Updated: May 31, 2021
The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.
Through her book Seeing Red author Kirsten Karchmer invites us to talk more openly about menstrual periods and help erase the stigma associated with them. That stigma makes some of these conversations difficult to start as some people may feel uncomfortable, particularly when it turns to heavy topics such as sex education, gender equality, and human rights. A good antidote and an easy way to start talking about periods is by taking stock of all the menstrual products available, because there are a lot.
While it may make sense to start with the products that are most widely known, the fact is that many people shudder at the mention of the word tampon, so instead let’s start with something most people can relate to: clothing.
In Seeing Red, Karchmer mentions the brand name Thinx, a company that makes period underwear capable of absorbing up to 5 tampons worth of blood. The best part is, they are as
comfortable as normal underwear. And leaps and bounds more comfortable than wearing a pad. They come in many styles and colours, and there many (too many?) companies to choose from. Other clothing is aailab,e such as yoga pants. Some brands with inclusivity in mind, such as Aisle, also carry boxer briefs . For some trans-men and nonbinary people, this is a game changer. While there is the possible inconvenience if the underwear needs changing in a public bathroom, some people can go the whole day without needing to change them. No more blood leaking onto regular underwear. No more loud crinkling of disposable menstrual products echoing in the public bathroom. They are simple to wash and reuse, so have a lower environmental impact. The biggest barrier for this product is price. They can cost $30-60 per pair, which frankly is only a pipe dream for many who may already have to choose between eating and buying period products every month.
Another reusable product is the period cup. This is literally what it sounds like—a medical grade silicone cup that is inserted low in the vagina and collects menstrual blood. After washing and boiling it can be used again and again. For those who are skeptical, these are comfortable and when sized and used properly, aren’t even felt. There are even cups specifically for people with a low cervix. While I typically see Diva Cups in store, there are many other companies out there. Hello Cup and Lunette both deviate from the sickeningly typical female brand colour scheme of pink and purple to offer options (!) such as clear, black, orange, and blue, to name a few. Once you’ve got one, they’re good for years. The main barriers are the initial cost ($40), access to a safe way to clean them, and some people may be unable to or uncomfortable inserting a product.
The first product that comes to most people’s minds when talking periods is the menstrual pad. This can also be a low waste option. There are many reusable menstrual pads now available on the market. They are easy to clean and more affordable than period underwear. There can also be DIY. Check out this World Pulse article for a collection of YouTube videos with instructions on creating “a new wardrobe for your vagina.” I was thinking the other day that pads would be so much improved if they snapped to underwear. This is totally achievable if making your own. Plastic snaps are readily available at the local fabric store. For trans-men and non-binary people who prefer not to wear panties, Pyramid Seven has designed boxer briefs with an interior pocket to secure menstrual pads.
I’m not going to talk about disposable products except to touch on their environmental impact. Disposable menstrual pads contain up to 90% plastic. As pointed out in this article from the World Economic Forum, single use plastic menstrual products have a huge environmental impact, and the health impacts for people with periods are not well researched. I ask that those who can safely access reusable options consider doing so. If using tampons, consider applicator-free, reusable-applicators, or plastic-free applicator (in that order). I’m not going to cover reusable tampons since there isn’t much data to support their safety. Check out #plasticfreeperiods for environmentally conscious period inspiration. Going back to the discussion in The Revolutionary Idea of Normalizing Normal, rather than give pre-teens pads and tampons during sex-ed, imagine how revolutionary it could be to give them reusable products instead. An interesting thought.
Maybe you’re not interested in period products. Some people choose not to use them. This is different than menstrual inequality that stems from lack of access to menstrual products, a reality that hurts millions of people with periods worldwide. No, what I’m talking about is that some people choose to free bleed, which means menstruating without using period products. Free bleeding has been called a movement, aimed at stopping the stigma of periods and raising awareness about human rights issues and environmental impacts of period products. For more information, check out this Clue article for a little history lesson on the movement.
We’d love to hear from you. Comment below, email us, or connect through the Book Interrupted Book Club Facebook group! Or better yet, help us fight the stigma and have fun along the way by entering the Book Interrupted's Period Posts Contest.