day. Instead of buying into the commercial hype, we women need to take control of our menstrual health by learning and making an informed decision about what products we choose to use. And any men reading this article – learning about women’s bodies is just as important for you. Understanding women’s health, and all the issues surrounding it, is an important part of understanding your mothers, your sisters (and other relatives), your friends, and (if you swing that way) your girlfriends.

Useful Links

Alternatives to disposable pads and tampons: