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My Exploration of Menstrual Products - Disposable Menstrual Pads

My Exploration of Menstrual Products - Disposable Menstrual Pads

Accessibility is great, but what about comfort?

My Exploration of Menstrual Products - Disposable Menstrual Pads

Now on Another Planet Every person’s fate is like the history of a planet. No two planets are alike and each is distinct. Here we will introduce the planets of others to feed your curiosity. Find wisdom in real stories based on real peoples experiences, thoughts, and lives. Myoungwon Na tells you an interesting story...
To be continued In this series, we review various menstrual products one by one. Available when you need it — Menstrual info kit

When I was around 5 years old, I found something wrapped in a plastic square in the bathroom. I kept it aside and asked my mom, who had just come home from work, who sheepishly smiled and said, “It’s a small diaper that adults use.” I was greatly shocked by the fact that adults wear diapers and I told everyone at the daycare center (Sorry mom). Without even realizing that I would be using them too after a couple of years....

Characteristics : Default value.

It was placed in front of me ever since my first period as if it was only to be expected. It was probably the case for most of us.

This was the disposable menstrual pad which attaches to your underwear like a sticker, simply known as a “pad.” I was given no choice but to use pads during menstruation, without questioning whether it was a proper menstrual product for me. The only choice was between brands and sizes.

Now we have access to more various menstrual products than when I first started my period. But pads are still widely accessible and used by many women. There hasn’t been much chance to consider the pros and cons since many think of pads as ‘standard.’

Convenience : Easy to access, easy to use, and affordable

In summary, the pros of disposable menstrual pads are that they are easy to access and use. The pros are more striking when compared to other product types. There is a reason why many consider disposable menstrual pads as a standard since you don't need to search for them on the internet, buy them from overseas, or wash them.

❤️ Easy to purchase

Disposable menstrual pads are everywhere. They can be purchased at supermarkets, convenience stores, and even vending machines in bathrooms of schools or subway stations. Pads that suit your menstrual flow, cycle, or style are easy to find since there are pads in various sizes from many brands.

❤️ Easy to use

Pads are easy to buy but they are even easier to use. All you have to do is unwrap the packaging and peel off the paper on the back side to stick it to your underwear. It can be easily used even by first-time users. The pad can be rolled and wrapped in toilet paper or the wrapper of the next pad you will use and thrown away in the trash or in the menstrual product collection box without needing to wash it.

❤️ Affordable

Prices of menstrual pads are relatively affordable and easy to estimate the total cost of. Being disposable means it will constantly cost money but there is no need to pay a high initial cost. The pads you use may vary depending on your menstrual flow and duration, but you can go through one menstrual cycle spending about $15-20 (USD) or ₩20,000-30,000 (KRW).

Discomfort : Leaks, overflowing, and dampness.

There are various discomforts involved with menstruation. But for me, menstruation and disposable menstrual pads were always together like a buy one get one free, so I had no room to think about whether this discomfort was due to menstruation or the pads. I figured menstruation was supposed to be uncomfortable. I'm sure many can agree with me.

But experiencing various menstrual products allowed me to differentiate between the discomfort that comes with menstruation itself and the discomfort that can be improved by changing the menstrual product. Here are the cons of using pads which I used to think came with menstruation itself.

💔 Leaking and overflowing

If you have a heavy menstrual flow, the menstrual pad gets full quickly and can leak. Even if the pad is not completely wet, there may be leakage by blood flowing down the pad’s wings instead of to empty areas at the front and back of the pad if you move a lot, while the area that directly comes in contact with the vaginal opening is wet. This will especially be uncomfortable if you’re an active person.

You can reduce this issue if you replace your menstrual pads in a timely manner, but this is difficult even for experienced menstruating women, as you have to go to the bathroom every few hours or be careful about running. Whichever menstrual product you use, if you find one that absorbs blood well and quickly (or a product that blocks the menstrual flow like menstrual cups) you can at least reduce one cumbersome aspect.

A combination of menstrual products

A few years ago, “wearable overnight” menstrual pads were released which looked similar to a diaper and could be worn like underwear that is convenient to use for sleeping or doing light exercise. You can prevent leakage to some degree by wearing waterproof underwear such as “sanitary underwear” and “period underwear” even if you use general pads.

💔 Dampness and blood clots

Menstrual pads feel damp on the skin once the blood has been fairly absorbed into the pad. There is even the discomfort of blood clots. Dysphoria got worse for me because of this kind of feeling. Because it was a constant reminder of being on my period. Women generally need to stay moist to be comfortable, but the issue of dampness is a problem with menstrual pads rather than menstruation.

Farewell to blood clots?

You can use insertable products such as tampons or cups instead of pads to get rid of the dampness and the feeling of expelling blood clots. These products immediately absorb or collect blood inside the vagina, which allows you to escape the swampy feelings in your underwear. Even if it's not an insertable product, a pad with good absorbency can reduce some of the dampness. However, using products with too powerful absorption when there is less menstrual flow can dry out the vulva.

The shock of hazardous substances

I experienced severe menstrual pains for several years when I was using only disposable menstrual pads, ever since I started my period. I’m not sure if it’s due to menstrual pads. I had enough conditions to experience menstrual pain even if the menstrual pads were not harmful to the body, since it was during the development of secondary sexual characteristics when hormones run wild, and l had high levels of stress due to gender dysphoria.

But my menstrual pain was significantly reduced ever since I started using cloth menstrual pads (reusable menstrual pads), overnight when I was at home in 9th grade. The exact cause is unknown as there’s only precedent and belief. There are many who have this experience. It seems like menstrual pain gets worse or the menstrual cycle becomes irregular depending on the menstrual product, but it’s a phenomenon without a clear cause.

In 2017, the “shock of carcinogens in menstrual pads” became an issue in Korea as there were a lot of women who had similar questions. The Korean Women’s Environmental Network revealed that they studied 11 menstrual pads widely sold on the market and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in all of them.

The MFDS investigated 666 menstrual products and pantyliners sold in Korea and overseas because of the scandal and examined whether 10 VOCs which are highly harmful to the body such as carcinogens and reproductive toxic substances were detected. The investigation detected one or more substances of the 10 VOCs but “the detected amount is at a low level that does not have a hazardous effect on the body”. They also disclosed the results on the other 74 VOCs.

But the investigation method (heating after cryogenic grinding) was criticized since the tested environment was extremely different from the usual environment of using menstrual pads, samples were in very small amounts (0.1g), and there were no clarification on the amount of chemicals absorbed and metabolized in the lining of the vagina. There were also claims that hazardous factors other than VOCs must be examined.

Check out the “Carcinogens in Menstrual Pads” in the “Body” category if you want to learn more about the issue of carcinogens being detected in menstrual pads!

Participants in the preliminary health impact assessment by the Ministry of Environment (ME) in 2018 complained of changes in menstrual flow, menstrual cycle, and color of period blood as well as symptoms of menstrual pain, burning sensation, rashes, acne, vaginitis, odor, vulvar cysts, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Symptoms in some women improved after changing the menstrual product.

The ME said this does not conclude that disposable menstrual pads are dangerous, and it is a suggestion that additional research is needed. The result of this assessment has not yet been released (as of Oct. 15, 2021).

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