So this post has arrived off the back of an Instagram story I posted last week whilst taking my monthly visit to Boots (bare with me). I vented my frustration at the popular sanitary product brands always being stocked at eye level, whilst the organic brands were hidden on the bottom shelf as though they were some sort of dirty secret. I’m fully aware that these big brands pay top dollar for their prime spot on the sacred sanitary shelf – but as someone who has struggled considerably more with female health issues because of these very products, it makes me sad. Actually scrap that, it makes me mad…
Growing up I was under the impression (like many), that the more perfumed products I could get my hands on, the better. Scented pads, feminine deodorants, wipes – maybe even a scented box to conceal all of my scented products. The list went on and on – intimate body wash with scents claiming to make me feel fresh. I’d see friends spray perfume near their thighs and sometimes even on their knickers before going out – it seemed we were all obsessed with keeping this area smelling of roses…
What nobody told us growing up was that the more you mess around with this area, the worse it will actually treat you in return. Unscented products are always always your best bet. The vagina is a complex thing – a clever old component that actually cleans itself. So an abundance of cranberry scented products actually only upsets our natural PH and aggravates a very gentle area. Scented chemicals can also lead to other nasty outcomes like inflammation, rashes, and sometimes even infections.
Why do we do it to ourselves? Because we are women, and as women we live with a constant guilt that we aren’t good enough, we aren’t slim enough, we aren’t hair free enough, and our underwear isn’t always perfectly fucking matched…
When I posted about this on Instagram stories – a few people got in touch about using Moon Cups instead. Informing me that any kind of pad was actually not that great for the environment – even the organic ones that are free of plastics and perfumes. This frustrated me a bit as someone who has their own female health struggles – it’s actually impossible for me to utilise a moon cup every month at the moment. People who suffer with Vaginismus in general would find using a Moon Cup very distressing – even people who don’t have a physical condition find them to be difficult.
We have to remember that our bodies are vastly different, and therefore our periods are too. Some people have extremely heavy periods that last for a week straight, some people barely bleed for a few days, and some people can’t remember the last time they even had one. Navigating womanhood is rough enough without feeling like our own bodies aren’t environmentally friendly enough – we are all just trying our best and figuring stuff out along the way…
If you can use something like a Moon Cup with no issues what so ever, I commend you, and that’s a great success for you personally – but please don’t force this on someone else as you never know what they are struggling with privately. If someone suffering with Vaginismus starts to feel anxiety about not being able to accommodate a Moon Cup or Tampon – this can actually cause their condition to become worse. It’s these stressors that trick the brain into thinking the vagina is too small, and it can be a very difficult cycle to break.
So many of you guys messaged me after those Instagram stories to tell me you were experiencing the same sort of shame – it really made me want to put this post together so that I could discuss everything in more detail. Who knew that I had so much to say about periods ey?! Having this sort of open dialogue seems to be the only way that our generation starts to rethink what we have absorbed growing up, and what we can do to improve the female experience going forward…
It frightens me that so many young people aren’t aware of how best to treat their bodies, and will suffer in silence for the sake of fitting in. The main point that I want to stress is that we can’t help the cards we have been dealt. We didn’t get to fill in a tiny check form back in the womb and opt out of being females and bleeding monthly. Periods don’t make us dirty, and they don’t give men (or anyone for that matter) a free pass to be a jerk.
Many of you might be reading this and have never had an issue with scented products, and that’s perfectly fine too – I’m not about to preach to anyone about something so personal. However, often you won’t know you have an allergy or reaction to one of these chemicals until it’s too late, so in my mind, why run the risk? The safer (more vagina friendly) options are out there, we just have to look a little harder for them.
So, this brings me nicely onto the kinder options we have available to us – kinder meaning better for us and better for the environment at the same time. When doing some research, I found this article by Bustle UK really informative when it comes to laying out the facts and figures in a less overwhelming way. The more I read about the affect that period products have on the environment, the more it sunk in that nothing we ever really use will be completely environmentally friendly. At least not anything that’s available at the moment – even using zero sanitary products, or ‘free bleeding’ (the choice to wear nothing at all), still requires clothing to be washed. Even if you then hand-wash these clothes, we are still using water – point being that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about something that’s out of our control. It’s a vicious circle and I feel like since our Instagram discussion, I’ve been looking into all kinds of different options.
At the moment, I use 100% natural cotton pads, usually by the brand Cottons, and I only ever buy underwear that’s 100% cotton too. If you’ve read some of my female health related posts then you’ll know that I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus as well as Vaginismus (absolute jackpot) – something I suffered with as a young child, and means that any tiny thing can set it off again. Since cutting out anything scented (even body washes), I haven’t had any issues or discomfort that hasn’t been manageable. I’ve also looked into things like reusable pads and THINX underwear, neither of which fill me with excitement when I think about incorporating them into real life, but lots of you guys said that you were really getting along with them. Again, if you have quite heavy periods this could mean a lot more time spent setting the washing machine off, which reinforces this idea that our periods may never really be guilt free when it comes to the environment.
