I found India Kushner’s article in the Tempest right after I finished reading Michael Lewis on the experience of Kathy Sullivan, one of the first female U.S. astronauts. Here’s Lewis, from his book The Fifth Risk:
It was an open question as to which was more mysterious to a male NASA engineer [in 1978]: outer space or the American female. … Of course, the male engineers were seriously worried about what might ensue if a woman had her period in space. … [Sullivan said] “The male world’s response was, Oh, that’s ok. We’ll just suppress their periods. We all looked at each other and said, ‘You and what other army, buddy?'” The engineers finally agreed to pack tampons in the supply kids. The first time Kathy opened her kit she saw that each tampon had been removed from its paper wrapper and sealed in a plastic fireproof case. Heat-sealed tampons. Each plastic case was connected to another. She pulled on the top one and out popped this great long chain of little red plastic cases, like a string of firecrackers. Hundreds of tampons, for one woman to survive for a few days in space.
Men’s misconceptions about menstruation are often that funny, though Lewis’s writing helps. Women’s misconceptions are more complex, and more disturbing.
So I was pleased to find Kushner dispelling not one, not two, but thirteen stereotypes and myths about cloth menstrual pads. And she starts with lauding her own menstrual cup:
I learned my friend used a menstrual cup.
Never having seen one before, I imagined a paper cup tied around her waist so it dangled right below her vagina – a horrifying image. I couldn’t imagine it being very clean or practical. Flash forward to a few years later, and I couldn’t have been more wrong- I’m now a total convert.
So, now you have me using a menstrual cup. Natural next step?
That natural step was cloth pads. Here are two of the myths she tackles:
Myth #2: They’re awful for the environment.
I’m currently on birth control so my period is sometimes lighter than it would normally be. But, there are still days where it can be very heavy.
So if I’m using tampons, that means I’m using anywhere from 11-30 tampons every cycle (over 300 tampons every year).
I didn’t realize just how many tampons that was until I did the math. That adds up to between 5,000 and 14,000 tampons in your lifetime. So the switch to cloth pads? That was easier to make than I thought.
Myth #13: You will spend the whole day feeling like you’re sitting in a pool of blood.
Uh, not true.
Reusable pads absorb as well as regular disposable ones. I recently switched over to only using Performa pads, and had to get used to a concept called “free bleeding.”
(Quick PSA: It’s not the type of free bleeding where you’re bleeding through your clothes.)
But I’ll be honest: I was more aware of my period, which meant that I got more in sync with my flow. Early on, I would flee to the bathroom because I was sure it had leaked through, but – surprise, surprise – it never did.
Thank god, right? Right.
I never noticed this before with throw-away pads, because there’s so much material down there that you never get that feeling. After I got used to the sensation, though, it was smooth sailing. Though sometimes I can feel that there is, in fact, blood in my pad, the pad itself doesn’t ever feel like it’s soaked or wet.
The other 11 are equally informative, and equally fun to read. I’m long past needing this advice myself, but if I wasn’t, Kushner would have convinced me by now.
What’s more important than the content of Kushner’s article, and Lewis’s excerpt, is their existence. Menstruation is simply and unconfusingly a human experience, which more than half the population either has dealt with, is dealing with, or can expect to deal with. Absolutely nothing is gained by refusing to discuss it — except the continued protection of fragile male sensibilities and the ongoing reminder that in too many places and contexts, women aren’t really considered fully human — in fact, to many men, we’re still stranger than outer space.
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