Yup, no 'va-jay-jays' here. Here we say the word 'vagina'. And we stress all the vowels. That's because here, we are women and men who aren't afraid to talk about something that half of the world's population has, or about the experiences this population have as a result. Also because it's just fun to say 'VAAGIIINAAAH' like you’re a theater actor training for a matinee.
So, the reason for this blog post is because I’ve learnt some things about women’s health that I think more people should know about. I would like to highlight that I said ‘people’ and not ‘women’ for a reason. Often when I bring up menstruation, or even more series issues that pertain to women, the men around me – family, friends- seem to go conveniently deaf. And that’s hurtful, because I’m talking about something that’s important to me, and effects my quality of life, just like it’s important to many women, and effects their quality of life. For some reason we’ve all made that something not okay for men to listen to. Let’s relax about this, please? It’s not like it’s a surprise – blood comes out my vagina once a month, okay? It happens for about a week, and at the end I give the blood sacrifice to our feminist demon gods. It’s chill. We’re all going to be fine.
Moving on, in the first of a series on all things vagina, I would like to begin by talking about tampons. A lot of women use them, and they’ve been a blessing to me ever since I realized pads and the beach don’t go together. A realization it took me a long, believe me, long time to really ‘get’. God, being fifteen sucks. Anyway, the tampons most women use – brands like Kotex and Tampax – are not actually so good for us. They’re also not good for the environment, and not good for the people that have to make them. Surprise! It's a tampon-industrial complex. Not even our intimates are safe. It might be a bit of a hard-sell at this point, but let’s break this down one at a time.
BAD FOR VAGINAS
You know how tampon ads always make super-absorbency sound so amazing? Well, they’re doing that thing cigarette ad men did in the early and mid 20th Century. ‘Can’t pretend to prove something’s good for them anymore? No problem. We’ll just list stuff that it has in it and make it sound like it’s good for them’. Super-absorbency in tampons do that job well - they absorb all the blood that might otherwise be ruining your underwear. But they also absorb all the other good goey stuff that’s keeping your vagina from drying out. When your vaginal cavity is dry, it’s more likely to be irritated, causing pain, and more likely to tear – causing more pain. Also, importantly, tears make your vagina a hotbed for the development of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Tampons full with blood make it easier for staph bacteria to breed, creating a poison that enters the blood stream through micro-tears created when tampons enter, and when they dry out what shouldn’t be dry.
Toxic Shock Syndrome kills quickly – it’s not something to play around with, and it's more prevalent in women using super-absorbent tampons. Let me be very clear: Toxic Shock Syndrome can happen to anyone using any tampon or any other device there for the collection and storage of menstrual blood in your vagina. If you’re using organic cotton alternatives you should not ignore symptoms like a high fever and/or vomiting. That being said, you are better off using organic cotton tampons in lieu of ones using synthetic materials. On that note, synthetic materials like polyacrylate superabsorbents and rayon (apart from having a pretty sordid history with women’s bodies, also) cause itching and soreness, especially with those who are also sensitive to things like bubble baths or latex condoms. When I first went to gynecologists and pelvic floor specialists for vulvodynia, before we even knew what was truly wrong with my bits, they had me rule out synthetic fabrics in my undies, and made me ditch soap in favour of water. If you're having pain or sensitivity issues, try using these tips, and speak to your GP or gyne about putting synthetic products near your wooha*.
*Look, I know I said we're sticking with the adult, physiological names, but 'wooha' is a pretty fun word. Shout it out wherever you're reading this, and if you don't feel immediately better you might be a cylon, sorry.
BAD FOR THE EARTH
Polypropylene is a silly name for a material used in conventional tampons to reduce fiber loss. 'Loss' as in, the loss of tiny synthetic materials from the tampon into your cavity where they just hang out and cause shit for your vagina. This polypropylene isn’t biodegradable, so your discarded tampons just stay on, forever. Just being kak. The cotton in regular tampons also isn’t innocent. It’s sprayed with pesticides that hurt the environment and basically prove that when it comes to money, people only have short-term goals. For a quick-look guide at why regular cotton farming sucks, have a looksy here.
BAD FOR FARM WORKERS
Riffing off the last point, the insecticides needed to keep critters away from non-organic cotton is dangerous for the farm workers that have to spray it and work in those fields. Extensive contact with these pesticides can cause acute pesticide poisoning, which doesn't seem like a pleasant way to spend any amount of time . You can read more about how you've unknowingly been a terrible person here and here. Or here.
Not so much great news there, I'm afraid. It's always a difficult thing to learn stuff like this. I've seen so many dark underbellies I'm not entirely convinced this beast has a back at all. But there is hope to be found here, thanks to some very special brands going against the grain to ensure our vaginas get the very best that they deserve, through a process that is both kind to the earth and to people. Here are some I've liked and tried.
Organic Cotton Tampons / Natracare Regular Tampons
The people at Natracare hold themselves to the Global Organic Textiles Standard, and are industry leaders in the healthier-vaginas field, something which is definitely named that in an official capacity. The only catch here is that they are incredibly pricey. Depending on your flow, you might burn through one to three boxes a month, priced at around R70 each! You also go through tampons faster than you would with regular tampons, and this shouldn't come as a huge surprise; Organic cotton tampons are made without the crummy super-absorbent materials we spoke about earlier, meaning too, that they aren't altogether super-absorbent.
I pick mine up online from Faithful to Nature, or in store at the nearest Wellness Warehouse. They also have a range of other feminine products, like pads and pantyliners, if tampons aren't your thing.
Organic cotton, as better as it is than regular cotton, is still cotton - a substance that we put strain on the earth in order to produce. You can reduce this strain by opting in for reusable pads, which are also a way cheaper alternative to organic cotton solutions. If you buy from Subz, you'll not only be contributing to a fantastic cause, you'll also pay just R20 for each washable cotton pad. I got mine from Faithful to Nature, which stocks pads from Woman-Kind. You pay R89 for two small reusable pads, so that's pretty fair. The pads were a lot easier to clean and care for between wears than I first thought they might be. Though I've since stopped using them because my vulvodynia has made me super-sensitive and using them gives me an almost instant UTI. Ouch. If you don't have hyper-sensitivity, reusables are definitely worth a try.
ONE MORE THING
I'm on a health buzz so I don't like to overindulge on - no, that's not correct. I do like to overindulge, but whatever Type-A part of my willpower allowed me to give up smoking doesn't let me overindulge too often. When it does, I'm a nutter for a slab of Honest Chocolate's 72% Raw, Organic Cacoa with Cracked Coffee Beans. I highly recommend you give it a try. If they aren't sold near you, Faithful to Nature has your back.
Thanks for joining me in this Let's Talk post. Part Two of the 'Vagina' series will be on vulvodynia and my experience of chronic intimate pain. Until that happy day, it's been real.