A brief history of period protection

Considering the history of period protection, one sees it's only recently that they became convenient! By Rebeka Carlsson

Women in fertile age, between about 13 and 50 years old, have always had their menstrual period. The average menstruation lasts 5 to 6 days and comes back every 24th to 34th day. It means that, if a woman gets her first period at the age of 13 and the last when she turns 50, she's had 444 periods. If she hasn't been pregnant and given birth. Today a European woman gives birth to one or two children in average. If she's been pregnant and given birth twice in her life, she's had 18 months without menstruation during her fertile time. Then she will bleed some weeks after giving birth and often the period pauses for half a year after that. So this typical woman will have her period 400 times during her life, or 2400 days. That's a lot of days and a lot of pads, tampons, sponges or menstrual cups.


Today there is a large variety of period protection. Everything from disposable pads mainly in plastic in different varieties, disposable tampons with or without applicator, menstrual cups in silicon, sea sponge tampons, and reusable pads made of cloth. There are an infinite number of varieties and there's nothing shameful about going to the shop to buy a pack of menstrual pads. At least it shouldn't be, but if you're young and ask your dad to buy them for you, there's a certain risk he will manifest discomfort and behave strangely, then despite your detailed instructions he might return with the wrong pack. Hopefully the next generation of dads will be more relaxed when it comes to their teenage daughter's menstruation. I'm confident that my daughters won't have that problem since their dad is very well acquainted with the subject. "However I doubt he will ever have to buy any period protection since I'm raising my daughters to use reusable protection, which is the best for them" says Rebeka Carlsson, BeautyWaps product developer.


It's worth noting that today's period protections aren't particularly old. The plastic pad with a glue strip was invented in the 1960s and the super thin ones with wings were developed in the 1990s. So what did the women before that use to collect the menstrual blood and protect their cloths?


In some cultures no protection was used at all. People usually worked outside in the fields and wore a simple dress. Underwear is a relatively modern invention, so the easiest was to simply let the blood flow freely and then wash the legs. In the old peasant society in Sweden, it was common to use parts of the regular cloths to absorb the menstrual blood. Blood stains on the cloths were nothing chocking and were considered as a proof of the woman's fertility.


In Egypt and the Roman Empire women used tampons made of papyrus, grass or wool. Sea sponges were also traditionally used as tampon and still are by some women. "I used sea sponges myself during several years in combination with reusable pads and it was with great sadness that I threw them away after my hysterectomy" says Rebeka Carlsson.


Pads showed up in the Western world in the 1800s. They were usually made of cloth and were held in place by a band that was tied around the waist. Below is a quote from "Hemmets läkarebok" from 1921, a Swedish medical home manual:

"It is very un-neat to let the linen soak up the blood and if this filthy linen is worn during several days, there will even be an infection risk. Every woman should therefore wear menstruation pads, which should absorb the blood and can be changed according to her need. Such are available in the commerce, but can be made very simply of a soft, square piece of cloth of 70-80cm of side, and attached with a band around the waist. 2 to 3 such pads are used each day, a special one during the night, to keep the body and the cloths clean and smell free."


My grandmother who was born 1928 told me about self-made crochet pads that were attached with a very uncomfortable band with attaches around the stomach. It was thick and clumsy. Indeed, self-made menstrual protection filled with different absorbing material like cloth, wool, mosses, grass, were the most current period protection until recently.


The first disposable pads came by the end of the 1800s in the U.S.A. Unfortunately they were very expensive and women didn't feel comfortable to ask for them in the shops. Every aspect relating to a woman's intimate parts was very taboo. A solution was to place a cup next to the pads, so the women could take the pads and put the money in the cup without having to ask for them.


The first crepe paper pad was launched in Sweden around 1940. The pad was wrapped in a net and attached around the hips with a girdle. The first pad with glue strip came in the 1960s, allowing women to avoid the girdle. However, this pad was still very thick and clumsy. An anatomically shaped pad was launched in the 1970s and the super thin pads finally came in the 1990s thanks to super absorbing materials.


The development of period protection is constantly progressing and the reusable pads by BeautyWaps are the proof. Those are the best of two worlds: as thin and anatomically shaped as today's disposable pads and at the same time designed to last for several years. That presents advantages for the environment, the personal finances and for the woman's skin.

By Rebeka Carlsson



varldenshistoria.se , menskopp.se , libress.se , femmeinternational.org , Hemmets Läkarebok, labyrinth.net.au

Photo credits: Wikipedia.



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