How do you know something is clean?

3 widespread beliefs which put our health at risk.

From time to time, among numerous positive comments on reusable sanitary pads, I still encounter the following opinion:

We seem to be returning to the Middle Ages. Using reusable pads is a straight path to urinary tracks? infection. They are unhygienic, dirty, you are certain to catch something sooner or later.

A person who expresses such an opinion is influenced by three unfortunate but widespread beliefs concerning cleanness and female body. They instigate unfouded fears and at the same time prevent women from asking questions about how a disposable product was made, thus often putting their health at risk.

What are these beliefs?

1. Disposable means sterile.

We often believe that disposable products are clean and sterile just because they are used once. However, packing items seperately doesn?t equal sterilizing them. Tampons and disposable pads aren?t sterilized because their absorbency would lower as a result. They are only ?supposed? to look clean and sterile. What is more, our body doesn?t need sterile pads (unlike tampons, which we insert into our vagina) ? if this was the case, we would have to sterilize our underwear every morning!

2. Menstrual blood is unhygienic.

You may say: ok, there?s no need to sterilize underwear, but menstrual blood is a different issue. Don?t I risk infection through contact with it?

Throughout centuries it was claimed that the woman is unclean by nature. This prejudice about female inferiority was presented as a religious/scientific fact and repeated by men in religious structures and pseudo-scientists not only in the Middle Ages but also during the Renaissance, in fact right up to contemporary times. Menstrual blood, which caused fear, was supposed to be the proof of the female uncleanliness. Of course, all such claims are rubbish, since neither the female body nor her monthly blood are in any way dirty. The vagina is the cleanest place in all of the human body, much cleaner than the mouth or the eyes. Menstrual blood contains no germs, in fact it?s full of nutrients. It smells slightly metallic and contact with it is perfectly safe!

Of course, the thinner the pad, the more chemical absorbents it contains. The blood interacts with them and begins to... stink, which has given rise to the common belief that menstrual blood is grouse, because it?s smelly. Women who use reusable pads or disposables made from organic cotton have no such associations, because their blood is absorbed by the cotton, and then simply dries.

3. White means clean.

White as a lily ? our ancestresses used to say. It?s simple and clear: white equals clean. The sight of white linen or white flowers are synonymous with cleanness. In our culture this belief is so powerful that it?s enough to bleach a product for people to perceive it as clean. Going along with it, producers bleach their disposable pads and base their marketing and advertising strategies on our perception of white as clean. In reality, there are different methods of bleaching paper pulp for disposables or cotton for reusable pads. The more expensive ? but safe for our health ? involves the use of ozone. For a fabric to be described as organic, which means completely natural and following the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirements, it must be bleached with ozone. Conseqently, this modern method had to be introduced in all ecological cotton mills. Another bleaching method, cheaper but very harmful for the environment, uses chlorine. The European Union is gradually resigning from this method. Why? During this requiring very high temperature process extremely toxic substances called dioxins are released. With waste they find their way into the environment. They don?t disintegrate and will stay forever in water, soil, air. Already in 1988 WHO discovered a dangerous level of dioxins in the milk of breasfeeding mothers and when in 1987 Greenpeace started an anti-dioxin campaign, Sweden withdrew from the market 90% of disposable nappies and pads bleached with chlorine. White and clean? No chance! Unfortunately, most producers of disposable hygienic products have factories outside the EU. Also, there is no obligation to inform on the packaging if the product was bleached with chlorine.

What to do then to truly protect our health? First of all, it makes sense to become a conscious consumer, which means one who asks questions, e.g. how was the product made? Was chlorine used in the process? What are those chemical absorbents and how do they work? These are just a few questions which we should ask the producers of pads. Until women start to demand observing their rights, the situation will not change!

Secondly, it?s good to become aware of the cultural stereotypes, which are the basis for marketing and advertising strategies. White = clean ? not really! Women should be ashamed of menstruation and thin plastic pads guarantee safety? No way!

Returning to the opening theme ? no woman has ever fallen ill as a result of using reusable pads. On the contrary, doctors recommend them as excellent prevention against vulvar cancer and other diseases of the vulva and vagina. Such pads, if made from organic cotton, are breathable, pleasant in contact with the body, they protect from rash and irritation. And what about disposables? Unfortunately, many women have already fallen ill and probably many more will ? as a result of contact with ?super-absorbent? granules and ?discrete? perforated foil.




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