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:

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4 thoughts on “Menstrual Musings

  1. Interesting. I don’t remember using the menstrual cup, because my mom told me back in the 70s that she hadn’t liked it much. I did try menstrual sponges, but they were awkward to deal with in public restrooms. It looks so much like the cervical cap!

    Back in the days before perimenopause, when I had Real Periods, I was a commited tampon user, but very concerned about Toxic Shock Sundrome. After all, those superabsorbent fibers were (probably still are) the ones used in diapers. For years, I used tampons during the day but switched to a pad at night. And now with the reduced flow of my 40s I’m especially careful to take a break–sometimes in the middle of a period–to let the vaginal environment normalize a bit.

    When I lived with a lesbian couple we were all using Sure and Natural for a while: pads are certainly safer, and now they aren’t as bulky as they used to be.

  2. I’ve had my cup for a while now and I don’t know how I got along without it. I could never use tampons without severe discomfort and I ended up getting a nasty cyst from pads. My sister had a bad time with the Keeper, but I got her the Diva Cup and she’s hopeful that it’ll be better.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences!

  3. This is interesting. I have been using pads eversince and I am very comfortable with it. I’ve tried using tampons once but I got infection. And I avoid using scented pads it causes itchiness and infection.

  4. I have quit using tampons for quite some time due to all the health risks they pose. It would seem they also stop our natural flow which for me lead to cramps, bloating, and just more discomfort. Not to mention they create a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and multiply causing infections. I found something called winalite it is a sanitary pad free of chemicals and synthetic materials. It has something called an anion strip embedded in every pad it is antibacterial and has numerous benefits. You can go to
    and try one for yourself for free you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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