Eight Myths About Washable Menstrual Pads Dispelled

Menstruation. It's kind of my thing. On that first day that I got my period⁠ , my gangly teenage self would never have imagined that I'd end up here, spokesgal for washable menstrual⁠ pads. But then a lot of things didn't really turn out⁠ as I would have expected, did they?

My journey down this path began sometime around 3 years ago and was solidified when I met and started working with Madeleine Shaw of Lunapads. However, for the purposes of this article the journey itself isn't what's on my mind.

After a few years of being the postergirl for alternative approaches to menstruation⁠ , writing articles, being interviewed, doing workshops, selling washable pads to women and getting involved in too many party conversations on the topic to possibly count, something is starting to give. The truth is, I'm starting to get a little bit tired of being nice.

I've lost my patience with trying to pussyfoot around the issue until women are willing to talk about their own blood. And so, as a form of cleansing for me and education for you ' should you choose to engage in it ' I have penned the following set of arguments dispelling the myths about washable menstrual pads and your period. So there.

1. They Smell: Yeah, well, so do you. That's right; I'm willing to go on the record as admitting that women's bodies have odors. An admission that is more revolutionary than you might know. Having an odor is all part of the human package. Menstrual blood has an odor, it's a bit different from the odor that your cunt has at other times during the month and in fact unless there's something medically concerning the odour isn't all that noticeable. Washable menstrual pads do not enhance that odor; by allowing for adequate air flow ' unlike their plastic-backed disposable cousins ' they can actually reduce the smell. Now if you leave your washable menstrual pad on for an inordinate length of time, that smell will increase, so change it before that happens.

2. They're Unsanitary: Stop and think for one minute. Think about your underwear. That's right, that's what I said: think about your underwear. Is your underwear unsanitary? Do you boil it after every wear? Hopefully you don't. Same goes for washable menstrual pads.

So why then, you may correctly ask, does the disposable product industry rely so heavily on their 'sanitary' image? Same reason that toilet paper is white, because it has become normal. There's a complex historical argument behind this, but basically somewhere after the second world war, white became a symbol of sanitation. In actual fact, the tampon⁠ and disposable pad industry operates under no regulations that ensure sanitation and they aren' t really all that sanitary. They're just white.

3. They're for hippies. Yep, they're for hippies. They're also for ravers, mothers and daughters, butches and femmes, graphic designers, waitresses, small business owners, CEOs, doctors and nurses. Hippies and the goddess gang of gals have been more inclined to stick to the washable pad routine throughout the eras of Tampax marketing, much like they've been doing yoga and drinking Chai for decades now. Hippies can be wise folks; learn from them.

4. They're a pain in the rump. Your period can be a pain in the rump. Having to go out in the middle of the night because you realize that you forgot to buy tampons and that bloated feeling tells you your period will be here before sunrise is a pain in the rump. Using washable menstrual pads simply means taking a few extra minutes out of your day to rinse out some pieces of cotton and hang them somewhere to dry. Sometimes that's a pain in the rump. Sometimes having to get up to brush your teeth when you're already in bed reading a book is a pain in the rump. You'll get over it.

If you're like me, and many of the washable pad users I've spoken with, you might actually grow to enjoy the time you spend dealing with your pads. Unfortunately our lives as busy urbanites on the go don't really allow for enough time to stop and think about what's going on in our bodies. Sometimes while I'm washing my pads out, I think about how much I really hate being a woman, or sometimes I think about what a crazy, weird but cool thing my body is. Other times I think about what to make for dinner or how I really need to get a hair cut. It's no big deal. You get used to it.

5. It's like wearing a diaper. No, it really isn't; it's like wearing a washable menstrual pad. Yes, it is bulkier than an ultra-thin maxi-absorbent disposable number, or one of those 'thong panty liners' (would someone please tell me what the heck is up with those!). You can get different kinds of washable pads, some of which rely on bulk of material for absorption, while others use specifically absorbent types of cotton to help reduce the bulk. I actually prefer a little bulk over those plasticy, synthetic disposable maxis on the market which chafe and irritate like nobody's business.

If you insist on wearing your white stretch capri pants while you have your period, then yes your leopard-print washable pad will show, but I can't help you with that. Myself, I usually tend to gravitate toward looser items of clothing anyway when I'm bleeding and if I have an event that requires a slinky black cocktail dress smack in the middle of my period, then I just use a unbleached cotton tampon for a few hours.

6. They don't fit into my lifestyle. This one is really a combination of 4 and 5 above and all I can tell you is this: it isn't such a big shift to make. Before I did it, I thought it would be huge pain the rump. It really only takes a few extra minutes of your time and a shift in attitude about social taboos.

Don't have laundry at home? Neither do I. Just rinse them as you go and take them into the laundromat with your towels. Guess what? No one will notice. No one will care. Maybe you're a lifeguard/aerobics instructor/yoga instructor/vegas show girl. Fine, wear a tampon or The Keeper while you're at work or riding your bike around town, or whatever. Lots of people just wear them at night. If you start using washable pads at night you will cut the amount of garbage you produce and money you spend by about one-third. That's a great place to start.

7. They're too expensive. Buying premade washable menstrual pads can be a pricy investment. Start off slowly. If you're handy with a needle and thread maybe think about making your own; there are lots of patterns out there on the web. Then invest in some fancy pre-made models in the coming months. Or buy a few to start, wear them only at night and buy a few more every couple of months or so. The long term savings are massive and chances are all the money you spend is going to smaller women-run businesses.

8. They'll ruin my sex⁠ life. (AKA 'Well I think it's an ok idea but I can't imagine what my partner⁠ would say!') If you honestly think that your partner is going to take issue with you using alternative menstrual products then it 's time to rethink your relationship⁠ . I hate to be all Dr. Laura about that, but it's true. I'm going to assume that your partner, regardless of their gender identity⁠ , likes your cunt the rest of the month, and so it's time they dealt with the few days that it might not be as appealing to them. Besides, you would be surprised. In the many years that I've been doing this, I have learned to not assume that men will be grossed out by it and there have been many men along the way who have been some of my biggest allies.

So there you have it. I feel better now. Remember, ultimately it is your choice and I don't really care either way what choice you make for you and your body. But please, just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and not because of some outdated social taboo.

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  • Sabrina Dent

We get a lot of questions at Scarleteen from folks who are worried about periods that are MIA (missing in action, for us civilians). Sometimes there's a pregnancy concern, and sometimes not; but even if you're not sexually active, a missing period can be worrying.