Ready For the Change: The World Needs to Start Celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day
Every year on the 28th of May we mark Menstrual Hygiene Day. Everyone calls it a celebration, but the truth is, unfortunately, far away from this. The Menstrual Hygiene Day should be the day when we all work together to break taboos surrounding menstruation and raise awareness of the importance of good menstrual hygiene management worldwide.
Menstrual hygiene is much more than hygiene as a word – it is important for a woman’s body and even more important for her health. Being able to talk about menstruation without any shame and restraint is very important for the mental health of the person and the development of the person and society in general.
When it comes to our periods, it sometimes feels like we’re just supposed to know everything. Like the menarche fairy is supposed to tap us on our head when we get our first period, instantly giving us a wealth of insider knowledge. Well, the truth is, there is no wave of a magic wand that makes you an expert on menstrual hygiene. This means you probably have a lot of questions about how to have a fresh, healthy period.
Learning the basics of menstrual hygiene is important! It helps ensure that you are fully informed about the right way to stay healthy and avoid infection during menstruation.
Menstruation is a time of heightened risk of certain infections, including some sexually transmitted infections. This increased risk of infection occurs because the mucus that usually blocks your cervix opens during menstruation to allow blood to pass out of the body. This makes it possible for bacteria to travel up into your uterus and pelvic cavity. Changes in vaginal pH also make yeast infections more likely.
It is essential that everyone understands the best practices for period hygiene. So much of our menstruation gets wrapped up in shame and misinformation. Knowing menstrual hygiene basics will help you not only feel fresh and confident during your period, but you’ll also be keeping yourself healthy!
Before we get started, make sure to acquaint yourself with your key body parts like the vagina and vulva here.
The Basics of Menstrual Hygiene
Bathe or shower at least once a day to keep your body clean and avoid odor. We know that we need to wash our hands after going to the bathroom and changing menstrual protection or cleaning our vulva and vagina, but before is important too. Think about how many things you touch on your way to any given washroom!
And Wash the Right Way
Because your vulva and vagina are more sensitive than other parts of your body, they require a different kind of wash product. Always wash externally and never use normal body soap or body wash. Avoid douches or shampoo on your intimate area, which can upset your natural flora and acidity. Opt for a wash specially formulated for intimate use or just use your hand and warm water.
Wipe from Front to Back
You probably don’t think a lot about using toilet paper. But there is a right way and a wrong way! When you wipe from back to front you risk exposing your vagina to harmful anal bacteria that can cause infections such as urinary tract infections and yeast infections. Always wipe front to back and try to keep your vaginal and anal wiping separate.
Consider Your Wardrobe
Avoid clothing that is tight between your legs, or fabrics that don’t breathe. (Yes, we’re talking about synthetic yoga pants.) Wearing clothing close to your vulva can cause increased moisture and heat that can also irritate your skin. Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing to stay fresh and dry.
Change Pads and Tampons Often
Continual use of the same sanitary pad or tampon increases your risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Prolonged exposure to damp sanitary pads can also irritate your skin, which can eventually become broken and risk infection. If you’re avoiding changing your tampons or pads because they’re expensive, look in your community for free or discounted period products. Sometimes your school, doctor’s office, food banks, or other community organizations will help you get access to the products you need. We all get caught with no supplies sometimes, so no shame in asking for a little help!
Use the Right Tampon Absorbency
Always use the lowest absorbency tampon needed for your menstrual flow, and never use a tampon unless you have your period. Using super absorbency tampons on a light day increases your risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Use a Menstrual Cup
Consider switching to a menstrual cup! It collects your flow rather than absorbing it, so doesn’t cause dryness or irritation. Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are safe for your body and last for up to 10 years so are way better for your pocket and the environment. Find out more reasons to ditch those pads and tampons here!
Practice Safe Sex
During menstruation, you face an added risk of passing on or contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis B, through unprotected sex.
This heightened risk results from the higher concentrations of HIV and Hepatitis B found in blood, as opposed to the comparatively lower concentrations in other body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions. Having your period doesn’t mean you have to stop having sex if you don’t want to. (Some people love orgasms as a natural-cramp reliever!)
If you are going to have partnered sex on your period, use a barrier method to protect yourself such as a condom. If you have sex with someone without a penis, make sure to read up on your STI risks here.
So after we learned something new, we must be aware that not everyone is that happy when it comes to this topic. Menstruations and periods are somewhere still something to be “Psssssst!” about.
5 countries where menstruation is something different
Cultural myths and taboos surrounding menstruation are rife in India, where an estimated 200 million children and adolescents lack the ideal awareness of menstrual hygiene. Approximately 23% drop out of school every year due in part to insufficient sanitation and period protection. Organizations such as Menstrupedia have responded to these problems by tackling the lack of menstrual care education that is available to young girls and have been hugely influential in undoing cultural stigmas in schools and at home.
In the Philippines, many schools have poor sanitation facilities and lack the knowledge to support students during their period. A consistent problem is the lack of education about puberty across the sexes, making non-menstruators aloof to their peers. In fact, one of the major reasons for period-related school absenteeism is the anxiety of teasing from schoolmates about leaks, stains, and odours. This can have damaging effects on their self-esteem and hold them back from fully participating in school life.
In Western Nepal, a tradition called chhaupadi persists despite being outlawed by their Supreme Court in 2005. During menses, chhaupadi considers people to be ‘ritually impure’ and their touch is said to spread disease and contaminate food. As a result, people are banished from their homes to small, desolate huts on the fringes of their communities while menstruating. Recently, more attention has been brought to these practices, with the goal of pressuring more conservative leaders to abandon the tradition and assure community members that their periods do not have to confine them.
A damaging tradition persists that leads people to believe drinking, bathing in, or touching cold water will lead to cysts or even infertility. In addition, students must carry their used pads with them, often in school, as it is said that putting them in the trash can cause cancer. Yes, Bolivia’s menstrual care doctrine is brimming with misinformation, but luckily there are organizations such as UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) who are producing valuable research on how girls experience menstruation in schools and at home, and providing comprehensive recommendations to tackle these issues.
In parts of South Africa, meagre incomes mean that disposable pads and tampons are not an option for millions of people, who instead rely on old rags, newspapers, dried leaves or reusing pads from previous cycles. As a result, it is all too common for students to skip school during their period to avoid leaks and because of poor sanitation – ultimately putting them at a huge disadvantage to their peers.
Want to Support Intimina to Make a Difference?
This year Intimina created a specialized Instagram filter dedicated to breaking the stigma about menstruation. So we are inviting you to break the period stigma together with us! Join us and show your support by using our Menstrual Hygiene Day effect on your IG stories. To thank you for your efforts in helping us destigmatize periods, we are awarding two of you with a bundle of your choice. The winners will be announced on Instagram stories on Intimina’s account.
A collective group of “lady experts” at Intimina who love sharing our personal experiences, even when they are a little too personal. We believe it’s time to start breaking down the taboos around menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, and start owning our female health.