I was shocked to read some of the stories about sufferers of TSS, many of whom died from the condition. Vibrant, healthy young women with their lives ahead of them were struck down by a ‘mystery illness’, with symptoms including high fever, vomiting, headaches, skin rashes, low blood pressure, fainting, dizziness and confusion. TSS can go on to cause massive organ failure, and death. Even if a woman follows the instructions for using a tampon carefully, TSS can start within 2 hours. The bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, which is already in the vagina and is harmless, comes into contact with rayon in the tampon, causes a reaction which creates toxins, which then permeate through the vaginal wall into the bloodstream. If the body’s immune system is weak at this particular time, the poisons overwhelm the immune system and damage organs.
The victims of TSS who survived and the relatives of those who didn’t are understandably keen to fight back against the multinational ‘feminine hygiene’ giants and their monopoly over women’s relationship to the natural functioning of the female body. We all want the next generation of women to grow up without hang-ups about their bodies, and the perfectly normal and hopefully empowering experience of menstruation. But the tampon manufacturers make sure these impressionable young women are bombarded with the idea that menstruation is embarrassing and unpleasant, and should be kept hidden away. Feminine washes, wipes and even, I discovered during my research, sprays, all create the impression that women are smelly and unclean when they are menstruating, and instigate a deep anxiety in young women starting their periods. Tampon advertising plays on this concept by promising a menstruating woman that she doesn’t even have to know she is menstruating: by placing a tampon in her vagina, she is effectively ‘blocking out’ the mess, inconvenience and ‘unpleasantness’ of menstrual blood.
Tampon Alert Day
Alice Kilvert, from Manchester, was just 15 when she died of a cardiac arrest following TSS. The evening before she died, she complained of a slight headache, and the next day seemed to be developing the ‘flu. By 1pm, Alice’s life was cut short. In 1993, Alice’s family, along with other bereaved families, joined with the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) www.wen.org.uk/ to found Alice Kilvert Tampon Alert (AKTA) http://www.tamponalert.org.uk/, with the aim of spreading the message about the use of tampons and TSS. They chose the 8th June as it was Alice’s birthday.
International Tampon Alert Day now takes place on 8th June each year, with the same aim of raising awareness. It’s a good opportunity to highlight the risks with young women just starting out on their menstruation journey, but also an excellent chance to find out more about alternatives. The best way to avoid TSS is to avoid tampons altogether.
Here are just some of the fabulous ethical and empowering alternatives to tampons:
Mooncup – Check out the tampon vs mooncup rap video! These silicon menstrual cups are worn internally like tampons but don’t contain any chemicals and are safe and comfortable to use. The many Mooncup converts are the best advertisement, plus the fact once you’ve spent £18.99 on your Mooncup, you won’t need to spend money on sanitary protection again.
Moon Times – Moon Times aims to empower women in body appreciation, environmental awareness and self-respect through the use of eco menstrual products. They believe a healthy appreciation of our bodies and ourselves as women can be learnt through menstruation. You’ll find beautiful menstrual products here, including charts and journals for your moon time.
Eco Femme – Eco Femme sell washable cloth pads as well as being a global women’s empowerment project promoting menstrual practices that are healthy, dignified, affordable and eco positive. They work with rural Indian communities providing information and education about menstruation, and also have a Pad for Pad scheme: for each pad you buy, Eco Femme will provide a pad for a girl in rural India.
Jam sponge – A Jam Sponge is a natural sea sponge that you can use instead of a tampon. “Women have used sponges as tampons for years but a Jam Sponge has attitude!”
Honour Your Flow – Honour Your Flow aim to make your monthly moontime both comfortable and beautiful with reusable products to suit all needs. All products are made in the UK, by women working from home, for women. Honour Your Flow support women!
Lunapads – Since 1993, Lunapads have been making unique reusable pads. All styles are available in vibrant 100% cotton prints and colours, or 100% certified cream-colored organic cotton. Pads are designed to meet needs ranging from light to very heavy menstrual flow, as well as light or stress incontinence. Every pad comes with a removable fleece liner to adjust for optimal absorption and comfort; simply replace the liner to freshen your pad.
Earthwise Girls – Earthwise Girls was founded in 2008 to help you find good quality natural products for your body, that won’t harm our world. They can help you find the natural menstrual products you’re comfortable with using during your period because they stock such a broad range of reusable sanitary towels, menstrual cups and sponges. If there is something you’d like that you can’t see – do ask, they reckon they can probably get it for you!
Natracare – Though Natracare also produce tampons, they are made of organic cotton which eliminates the risk of TSS. However, despite being 100% organic, chlorine- and plastic-free, and biodegradable, all Natracare products are disposable. For long term use, it’s far better to invest in a Mooncup, sea sponge or washable pads (or make your own), but Natracare products are useful when you’re out and about, or travelling, for emergencies.