Thank god for tampons and menstrual cups. Have you ever talked to your mom or older female relatives about what they used for their periods when they first got them? It’s a little bit dystopian, a little bit monstrous, and a huge sigh of relief that you live in this decade. Women of the past had far fewer periods and issues with PMS than we do presently, American women are menstruating much earlier than before and women were pregnant more and thus put periods on hold, so we’re experiencing far more discomfort but has become a lot more manageable with products of today. We can have safe, clinically proven PMS relief delivered to our doorsteps, but have you ever thought about how the menstrual technologies began?

Before 1985, the word “period,” hadn’t been uttered on American television. That all changed during a Tampax commercial when Courtney Cox said Period as opposed to a euphemism like “that time of the month.” This taboo with menstruation kept technological advancements from being engineered. With all of us shouting about the period tax and bleeding, we’re shattering the anathema this monthly bodily function inspired in the society.

In ancient Greece, women were believed to need to bleed regularly and heavily and if they didn’t they needed medical remedies to help with their periods. They were thought of as having a flesh that was more sponge-like being able to absorb more fluids from their eating and drinking, and then once a month the fluid would come out. In Hippocratic texts from the 5th Century if the period didn’t come, the blood might be rotten and go on to hurt other parts of the body. There’s not much written about how these women fared with their periods or what they did about it, but we do know that women in Europe in the 1600’s and 1700’s used interchangeable fabrics, which they would wash between uses, like a reusable pad of sorts. This is where we get the expression being “on the rag.”

At the turn of the 20th century scientists began to question concerns about bacterial growth from dirty rags and created the menstrual “hygiene” market. In 1896, Lister’s Towels became the first disposable sanitary napkin on the market. The first menstrual cup patents were also taken out around this time, they were first made of aluminum, and there were even rubber pants created for menstruation, underwear lined with rubber.

World War One actually was helpful in the menstruation development. With such a bloody war, nurses realized that cellulose was a lot better at absorbing blood than traditional cloth, and so after the war in 1918, the first cellulose sanitary napkin came into being. World War Two also changed the way women needed to work, they were called into the factories and needed to be able to work long hours, these new pads helped to shape that. The pads were strapped into a belt that rode over a woman’s hips and then like a thong, the disposable pad was then strapped into the underwear.

The 1930’s brought the first disposable tampons. They were first patented in 1933 as tampax and they were created due to hygiene concerns about the closeness of pads to the rear. At the time, tampons were an unthinkable product because of moral concerns about virginity and family planning. But tampons created freedom of a new kind for women, they allowed for physical activity like swimming and dancing, more freedom of movement, and tighter clothing.

It wasn’t until 1969 that the first maxi pad with an adhesive strop was invented. There was no longer a need for the belt.

Today, with birth control, women can bypass monthly menstruation and they can choose new kinds of products to help them with their period, from the absorbent underwear to cups, as well as the tampons and pads. There are also now strides being taken to help the other parts of the monthly ritual with Jubilance aiding the stresses, anxieties, and irritabilities that arise with each month. There are so many new ways to help address this monthly part of our experience as women, and we’re shattering the taboo one step at a time.


About the author

Alice Cash is the Marketing Manager for Jubilance by day and an award winning Theatre Director by night.  Leading the podcast Weekly Woman, she loves her candid conversations with women from all over the world about how they live and the amazing things they are doing to make a difference. Alice is also the editor of the bi-monthly newsletter the Jubilee, a blog dedicated to the power of female wellness especially concerning menstruation.  She’s worked in France creating theatre pieces and taught drama and filmmaking to women and children in Haiti.  She graduated from Georgetown University and holds two master degrees from NYU and The New School.  Alice has traveled to  40+ countries, including Tibet.  She is a New Yorker and can often be found in Central Park, searching out the best bubble tea, or directing a play, you never know where she’ll show up. @alicesadventuresinwonderworld
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