Menstrual Health: A Brief History Of Periods

Let’s talk about that P-word. Did you know there’s very few historical information on how women (and society) dealt with menstruation in ancient times? While in some parts of the world such phenomenon was associated with magic and sorcery, menstruation has remained a taboo across cultures for centuries. For instances, in some rural areas of India, women are still perceived as dirty and impure when having their period.

We don’t have much information either on how women managed their periods in practise. It seems that in the medieval age, women used to bleed into their clothes and use nice-smelling herbs around their necks and waists so that they could disguise the odor of blood. In the nineteenth century, thankfully, a german doctor raised awareness of how insanitary and dangerous it was to bleed and use the same piece of clothing for four or eight days in a row.

Around this same time, the Hoosier Sanitary Belt was introduced in the market. As the name suggests, this was a belt-like invention with washable pads that women could use around their waist. The first disposable and commercial pad would then emerge in 1888, developed by Johnson & Johnson, whereas the first tampon was invented in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas. Oddly enough, women had to purchase this type of product by discretely putting money into a box at the store instead of buying it directly from the salesperson.

As time has passed, pads have been made more absorbent, in order to avoid leaks, and also more adapted to women’s underwear. Today, most women in developed countries have easy access to such products. The same can’t be said in impoverished areas and/or developing countries. The term period poverty has actually been used to describe the lack of access to sanitary products and even menstrual hygiene education.

Besides the lack of access to sanitary products, period poverty also deals with waste management issues. There are many girls and grown-up ladies who either flush their pads or bin them in a non-hygienic way. Sadly, many period-related products can be found today in our coastlines… and some public restrooms are a true nightmare-vision with pads disposed on the floor or put carelessly unwrapped into the bin.

I think the future history of periods needs a new, more creative direction. We need to make sure that girls and women have access to menstrual health and wellbeing information, but we also need to counteract the taboo, myths, social stigma and religious beliefs associated with menstruation. Last but not least, we also need to look after the impact that period-related products have on female health and on the environment.

How do you envision the future of periods?


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