When I first got my period, I was 9 years old. My mother handed me a sanitary napkin and showed me how to use it. For about the next ten years, I thought they are the only way to handle menstrual blood. This is true for the majority of brown girls from a middle or upper-class background, even though sanitary napkins can be ridiculously inconvenient. They can cause rashes and infections. You have to constantly make sure they are correctly positioned to prevent leaking. And don’t even think of swimming or any fun in the water during that time of the month. Yet, most women in this region of the world do not even question why there aren’t better solutions to something that affects half the population.
In reality, there are many alternatives to sanitary napkins, and a lot of them are actually available in Dhaka. While many of these options may sound uncomfortable or fussy at first, it is worth at least learning about them. After all, especially with something as essential and inescapable as menstruation, it is important to make informed choices, even if you choose to stick to ordinary sanitary napkins. So, here are three other methods of collecting menstrual blood that you might want to consider.
Tampons are small, soft “sticks” of absorbent material that are about the size of your thumb. Unlike pads, they collect menstrual blood internally – that is, they are inserted into the vagina and left there to soak up the blood. There are many variations of tampons and just like pads, you should pick the ones that suit your flow. There are kinds of tampons which come with an inserter – which is essentially a syringe-like apparatus that helps you place the tampon correctly – and there are also kinds without inserters, which require you to use your fingers. If inserted correctly and far enough, you should not feel the tampon inside you when you stand or walk, nor should it leak. Just like pads, you must change them every 6 or so hours, depending on the flow. You can take them out by pulling them by the string attached to the end of the tampon. Tampons can be extremely helpful particularly in case of sports, as it allows for free movement, as well as eliminates the risk of rashes or infections.
Where to find them: Unimart, certain Facebook pages such as Quick Mart BD and Fashionavo.
Reusable menstrual pads
A huge downside of both pads and tampons are the environmental impacts of the menstrual waste they generate. Not only are pads and tampons made of plastic themselves, their packaging and wrapping also contribute to the enormous amount of waste produced. Given that a woman goes through more than 250 pads & tampons a year, this number becomes even larger and scarier when we multiply it by almost half the population on Earth. This is where eco-friendly options of menstrual blood collection come in. One such alternative is the reusable menstrual pad. They are exactly like normal pads, except made entirely of cloth. Get started with four to six cloth sanitary pads (make sure you grab the right size!) and all you have to do after use is clean the stains and wash them like normal clothes. Cloth pads are far more comfortable to wear and last 2-3 years, so you’ll feel much less guilty about the environment (and your wallet) after each cycle.
Where to find them: Jatrabiroti
Another eco-friendly alternative is the menstrual cup. It is exactly what the name suggests – a plastic cup. Much like a tampon, the menstrual cup has to be folded and inserted into the vagina. The sides of the cup are soft and seals against the walls of the vagina and collects the blood inside. After 6-12 hours, depending on your flow, all you have to do is remove, empty, wash with water and reinsert. After each cycle, it is crucial to sterilize your cup in boiling water as instructed by the product. Used properly and in the correct size, menstrual cups are extremely comfortable, convenient, and easy to use. They can also last up to 10 years, which is a huge cut down on both menstrual waste and money!
Where to find them: Organicup BD
Menstruation is as natural a process as eating, and so it is important to do proper research and make informed choices about how to deal with periods too. As a South Asian society, it is generally unthinkable to put anything in your vagina before marriage, which explains why menstrual cups and tampons particularly can seem like baffling, alien concepts. However, moving past those taboos and myths can only liberate us. Periods are here for the long haul, so explore your options without stigma and find what works best for you.