Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Grey Scale #7: Sanitary Napkins - The Untold Story

Ever since Bollywood movie Pad Man was out, the entire country has been buzzing with facts and news about the menstrual hygiene of women.

The movie, an adapted bio-pic of Coimbatore-based social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, portrays the episodes of how he made a revolution by producing low-cost, quality sanitary pads for women from rural and downtrodden backgrounds.

With the movie having hit the screens recently, there arouse a ‘challenge’ on social media #PadManChallenge a couple of days before it was released. In this challenge, that was initially popularised by Bollywood celebrities, people would post a selfie holding a sanitary napkin to spread the word and importance about sanitary napkins and create awareness on that.

Though there is criticism that the challenge was an indirect promotion of the movie, there is also appreciation among feminists and activists.

However, ever since sanitary napkins came into use, there are a lot of facts that are still in the grey area. These medical and usage-related facts are yet to come out. Here are some of these lesser known facts about sanitary napkins.

Source: usseek.com
There exists medically-technical debate between urologists and gynecologists on sanitary care of women. Though gynecologists recommend sanitary napkins widely, there are a lot of urologists who have set some ground rules for the usage of pads.

It is all because of the artificiality and consequences of these pads. “It is all because of the manufacturing processes and the materials used in them,” says a Sruthy Km, a mother-care expert and urologist.

She says most brands that are advertised are mainly made of dioxin, which have serious side-effects. “So, it is suggested to use ones without dioxin,” she added.

She cautioned that “According to recent studies, India is one of the countries with the highest rate of cervical cancer (it accounts for almost 23 per cent of all cancers in Indian women).”

Studies show a direct link between HPV infections (cause for cervical cancer) and poor menstrual hygiene. Some studies also proved the presence of some harmful chemicals in some of the well-known brands, which may cause cancer in the long run.

There are some other facts about sanitary napkins that are little known. One of the most important is the usage of sanitary pads by men. “The primary reason for men to use sanitary napkins is for medical complication of urinary incontinence,” said Denise Baptiste, a medical journal writer.

Source: global.rakuten.com
Both women and men can become incontinent due to neurological injury, congenital defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis, or physical problems associated with ageing.

“While urinary incontinence affects older men more often than younger men, the onset of incontinence can happen at any age. Estimates in the mid-2000s, suggested that 17 per cent of men over age 60, an estimated 6 lakh men, experienced urinary incontinence, with this percentage increasing with age,” she said.

So, the only easy and simple method for them to fight incontinence is using sanitary napkins, she pointed out.

Not just during menstrual period or urinal incontinence, there are several other times during which sanitary pads are used. “Men and women who undergo genital (vaginal for women, testicular for men) surgery, will have to use sanitary pads post-surgery, until they recover fully,” explained Denise.

Compared to India, awareness on sanitary pad usage by men is wider in the West, according to her. “It is all because of the way men see this,” she said.

The most important area to be discussed on this subject is sanitary napkin etiquette, says Rudramani from eZee Girl, a non-profit organisation.

“In our life, we follow many and different etiquette for dining, speaking, driving and so on. So, we need to follow sanitary napkin etiquette, too,’ he says.

Source: lfs-es.info
Though there are a lot of men who still need to know about this, women, using the napkins, too, are not aware of certain aspects. There are five basic rules to be followed.

“You should change your napkin every six hours, and if you are having heavy discharge, change it every four hours. The second one is, before changing, wash yourself properly and make sure that you have removed all the extra blood and be odour-free. Then, do not apply soaps at your vaginal area during the use of napkins as it may create an imbalance in the pH level. Later, dispose your napkin properly as it may spread infection and foul smell. Finally, wash your hands properly after placing or removing a napkin,” he instructs women.

He also said girls wearing napkin for a long time experience rashes. “So, one has to change it at proper intervals. Menstrual blood is a contaminated composition and wearing a damp pad for long is unhygienic and can lead to diseases such as skin rashes, urinary tract infection and vaginal infection,” he added.

Actually designed for men:

In history, disposable menstrual pads were actually made for men. The idea grew from a Ben Franklin invention, that created to help stop wounded soldiers from bleeding. Later, disposable pads had their start with nurses using their wood pulp bandages to catch their menstrual flow, creating a pad that was made from easily obtainable materials and inexpensive enough to throw away after use. That was how the concept was subsequently commercialised.

Physiological side-effects:

  • These napkins contains cellulose gel and not cotton which might cause a lot of infection. Speculation in medical field is that this gel in napkins can cause cervical cancer, too, which is a common problem for women.
  • Wearing sanitary pads for more than three hours can cause lumps on the vaginal area which might lead to irritation and other infections.
  • Tampon, which is another sanitary napkin, contains two types of chemicals – dioxin and rayon – that are equally dangerous for a woman. The tampons are bleached with these chemicals to make them look pure and clean but the most harmful side-effect of sanitary napkins / tampons is that this bleaching agent is toxic to the immune and reproductive system.


  • The environmental hazards of disposable tampons and pads, incontinence and diaper products are pretty big, but the eco-gains achieved by recycling this type of waste are effective.
  • Diapers can take 500 years to decompose in a landfill, and add untreated sewage to the mix in the meantime, which can contaminate groundwater and soil.
  • The average baby will use 6,000 diapers in their lifetime, Canadian and American women dispose of 1.3 million tonnes of feminine hygiene products annually, and 50 per cent of all nursing home residents use incontinence products.
  • Every 1,000 tonnes of recycling diapers saves 8.7 million gallons of water, 3,400 trees, 145,000 cubic metres of natural gas, 367 tonnes of CO2 emissions, and 3.624 cubic metres of landfill volume.

Ideal napkin:

  • Long enough to prevent back leakage.
  • Should have elastic gathering that prevents side leakage and moves as the body moves.
  • Made of super absorbent polymer (SAP) that enables it to absorb up to 850 ml of vaginal discharge.
  • Should be dioxin-free.
  • Should not have any other chemical that leads to skin irritation.
  • Should also be compatible for people with incontinence problem.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, Feb 13, 2018.

The quotes referred in this post are harvested from various sites across the web. You can also get to know deeper details about Sanitary Napkins in sites that are dedicated on genital health of  women.

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