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Finding empowerment when choosing a menstrual product

By Katarina Weessies

Section: Opinions

March 9, 2018

Most elementary schools teach young girls about periods. This usually happens in the form of a “puberty class,” that occurs in a split-gender environment and lasts a couple of hours. My elementary school’s “puberty class” consisted mostly of sitting in a dark room, watching educational videos that explained menstruation. These videos taught us that when women get their periods (educational materials from my religious private school were not gender-inclusive), they must choose between using pads and tampons. The videos explained how to use a pad and tampon, and detailed the different sizes and absorbency of the products. Many of the educational videos shown in these puberty classes are created by pad and tampon manufacturers like Always or Kotex. A visit to Always’ YouTube channel reveals a collection of these education videos, but these videos have an incentive to leave out information about lesser-known menstrual products, like menstrual cups or absorbent underwear. This means that people who watch the videos have a limited understanding of the variety of menstrual products they can use.

While tampons and pads are certainly the most common and easily accessible menstrual products, there are plenty of cheaper options. Menstrual cups are becoming increasingly popular with college-aged menstruators. One menstrual cup costs about $30, but the same cup can be reused for a year. Brandeis students can buy a menstrual cup at SSIS for 20 dollars. Whether or not you take advantage of the deal at SSIS, menstrual cups are a bargain compared to the continuous cost of tampons and pads. Menstrual cups also don’t need to be changed as often as tampons. They hold far more blood than tampons, and can last up to 12 hours, whereas tampons, regardless of whether they’re full, should be removed every eight hours to avoid toxic shock syndrome. Despite these advantages, many people, myself included, find menstrual cups uncomfortable. Menstrual cups are larger than tampons and need to be inserted and removed manually rather than with an applicator and string. The insertion and removal process takes a while to get the hang of, and some may find it painful and stressful.

A newer, less difficult product available to menstruators is period-proof underwear. THINX sells underwear that they claim holds up to two regular tampons worth of blood. According to their website, THINX underwear is lightweight and feels dry even when it’s full. The big downside of THINX is the cost. One pair of underwear costs around $35, and while they are reusable, they need to be washed after every use.

It’s clear that tampons and pads are not the only useful options for people with periods, but many people understandably choose not to use lesser-known methods like menstrual cups and THINX. Menstrual cups and THINX cost more money up-front than tampons and pads, and menstrual cups can be uncomfortable to insert and remove. While it’s important that people know about unconventional options, tampons and pads are also a reasonable choice.

While people should be exposed to the variety of menstrual products available to them, no one should ever be pressured to use a product they’re not comfortable with. A problematic idea that many college-aged menstruators face is that people who use tampons and pads are making a less feminist choice than people who use menstrual cups or THINX. This idea is based on the fact that tampon manufacturers unjustly limit information about competing products through their educational videos, and that tampons and pads can be prohibitively expensive. But it’s misguided for feminist communities to expect people who menstruate to forgo their own comfort for more innovative products. Different people have different preferences for products, and the preference for more traditional products is valid.

To make the best choice for their bodies, menstruators should have access to accurate information about products, including traditional products like tampons and pads, and more innovative reusable products. People who menstruate have the right to be fully-informed about which products they purchase.

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