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Sometimes you just get the mean reds … by Sherry

March 2, 2011

The Festa das Mocas Novas is a three-day ceremony practiced by the Tukuna people of the Northwest Amazon. With the onset of a girl’s menstrual cycle, she retreats into a chamber built especially for her within her family’s home. Her body is painted black to protect her from Demons known as the Noo. On the morning of the third day, she emerges to festivities, dancing, and essentially a giant celebration of her womanhood.1

As much as I wish I could just lounge in naked, painted hibernation for a week every month, it seems like the staunch menstruators of the United States still have to get up, go to class, go to work, and wash those stains out of their sheets. We can’t even just leave a happy scarlet trail of bread crumbs wherever we go, we have to be “sanitary”.

So as far as I am aware, there are now approximately four somewhat common/popular methods with which one can harness those 6-9 tablespoons of free-flowing blood that need to be channeled somewhere. This is pretty much a compilation of my impressions of each method.

 

Comfort

Tampon: Not only are they comfortable, but I remember girls in middle school would talk about masturbating with them. Seems like a multi-functional little sex toy that comes in different colors and scents.

Pad: Feels like what I imagine wearing an adult diaper feels like.

Menstrual Cup (Keeper, MoonCup, DivaCup, etc.): Putting it in can feel a strange at first, since you basically have to fold it up so that it fits inside, and then the cup sort of unfolds inside you. Sort of a suction-y feeling. When you take it out, you have to pull it out by the stem, which puts a weird pressure on your vagina walls (again, suction…). Otherwise painless, which equates to comfortable in this context, I suppose.

Sea Sponge Tampon (Sea Pearls, Silk Tampons, etc.): Essentially the same as a tampon, except made of either silk or a natural sea sponge material. The silk tampons come with a silk string to pull it out, and the sponges are just…sponges. I’ve never tried a sea sponge (for anything, really) but it looks extremely pliant. Also, sponges seem like soft and amiable creatures. That is the thing to keep in mind, though—you are shoving a small colonial creature inside of you against its will.

 

Effectiveness:

Tampon: You are supposed to change these every 6-ish hours, but it’s pretty much impossible to tell when you’re going to need a new one. Once your tampon has decided to stop absorbing, you will find yourself standing in line at a falafel place somewhere and suddenly there will be blood warming the crotch of your pants. “Fuck,” you’ll mutter quietly to yourself. You will have to run away and find a fresh tampon since no one actually carries tampons around with them, and even if they did, you wouldn’t ask for one. Also, they leak occasionally even if they’re not at capacity.

Pad: These are pretty effective. Depends on how heavy your period is, but it seems pretty unlikely to miss such a large target range. They’re supposed to be changed every 3-4 hours, since they start to smell. They only leak if the pad is overly saturated with blood.

Cup: These only need to be changed once every 12 hours, which makes them pretty hassle-free. They only need to be changed sooner if the cup runneth over (which you will definitely feel). My DivaCup holds up to 15 mL of blood, which is quite a bit. Plus, if you’ve inserted it properly, the DivaCup is essentially a silicone seal between your vagina and…outside your vagina. Nothing is getting past that sucker. Plus, it’s pretty much impossible to get Toxic Shock Syndrome from a silicone cup. At worst you’ll get a yeast infection if you don’t clean it properly.

Sea Sponge: Apparently in 1980 a study at the University of Iowa claimed to find that sea sponges being sold as tampons were still carriers of sand, grit, bacteria, and even fungi. Gnarly. Not sure why these are still legal, but you can buy two-packs of Menstrual Sea Sponges on Amazon.com for ~$15.

 

Environmental Impact:

Tampon: Between 1998 and 1999, 170,000 plastic tampon applicators were collected amongst other trash on the Pacific Coast. Think about it. Every tampon is individually wrapped in plastic, then packaged again in a box. Besides being a huge waste of resources to prepare and package, the process of making a tampon itself is also environmentally damaging. Dioxin, a known carcinogen, is a by-product and air pollutant caused by the bleaching process of tampons that contain rayon. And once it’s served its sentence of a few hours, you throw it away and reach for another one. In a year, 7 billion tampons are dumped into the environment in North America.

Pad: Just as bad, if not worse, than tampons. About 12 billion sanitary napkins are thrown out yearly by North American women. Also, that “leak-proof barrier” on the surface of most disposable pads is actually polyethylene plastic, and the production of polyethylene plastic is a large contributor to air pollution.

On the other hand, reusable cloth pads are a much better bet. These last a good 3-5 years if you wash them properly.

Cup: Like I said, most brands of a menstrual cup are made out of silicone. Silicone is a combination of silicon, carbon, and hydrogen that is then vulcanized into solid form. It seems healthy, there haven’t really been any reports of human bodies rejecting silicone, and it lasts about a year.

Sea Sponge: Besides the fact that these are infectious living creatures plucked from the ocean, there are apparently concerns with people capitalizing on the Menstrual Sea Sponge industry by starting up commercial sea sponge farms. On Palm Island in north Queensland, some lady named Therese Forde started up the world’s first commercial sea-sponge farm in 2005 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200509/s1456610.htm). Not sure how I feel about these. I feel like if I owned sea sponges I would just imagine them making small, inaudible screams as I stuffed them between my legs. Poor things.

1http://listverse.com/2009/12/28/10-bizarre-rites-of-passage/

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