Menstruation is as old as human beings have existed; as old as Eve. For a very long time, however, women have been left to figure out for themselves how to deal with the practical issues presented by their monthly flow. They invented countless ways of dealing with the blood before commercially used hygiene products entered the shops. Only in the last 50 years did female care start to become more convenient.
Nowadays there are a large variety of products from which women can choose: pads, liners, tampons, and the menstrual cup. Considering there are still places on our planet where young girls and women must isolate themselves during menstruation due to religious standards or cultural norms, the selection of hygiene products to which most women have easy access truly have had a liberating effect.
A number of developments and changes in attitude about menstruation and female products have occurred through history. It is fascinating to understand this evolution. The following timeline presents the most important milestones of the history of menstruation and shows how the menstrual cup came into existence.
• Ancient World
Egyptian women used softened papyrus for tampons. In Greece, tampons were rigged out of lint wrapped around small pieces of wood. And in Rome, pads and tampons were made of soft wool. In other parts of the world paper, moss, wool, animal skins and grass were used to fashion ways to absorb menstrual flow.
Charles Goodyear invented the technology to vulcanize rubber, which was used in manufacturing condoms, intrauterine devices, douching syringes, and the “womb veil,” also known as the diaphragm.
The Comstock Act was passed, making it a federal crime to distribute or sell pornography or conception-related materials or text in the United States. In response, the birth control industry coined the term “feminine hygiene” to advertise their repackaged products.
Lister’s Towels, the first commercial sanitary pads, went on sale. Produced by Johnson & Johnson (and named for Joseph Lister, a pioneer in sterile surgery) and arguably too eccentric for these prudish times, they did not make a breakthrough.
• Early Twentieth Century
Many American women used homemade pads. They would pin these cloths, or rags, to their underwear or to homemade muslin belts. Sanitary aprons and bloomers were available by mail and were designed to protect clothing from staining, not to absorb blood flow.
• World War I
When nurses in France realized that the cellulose bandages they were using on wounded soldiers absorbed blood much better than plain old cotton, they started using them for their own flow.
Kotex (a combination of “cotton” and “texture”) landed in stores. Disposable pads, while a big step forward when it came to convenience, couldn’t be worn without reusable sanitary belts. Kimberly-Clark encouraged store-owners to display Kotex on their counters, along with a discreet box for money. This neatly sidestepped the need for any customer to actually have to say the words “sanitary napkin” or “menstruation” out loud. Also, a revolution in fashions: women’s underwear became closed crotched, which was far better for holding a belt and pad in place.
Johnson & Johnson introduced Modess, Kotex’s major competitor in a field of literally hundreds of sanitary pad manufacturers.
For years, Lysol disinfectant was used as a female contraceptive, as well as a kitchen and bathroom cleanser. Even though it didn’t actually prevent pregnancy, ads touted it as “a feminine hygiene product for married women,” code for birth control. A similar brand, Zonite, played on women’s fears of feminine odor.
• 1930’s – The first ever menstrual cup!
Lenoa Chalmers patented and produced the first reusable menstrual cup. Only the most liberal women dared using these methods, as is was not common or ‘proper’ for women of this time to touch their intimate parts and vagina.
Dr. Earle Haas files for a tampon patent—the first to incorporate an applicator, the tube-within-a-tube design that’s still used today. Gertrude Tendrich bought the patent and founded Tampax in 1933. At first she made tampons at home, using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas’s compression machine.
The first hygiene product campaign was launched, turning menstrual advertising into a showcase for high-end couture and fashion photography.
Menstrual cups got a second chance when Tassette reintroduced them, this time with a big advertising push. Women still weren’t interested, and the cup disappeared again.
Enovid, the first birth control pill, was approved by the FDA. While the Pill revolutionized contraception and jump-started the sexual revolution, it had dangerous side effects, including life-threatening blood clots and heart attacks. It turns out the dosage was ten times higher than it needed to be.
The Feminine Mystique was published, and Betty Friedan gave a voice to multitudes of discontented housewives across the country. Friedan hypothesized that women were victimized by the belief that a woman’s identity came from the traditional roles of wife and mother.
Stayfree minipads, the first sanitary pads with adhesive strips, went on sale, signaling the end of belts, clips, and safety pins for millions of women.
The young adult novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” was published. For generations, Judy Blume let girls live vicariously through the realities of puberty, preteen angst, first kisses, and first periods. Blume was the first author to incorporate the issue of first menstruation into a fictional storyline.
Kimberly-Clark joined the beltless generation with New Freedom pads. The National Association of Broadcasters lifted its ban on television advertising of sanitary napkins, tampons, and douches. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Eisenstadt v. Baird that a state (in this case, Massachusetts) could not prohibit the sale of contraceptives to unmarried women.
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published. Written for women, by women, it dealt frankly with menstruation, birth control, childbirth, menopause, sexuality, mental health, and many other issues that had been taboo to discuss.
Rely tampons, “we even absorb the worry”,went on sale. Proctor & Gamble took Rely off the market in 1980 after the tampons were linked to deadly Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The Keeper, yet another incarnation of the reusable menstrual cup, went on sale. These were somewhat successful and are still on the market.
• Late 1980’s
The medical profession announced that regular douching was bad for the vagina, altering its pH balance, which could increase chances of infections. Even so, women continue to spend millions of dollars on douching products.
* Source: www.mum.org
Menstrual cups are starting to become a trend. Our generation realizes that our planet will not handle much more garbage. We wish to save unethical waste of energy and unethical waste of money. Our awareness towards our health is also increasing; words such as dioxin and bleach do not fit with our private parts anymore.
Tampons are very profitable products in the eyes of the consumer market, as women will need to continue buying them every month. Unlike the menstrual cup, the tampon companies continue to make profit on menstruating women. Massive commercials and advertisements prove tampons to be successful, but for the past ten years the menstrual cup has been showing us a better way.
The first cups were made from latex and rubber, which caused mild allergic reactions. The material was not long-lasting, as the constant moisture would cause cracks and leaks over time. The modern Eve Cup is made from medical grade silicone. This material is safer, softer, and natural. Silicon is found in sand and stone. In combination with oxygen, carbon and hydrogen it will form to a solid silicone. Silicone is hypoallergenic, meaning it is a neutral material that does not influence the natural pH balance of your body.