Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Netflix of Menstruation

January 29th, 2013 by David Linton

It was probably inevitable that the success of Amazon, I-Tunes, Domino’s Pizza, and a plethora of home delivery and on-demand food services would spawn a menstrual product service industry. And here it is, the NetFlix of menstruation: Le Parcel.

Le Parcel acts as a clearing house for the home delivery of three major brands of pads, panty liners, and tampons, Playtex, Kotex, and Tampax, which the web site states are “only the best and most trusted brands,” a claim that users of other products would surely be outraged by. It is peculiar that the enterprise does not include an option of purchasing any of the growing number of eco-friendly products nor items like the disposable cup, Softcup.

The packaging idea is a clever one. Buyers can custom design a mix from 30 types of tampons, panty liners, and pads from those produced by the three companies to suit one’s pattern of needs including variations in flow, preference of fit, etc., and a delivery schedule can be set up so that the parcel arrives in time for one’s expected period. Furthermore, adhering to stereotypes of the impact of hormonal changes on attitude and dietary cravings, the parcel includes a chocolate treat of some kind and “a monthly gift” to help one feel special this special time of the month. The gift depicted in the video accompanying the web site looks like a wrist watch but that seems a bit farfetched. The service promises to “make your cycle easy and dare we say, fun!” and the buyer is assured that “each parcel is packaged with love and care.”

Unfortunately, the text accompanying the description of the system reinforces some of the most retro and even ugly negative beliefs about the menstrual cycle, including the misery of having to ask your partner to go to the store: “Gone are the dreadful days of having your significant other ‘pick up’ a box of pads at the store on the way home.” The assumption that the menstruator is stranded at home awaiting the return of her embarrassed mate is quite a throw back. Other casually mentioned descriptions of the period include:

  • “Nature’s gift stinks so we give you a better one.”
  • “PMS – Not so hard when chocolate covered.”
  • “Periods are hard.”
  • “Crap happens” – In this case the word “shit” is crossed out and replaced by “crap.”

The notions that menstruation “stinks” and the period’s arrival is “shit” or “crap” speak for themselves. Not only does Le Parcel deliver the menstrual goods, it delivers a package full of nasty attitudes as well.

A Whole New Meaning to DIY Menstrual Pads

December 21st, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

When Arunachalam Muruganantham discovered that his wife was using old rags for menstrual pads to save their family the cost of pre-manufactured sanitary napkins (paying Indian prices for sanitary napkins “meant no milk for the family” that week), he decided to create a low-cost napkin. Read his amazing story of how he did it: It includes teaching himself English and pretending to be a millionaire to get U.S. manufacturers to send him samples of their raw material, and testing his pads by wearing them himself — while also wearing women’s underwear and his own homemade menstruating uterus, consisting of a bladder filled with goat’s blood.

It’s hard to imagine a high school dropout in the U.S. pushing this as far as Muruganantham did with the obstacles he faced — but only because we can take cheap pads and tampons for granted.

Thanks to Khalil for sending me this story.

Sustainable Cycles

October 31st, 2011 by Chris Bobel

Sarah Konner and Toni Craigie Bicycle Down the West Coast, Live on $4 a Day, and Talk to People about Sustainable Menstrual Products.

Hear, in their own words, what they did and why it matters.

These gals are our menstrual sheroes!

Our Project

Over a lifetime, the average woman spends about 2,000 dollars on single-use pads and tampons, creating an enormous truckload of trash. There are more affordable and sustainable options that very few people seem to know about. We left Seattle on bikes on August 18th and arrived in LA on October 10th, and we will be continuing this work off-bicycle in the coming months. Along the way, we are meeting women, community organizers, health professionals, business owners, and people of all stripes, and having conversations about the benefits of reusable menstrual products.

For this project, we have been focusing on reusable menstrual cups—made of natural gum rubber latex or medical-grade silicon; they catch, rather than absorb menstrual flow. One cup costs $35 and can last up to 10 years—quite a deal. There are three companies that sell menstrual cups in the US, all approved as safe by the FDA. Each company has donated cups, totaling over 200, for us to give as gifts along the way. We also have a small number of reusable pads to give away.

There are powerful environmental impacts from this lifestyle switch and also important health benefits. For every woman who leaves behind single-use disposable pads and tampons, you can imagine a truckload of trash not going into the landfills, the decreased carbon footprint from production and shipping of these products, the trees saved, and all of the environmental toxins not going into our air, water, and bodies.

The Trouble with Disposables (Pads and Tampons)

Conventional pads and tampons are made of chlorine-bleached wood pulp, with some cotton (generally grown with tons of pesticides), rayon, plastic, and glue mixed in. They also contain bleach and dioxins, carcinogenic chemicals that are harmful to your body and to the environment. The vagina – wet, warm, and porous – seems like the last place you’d want those chemicals. Tampons, especially the super absorbent kinds, can create a perfect breeding ground for Toxic Shock Syndrome, caused by the deadly bacteria known as Staph (Staphylococcus aureus). These disposable products are not easily biodegradable, which is why they often clog septic systems and long outstay their welcome in our oceans and landfills.

The most immediate concern for many women is the cost of single-use products, every month, until menopause. Pads and tampons are an economic burden on all women BUT prove especially difficult for low-income women since they are not covered by food stamps.

The Scoop on Reusables

Using a menstrual cup puts a woman in more intimate contact with her body: she needs to figure out the mechanics of inserting and removing the cup and sees the color and consistency of her menstrual fluid each time she empties the cup.  Once you get over the learning curve, cups seems easier, more hygienic, and believe it or not, less gross than pads and tampons.  Many users come to value the increased knowledge of their body and cycle that they get from their cup.

Contact lenses make a great analogy: at first people are worried about touching their eye or may experience some irritation as they figure out the best way to put the lenses in.  Quickly, however, most people develop an easy routine around their contacts, and it’s no big deal.

Once thoroughly explained, most people see this switch as a “no-brainer.” Many eco-friendly lifestyle changes are cost-prohibitive (organic food) or time-intensive (hang-drying clothing instead of using the dryer). Menstrual cups have a huge ecological and health benefit, while also saving money and simplifying a woman’s life: you never have to buy pads and tampons again, you never have to remember to put them in your purse. We are all constantly bombarded with little things to do to help the environment. It’s confusing, and you can’t do them all. This is one simple thing that saves time and money and makes a big difference.

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.