Turning the Tables on Tampons

Turning the Tables on Tampons

Life is good for Kinnie Starr. A new CD, positive press. But when the up-and-coming Vancouver artist thinks about the fact that a woman will use up to 11,000 tampons in her lifetime, her anger flares.

“It makes me feel pretty ill,” says Starr. “I’ve been known to get extremely outraged, especially with friends who are more aware of their bodies and their health but still use tampons because they don’t like the sight of their own blood.”

Four years ago, Starr included a warning about tampons on the back of her CD. “Protect yourself…protect each other,” she wrote. She briefly described how tampons release dioxins and listed groups that women could contact for more information about toxic shock syndrome, reproductive disorders and menstrual ware.

Women asked questions and expressed a lot of interest, and while some men were a little uncomfortable, others were supportive.

Four years later, however, her sense of urgency and frustration remains high.

“There’s still so little awareness about it,” says Starr. Toxic shock syndrome, caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (TSS-T1), continues to affect thousands of women. Several years ago the sister of a close friend was hospitalized with the illness and almost died.

“It’s a really frightening thing because it starts like a flu. That’s how women manage to get really sick.”

Dioxin Danger

Most tampons are made with rayon. Rayon is a wood-pulp derivative that is more absorbent than cotton. Rayon itself, combined with the fact that tampons remain in your body for hours, means that the TSS-T1 bacteria have a perfect breeding ground.

Rayon is usually chlorine-bleached, both for looks (the appeal of pure white) and increased absorbancy. The chlorine bleaching process releases dioxins into the environment as well as into the most sensitive part of a woman’s body. Dioxins are dangerous because they have been implicated in such serious illnesses as endometriosis, hormone disruption and cancer.

There is no safe level of exposure to dioxins. We are bombarded, from the foods we eat to the products we use every day–paper towels, writing paper and toilet paper, among others. Dioxins linger in the body and accumulate in fatty tissues. Constant exposure means more risk of illness.

Tampon Culture

The reason that the big tampon brands continue to be the norm for millions of women worldwide, in spite of the hazards, is what Starr calls “tampon culture.” Fashion magazines and advertising feature shiny, glossy, air-brushed women. They’re perfect, with nothing out of place, nothing showing, nothing messy–unreal women.

“We’re not encouraged to want to be actively involved in our self-keep,” she says. Using washable pads would mean getting our hands dirty and actually washing them, something women have been told is not part of the tampon culture. Instead we’re advised to use products that, at the very least, cause irritation and probably do massive harm.

Starr suggests the washable, reusable pad as a tampon alternative. She recommends buying three to five nice cloth pads and just giving it a try. She recognizes it may be expensive but says the investment is worth it once you notice the differences. Reusable cloth pads come in different sizes and patterns (including an exotic leopard print for a walk on the wild side). Disposable pads made from unbleached cotton are another option.

Some women choose to use natural sea sponges instead of tampons. They are inserted into the vagina, rinsed out and reused, which may be difficult, especially if you are in a public washroom.

Several variations on a cup for collecting menstrual blood are available, both disposable and reusable. They can be worn for anywhere from six to 12 hours and require that you are comfortable with your body, as they are inserted into the vagina. This may take some practice.

If you do not want to give up the convenience of tampons, look for those that are certified organic and 100 per cent cotton.

For more information about tampons and alternatives, visit the website: critpath/~tracy/spot.html.

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