Something that did stick out to me throughout all the different conversations was how much everybody was really trying to make a difference and spread information. The fact that we are taking responsibility for the impact our bodily functions have on the environment is so commendable, and all we can do is try our best. When I look at the statistics and ponder over how long sanitary waste sits in landfill sites, it just kind of makes me feel worse. Who needs that kind of guilt on top of raging hormones, stomach cramps and an unparalleled desire to smother everything in Nutella…
Being proud to improve our impact on the environment requires us to be proud of the mistakes we make along the way too. Our periods should be a time of self care and self indulgence – time for us to do whatever makes us feel good, and look after our bodies. If there’s space for the products we use and the habits we adopt to become less harmful to the environment, lets make those steps and educate those around us too. However, lets educate without patronising and isolating those who don’t have the option to change the products they use – we should never expect someone else’s mind or body to operate in the way that our own does. We are all different, and we all have different experiences to share with those around us – experiences that have the power to bring us closer together…
I also think it’s so so important to remember that discussing sanitary options is such a luxury. I’m very aware that period poverty is a real issue, and one that affects more women than we can even comprehend. Lots of women don’t get to choose what’s best for their body each month. Please check out Manchester Every Month if you fancy getting involved in a Manchester based organisation aiming to help those experiencing period poverty.
Photographs taken at home on a Contax T2
Found this a really interesting and topical read Alice! I’ve felt the pressure to switch to a MoonCup recently but don’t think it’s the right choice for me right now, if ever. This year I’ve fallen out with tampons too (not literally!) as I realised they were aggravating my periods. I started using THINX underwear over the summer and genuinely couldn’t recommend it more! WUKA also sell them, a little cheaper and with more flow options, and they’ve genuinely revolutionised my months. Just a little food for thought (:
Absolutely loved this post! I don’t personally have many issues with periods, and I know I am lucky for that but it was enjoyable to read and I didn’t know there were so many god damn sanitary products!
Great post Alice x very open and honest. I personally use a moon cup as I find tampons just feel a bit rough and pads have always made me feel self conscious. The moon cup isn’t perfect, it sucked out my copper IUD the first week I had it in and boy was that a fun day!! But I’ve switched to the bar implant and now I feel I’ve reached a happy balance for my body and that’s all anyone really wants I guess 🙂 xx thanks for the post!
One of my favourite posts Alice! I don’t particularly have issues with my periods and I know I am lucky for this but I now know there are sooo many alternative sanitary products out there that I didn’t even know existed and I will now skip off to boots to find them! ❤️
I always appreciate your posts and this one is definitely an important one. I especially like what you said about Moon Cups and shame, because I have felt that way silently for years because I’m constantly hearing about how terrible all these other products are for our bodies and the environment, but yeah Moon Cups aren’t an option for some people as well. It’s so hard as a woman where you are shamed for having to use products and then shamed for the products you choose to use–like where’s the opt out option? lol
Lovely article! I personally use a menstrual cup, but for example in September I couldn’t manage to even put it in because my period came two months late and I am usually so sick. First time after 4 months of cup. But still, we shouldn’t feel guilty. We should always try our best, always look for an alternative when we can but without stressing about it. Being environmental friendly doesn’t mean perfection. Keep it up!
This post echoes every thought I’ve been thinking and emotion I have been feeling. I really needed to hear this after recent discussions over my own problems concerning vaginismus. I wanted to tell you: please keep writing, you have an amazing way with words, and it is an immense relief to feel acknowledged and not alone.
Thank you! Really means a lot because posts like this are always tough to put together. I just know that these types of posts would have massively helped me when I was younger, so I try to share as much information and I can on here. Knowledge is half the battle with these sorts of things xx
Love love love this post. You can’t imagine how much I needed to hear these exact words right now. I have been feeling guilt, isolated, and frustration over my female health issues and have found solace in your posts. Thank you and please keep writing!
Thank you so much! And I’m so sorry to hear that – my DM’s are always open if you need any advice or just want to chat. Hope you manage to make some progress with it all. It can be slow and frustrating but there’s always hope xxx
Thank you fir your open and honest post. I’m lucky not to have too many problems with my periods and general female health. I’m well aware of the problems out there and as a GP it’s really beneficial to read experiences like yours so I can empathise abs understand my patient’s who may be having similar issues. Sharing knowledge is so important so thanks again.