It’s International Day of Action for Women’s Health, and I wanted to take the time to talk about something that most people shy away from discussing - vaginal health.
For most American women, women’s health is a sensitive subject. In certain states, sex ed classes are fairly comprehensive, but others are lacking a lot of details. I’m incredibly grateful to have grown up in a state where I learned a lot of critical information about my body at appropriate times in my life.
I learned about the menstrual cycle in 4th grade (sadly the boys all got to play outside while we were stuck watching a movie). I am SO grateful for all of my teachers in that classroom that were open and honest with us when they did an anonymous Q&A. Being there was such a sacred, shared moment in womanhood. Looking back, it reminds me of all our teachers do for us to provide a safe, open learning environment.
I also remember a wonderfully blunt sex ed teacher in freshman year of high school (thanks Uphoff). Some people find him abrasive, but I appreciated the cut and dry way he conveyed information about contraceptive methods, STDs, and even the sobering facts of sexual assault.
Not surprisingly though, even after all of my formal education, I still had so much to learn about my body. I am forever incredibly indebted to my friends who have allowed me to ask the awkward questions about menstrual cups, sex, and so much more.
BIRTH CONTROL - THE PILL
I began taking the pill when I was fifteen years old to regulate my periods. I would go for months without menstruating, and then bleed for three months straight (PCOS is no joke). Not fun. It took about a year before I found one that worked for me, but I stopped taking it after they discontinued it. Without artificial hormones regulating me, it took awhile for my body to find its rhythm again.
In my freshmen year health class, I distinctly remember my teacher saying how hormonal birth control (the pill specifically) could lead to an increased chance of cancer. To this day, I can’t remember if it was an increase in breast or cervical cancer, all I remember is it scared the shit out of me. I highly recommend reading this post that discusses the correlation (and lack thereof) between an oral contraceptive and various cancers on Cancer.gov.
Overall, I think there is a lot of stigma when it comes to taking the pill or some other hormonal birth control. It’s important to know and remember that just because someone is on birth control, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re having sex or using it to prevent a pregnancy. I highly recommend reading Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten if you are on the pill or considering it.
As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor and cannot provide medical advice. If you have questions about your menstrual cycle or if the pill is right for you, you should ask your general practitioner or OB/GYN. If you live in the U.S. and don’t have a GP or OBGYN, I recommend checking out Planned Parenthood for comprehensive reproductive health assistance.
Chances are if you’re 16-55 years old and have a female reproductive system, you have a menstrual cycle. Growing up, most of us are taught about the basic one-use pads and tampons to manage our flow. I was a loyal consumer of these products up until about two years ago.
So what happened a couple of years ago?
- Buzzfeed posted a video about women trying period panties.
- A friend got a menstrual cup and told me about it.
- Safiya Nygaard (popular Youtuber) tried Thinx and chronicled her experience in a video.
- Another friend bought cloth pads and told me about it.
These brave women inspired me to make the leap and search for sustainable period products. So, I bought a menstrual cup (I use Intimina’s Lily Cup Compact), started looking at products that disclose what ingredients are in their cotton pads and tampons, and read endless reviews about period panties.
At the end of the day, you should feel empowered to take control of your health. Look into what you are putting in and around your body - especially your lady parts. I was shocked to find out just how many chemicals may be in your period products and contraceptives (check out this resource). If you are curious about more information on this topic, I highly recommend this post from Wellness Mama.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Now, knowledge is powerful, but only if it’s ACTIVE. So, become a more conscious consumer.
Some quick tips for you:
- Check to see if the product contains an ingredient list.
- Avoid fragranced products.
- Don’t douche.
- See if the product mentions anything about concern for your pH.
- Shop reputable vagina-friendly brands
- Focus on reusable period products such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, and period panties.
Some of the best brands:
- Sustain Natural
- My favorite by far! They have pretty much everything you could need for your vagina from condoms and lube to period panties and tampons.
- Similar to Sustain, they also have an incredibly inclusive line of products for all your vaginal needs.
- Known for their period panties, they’re a great option for a more sustainable alternative to pads and liners.
There is so much more I could say on the topic of female reproductive health, but I hope this post encourages you to learn more about your body. I also hope you feel empowered to use sustainable, vagina-friendly products in the future!
As always, if you have general questions or comments, feel free to write below or send me a message on my Contact Form! However, I also want to challenge you to talk to your female friends and other adult women in your life to help release us all from the stigma or shame surrounding women’s health.