Menstrual products can open up conversations about the taboo on periods.
There’s an important scene in a recent TV show that I want to discuss. Picture it: The main character, a woman in her forties, finally kisses the man she has been idealizing throughout the season. He’s a manly man, a cowboy, and he instructs her to take off her clothes. She obeys. They’re in the middle of foreplay, their bodies are close, and after he puts his hand between her legs, he says in a low voice, “That’s me making you wet.” Then, he sees that his hand is covered in her menstrual blood. She smiles and tells him that she must be early this cycle. But at that moment, his reaction (subtle but obvious disgust in his facial expression) breaks the spell of idealization for her. He immediately leaves her to go wash his hands. As he does, she leaves too. She walks away from his house almost triumphantly, with blood running down her legs. The manly man, the cowboy, was threatened by the natural processes of her body.
The woman knows that her menstrual blood is just blood. She’s not embarrassed by it. She’s not ashamed. She leaves because he couldn’t handle a little blood, and that killed her desire for him. This scene from (Spoiler Alert) I Love Dick is a rarity among many scenes in popular culture that teach people that menstruation is supposed to be gross, like the scene from Superbad in which one of the characters’ gag reflex is triggered when he sees a menstrual blood stain on his pants after dancing with a girl. Incredibly dumb comedy will always be around, but the worst part is the fact that the merchandizing of menstrual products uses the shame that often is associated with menstruation to sell. How many ads for menstrual products focus on the idea that menstrual "leakage" is one of the worst things that could happen to a person? The way we talk about menstruation is worth analyzing because it’s more important than we think. And we can understand our ideas and attitudes around menstruation a little bit better by considering new forms of products, and learning how and why we use them.
New menstrual products help the environment and your wallet
The eco-friendliness of the menstrual cup is obvious when we compare it to the millions of menstrual products that we throw away every year, and also it's convenient for some of us who have to think in terms of our budget. Tampons and pads are expensive. When compared to the menstrual cup, they seem cheap, but if we consider the frequency in which we need to buy them, the cup ends up being the cheapest option, since it can last about 10 years.
Moreover the cost of menstrual products is a very important issue to consider. These products aren’t thought of as a necessary purchase by governments that tax them, making it harder for many to obtain them. This creates a vicious circle, because many people around the world miss school or work when they’re on their period and cannot buy pads or tampons, which leads them to make even less money or use unsanitary alternatives that affect their health.
New menstrual products can be good for your health
We’ve all heard scary stories about toxic shock syndrome. While those cases are rare, they show that we should care about the way menstrual products affect our health. A pad or a tampon won't necessarily kill us, but they can still do harm in subtler and pretty annoying ways. For example, your vagina can become irritated with the prolonged use of tampons, and pads can also irritate sensitive skin due to dryness and friction. That's why alternative products like cups, discs, or period underwear help avoid these issues. There’s also very little research on the effects of the long term use of pads and tampons, which can contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens (in low concentrations, according to the companies that make them).
New menstrual products can be more inclusive
Why should inclusiveness matter to us as users? Maybe you only care about the quality of the product and you don’t feel the need to get involved with the internal policies of the brands you prefer, but the more a brand pays attentions to all of the consumers’ needs, the better the product will be. Last year, for example, a menstrual cups manufacturer did a survey to calculate how satisfied their users were with the product. Before answering the survey, each user had to identify themselves as male or female. When the user identified as male, the website skipped all the questions about the product and took the user right to the end of the survey. After a transgender user complained about the survey’s discrimination, the manufacturers released an apology, along with a pledge to use gender-neutral language and to support the transgender community.
The problem here is not the manufacturer’ choices, but society’s general notion of normality: only women menstruate, therefore only women use the product. Except that’s not true: Men menstruate too. This is important because transgender people experience difficulties with health insurance and medical treatment due to the lack of training for their particular needs, and their exclusion from the conversation about menstrual health only exacerbates this problem.
New menstrual products can help you have sex during your period
The menstrual disc was initially marketed as “a new product for mess free period sex.” Some users complained about the focus on “non-messy” sex and men’s comfort. Their argument was based on the idea that period sex shouldn’t be thought of as dirty, because it isn’t. Yes, you can stain your sheets, but contact with the blood itself isn’t bad for anyone’s health. There’s nothing inherently wrong about a product that helps people have the kind of sex they want to have, but it’s another case of the use of shame to sell these products.
Plenty of people have period sex, and a lot of women experience a heightened sexual desire during that part of their cycle. Why should we abstain ourselves from sex during those days? The more we normalize period sex, the more we’ll encounter more positive attitudes towards menstruation in general.
At the end of the day, you should use the products you feel more comfortable with. But it’s important to consider your options and to understand your personal reasons to use a product or not. We need to get to know our body more, to be more comfortable and joyful in it, so the unfunny jokes about periods don’t ever bring any shame to our wonderful, bloody lives.