Last week on SGU, we discussed Alicia Silverstone, the latest celebrity to open her stupid face and vomit out a load of anti-vaccine flimflam. I mentioned as an aside that Silverstone also has some less-than-scientific thoughts on tampons, and how they can contain “pesticide residues from non-organic cotton and the ‘fragrances’ containing hormone-upsetting, fertility-knocking phthalates.”
Obviously, I’m in favor of corporate transparency and government oversight of things we put in our bodies, and that includes tampons. But we’ve been over this before: from the evidence we have to date, tampons are safe.
On the show, I mentioned that Silverstone’s tampon fear-mongering was of comparatively little consequence compared to her anti-vaccine drivel, since at worst women who are worried have other options, like using a menstrual cup or spending a few days in a shame hut.
SGU listener Holly sent in this message yesterday:
Message: Hey SGU,
On this week’s show, you were talking about another celebrity who’s gone anti-vaxxer. Rebecca also mentioned that that celebrity is against tampons. It just surprised me that Rebecca sounded negative about that, because tampons are pretty terrible. They probably don’t contain pesticides and the other shit that the celebrity thought they did, but they still have bleach in them and can cause toxic shock syndrome. Also, they’re wasteful as hell. One menstrual cup does the job of 22 tampons for your period, and they last a decade. And you can still go swimming with one in! I have! I guess I haven’t read any posts of Skepchick that Rebecca has made about tampons, otherwise I would know what her attitude toward them is. I am interested to hear that, and I always want to promote menstrual cups. They’re just so much safer.
The bleach (dioxin) concerns have already been addressed in Dr. Rubidium’s post, but I wanted to add a few things that Holly brings to the discussion.
First of all, when I was a kid, every girl knew about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) from the moment she or one of her friends started menstruating. TSS was the adolescent girl’s bogeyman. My friends would fret and worry about getting to the bathroom within the next twenty minutes because if she waits a minute longer, she will surely die. To 12-year old girls, on the scale of the Worst Possible Thing That Can Happen To You, dying from TSS is only marginally less horrifying than getting a surprise period in gym class, because at least if you die you don’t have to live with the resulting humiliation. (Of course, as an adult I can now say with 100% certainty that I’d rather have bloody shorts in gym than be dead. My priorities have changed a lot in the past 20 years.)
Anyway, so yes, of course I know that tampons have the potential to cause TSS. But what is that potential, exactly? It turns out that TSS is exceedingly rare: about 3-4 cases for every 100,000 women. If caught early, it can be treated, which is an argument in favor of continuing to educate girls about the dangers of it, if not making them think they’re definitely going to die the day they forget about that tampon for a few extra hours. The TSS risk can be mitigated even further by using low absorbency tampons and changing them often.
(On a side note, while looking up the exact stats for TSS, I came across the Iowa Department of Public Health website, which states “There was one case of Toxic Shock Syndrome reported to IDPH in 2012, which occurred in a 16 year-old male.” Perhaps this is a good place to point out that TSS is a staph infection that can be caused in a number of ways, not just through tampon usage.)
For me, TSS just isn’t a big enough risk to stop using tampons. I’m about five times more likely to be murdered than to even contract TSS. It’s not something I worry about.
Unnecessary waste is Holly’s other point against tampons. Waste does happen to be something I tend to, well, not worry about, per se, but at least I am concerned about it in a general sense. I take reusable bags to the grocery store. I recycle. I donate old clothes and electronics to charity. I buy things in bulk to reduce packaging. I save all my leftovers and eat them the next day.
And yet, I still use tampons. Why?
Because every month, blood gushes out of my vagina while my uterus contracts and makes me feel as though someone is stabbing me in the guts with an ice pick. For the first six or so years of having a period, I couldn’t use tampons because they were too painful. I had to use pads, and it was awful and uncomfortable and I couldn’t do any of the sports and other activities I loved for a week each month. I ruined more pairs of underwear than Bruce Banner.
I went through years of trying to figure out the best way to manage a gross and literally shitty aspect of my body, and at the age of 33 I finally know approximately when it’s going to happen, I have the drugs to keep it from killing me, and I have the right tools to make sure I don’t end up looking like a walking crime scene. I don’t feel like spending another few months learning how to balance a tiny bucket in my vagina. I don’t want to spend a few months constantly worrying that the tiny bucket in my vagina is going to tip over while I’m at Target. I don’t feel like learning how to gently remove the tiny bucket and dump out all the blood in a public restroom without causing hell for some poor janitor. Allow me to answer your objections, now.
“But Rebecca, you’re an adult and this is easy! Surely you can figure out the tiny bucket on the first try!”
Oh, like that time I used a neti pot for the first time and it looked like a snot monster exploded in my shower? Or the time I dyed my hair and the bathroom looked like a Grimace-themed bukkake porn set? Or every time I bake a cake and the kitchen looks like a scene from Scarface?
“But Rebecca, after those first few months you’ll definitely have it figured out!”
I don’t care! I have tampons figured out now. If I wanted to experience a second adolescence full of blood, I’d buy a skateboard.
“But Rebecca, I use a menstrual cup and I love it!”
Great! I promise to never take your menstrual cup away, nor make you feel bad for using it. Please do the same for my tampons.