Forget the "Woman Gynecologist"

by Stacy Graber

You don't have to be a casualty in "The Great Tampon Wars" staged by the major pharmaceutical companies. The rag cartels are manipulating images of female bodies and exploiting those images for financial gain, as they always have. But where does this leave women? Should we really choose between Tampax or O.B.? Is it really relevant whether a "woman gynecologist" designed our tampon? Are we buying into commercial pitches about femaleness rather than recognizing that we should make our own decisions?

In the world of product consumption, problems do not create products - products create problems. Humiliate women into believing that their menstural blood is filthy unnatural and uncontainable, and you've created a specialized market for myriad deodorizing, prophylactic and stabilizing devices Is that bad? Yes. Consumers may confuse authority and need (e.g., because a "woman gynecologist" created this you need it).

However, even the Food and Drug Administration isn't always clear on what women need. Remember the toxic shock crisis and the removal from the marketplace of those high-absorbency tampons made of polyester foam and carboxymethylcellulose? Unfortunatly, celver advertising erases memories fo the crisis, and momentarily conscious consumers are quickly recaptured with "new and improved" promises.

But if you're determined to stay away from mass-marketed products, there are options. Using alternative products also protests the abuses of science and commercial culture. Because their use threatens the medical and economic establishments, they are seldom encouraged by physicians and other Western medical practitioners. Fortunatly, most of these products are available at the neighborhood co-op or natural foods market or directly from their manufacturers.

We identified one company that offers tampons that are very different from the ones you're used to. Naracare is an applicator-free tampon made of natural cotton. If you've developed dryness and itching from tampon use in the past, products like Natracare may solve the problem. Another plus is that no bleach, chlorine, fragrance or optical whiteners are added. One disadvantage to mass-market tampons is the bleaching process. A byproduct of bleaching wood products, such as rayon used in many national brands, is dioxin, which is a naturally occuring chemical considered potentially dangerous in high doses. Women who use chlorine-bleached brands may be subjecting themselves to higher levels of dioxin than are naturally present in their system.

Tampons, a fairly recent invention, are not the only form of feminine protection available. Generations of women before us used rags - hence the unsavory euphemism for menstruation, "on the rag." In addition to being economical and sanitary, cloth rags are more ecologically sound than are disposable items. A women-owned company in Portland, Ore., Gladrags, produces machine-washable and reusable organic cotton pads that rival the ones our grandmothers used to snip. These rags function like a duvet - cotton liners are enclosed in a cloth envelope that fastens around the crotch of your panties. However if the idea of buying rags seems ludicrous, cut up and old cotton bed sheet or fold and create your own.

Another form of protection used in many countries is the sea sponge - the natural kind, not man-made cellulose. These peaceful Poriferas absorb moisture and fit perfectly to the contours of your body. Prior to initial use, inspect the sponge for foreign material and boil it for one to two minutes. After use, rinse the sponge in warm soapy water and then reinsert. You can deodorize your sponge in a vinigar-and -water solution. Also, choose sponges from Caribbean or Floridean waters rather than the Mediterranean due to the prevalence of oceanic pollutants in this variety, suggest the editors of The New Our Bodies Ourselves.

A woman-designed device called "The Keeper" is a reusable, rubber cervical cap that collects menstrual fluid. Its application is similar to that of a diaphragm. The rubber device is worn near the vaginal opening, situated behind the pubic bone and extended back behind the cervix. The cap cleans up easily, and is has a life expectancy of up to ten years. This is in contrast to the three thousand dollars a woman will spend in her lifetime on disposable products, says Lou Crawford, manufacturer of "The Keeper."

Extraction is a means of mentrural management that began in the Seventies in the United States when advanced women's self help groups researched abortion technique, according to The New Our Bodies Ourselves. In extraction the uternie lining is removed via a small, plastic tube called a cannula. The procedure not only has the potential to terminate a pregnancy in the early stages, but also may eliminate the discomfort of a period. Extraction is not available to women through public health care facilities and is illegal in some states.

For more inforamtion, write to the manufacturers below or look for other products and information at women's clinics, at health food stores, or in books.

  • Natracare, LLC, 191 University Blvd. Suite 294, Denver CO 80206
  • Gladrags, PO Box 12751, Portland OR 97212 (800) 799-GLAD.
  • The Keeper, PO Box 20023, Cincinnati OH 45220
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