Erin Harden, 128 YinD
In honor of International Women’s Month (note from the editor: sorry, this is way late!), I will be talking about the monthly curse, surfing the crimson tide, and visits from Aunt Flo, all code for… periods. Monthly menstrual periods are a literal pain. They are messy and just plain no fun! Being a female Peace Corps Volunteer means you have the pleasure of getting your period in a foreign country. Most countries the Peace Corps serves are still developing; this often means there is not much variety when it comes to the required hygiene products and there’s often a stigma or taboo surrounding the menstrual cycle.
Thailand is no exception. Sure, one can easily find pads at a 7/11 or local convenience store, but tampons are more difficult to obtain. One would be rather lucky to find tampons even in larger stores – especially at an affordable price. In Thailand, from what I have observed during my first year of service, periods are still a bit taboo, but not entirely ostracized. As a female serving in a country where the daily temperature is above 85 degrees, I sweat a lot – especially in some uncomfortable places. Certain products add to this discomfort so I am grateful for the many alternative products to accommodate my monthly visit from Aunt Flo.
A quick story about my journey with alternative period products. In 2013 I headed to India for a month-long study abroad trip. Depending on timing, I would have surfed the crimson tide at least once during that trip. Being a worry wart, I looked up multiple female travel blogs to gather ideas. All the blogs mentioned (and usually highly recommended) something called a menstrual cup. After doing a bit more research – learning about different kinds and sizing and all that – I decided to give it a try. I ordered a cup well before my trip so I could practice using it. For those of you who don’t know, using a menstrual cup is not for the squeamish. Initially, it’s a bit awkward and involved. I am so glad I practiced before I left; it is not something I would have wanted to learn on the go. That trip (and my introduction to menstrual cups) was four years ago and I have not gone back to traditional products. Cups are much better for the environment, save you money, and for me, they can stay in for 12 hours with little concern of leaking.
I asked a few of the lovely ladies of Peace Corps Thailand what they thought of alternative period products. They graciously shared a bit of their experience by answering a few questions. I’ve used their initials for the sake of privacy.
What product do you use during your period?
ML: I use the Diva Cup 2 (for older ladies or those who had babies) and I use Dear Kate period underwear. I have both full lining and mini lining panties.
RR: I use a diva cup! And on heavier flows, I also use a liner just in case.
CN: Diva Cup
LF: I use the Diva cup.
Rating your product on a 1-10 scale:
1 = Never use this EVER
5 = It’s not my favorite but it works
10 = AMAZING I will only ever use this!!!!
ML: 10 – This is the best combination I have ever used to manage my period.
RR: 10!!!! So great. My only issue is that on my heavy days I have to change it frequently so it can be annoying when I’m teaching. I’ve found that using a liner eliminates this problem and I don’t have to use them every day of my period.
LF: Like an 8. The diva cup, ideally, is great. It catches your flow, creates a suction to prevent leakage, and is environmentally friendly. Despite these perks, it’s such a b#%^* to get in and out. When inserting, you have to fold it the perfect way to get it in and then help it find a comfortable place. Sometimes the suction works too well that it’s so difficult to grasp and take out… I’m sure with more practice I won’t be so grumpy ‘bout it.
Do you have any advice for other women about using this product?
ML: With the Diva Cup, it takes a while to get the hang of placing it correctly (at least, it did for me), but once you get it down, it’s awesome!
RR: Heavy flows – get ready to change it often. Also, plan out when and how you will wash your hands/the cup. Bring clean water and soap with you if you aren’t sure of the water quality.
CN: It’s weird at first but it’s absolutely the best method especially in an environment that is humid and uncomfortable.
LF: I think that just like anything, you have to just find a way it can work for you.
Was there a specific reason you switched from traditional products? If so, please give a short explanation.
ML: (1) As volunteers, we don’t make a lot of money, so a one-time investment in reusable period products makes sense from an expense factor. (2) Thailand is very hot. I sweat a lot. These factors can make it difficult to keep pads in place. (3) It’s better for the environment. I try not to think about all of the products I have put in landfills in the last 34 years. It’s a lot. (4) The period underwear keeps me from accidentally bleeding on my bed at night. It is also a great back-up to the Diva Cup in case the placement is off.
RR: It’s super comfortable and more environmentally friendly than just tampons or pads. Also, it’s not a bleached product so I believe it is better and healthier for my vagina overall.
CN: Yes! When I was coming to Thailand, I heard other PCVs recommended it so I tried it and it works so well.
LF: I switched from tampons to the diva up when moving to Thailand. Although it’s a pain, I’m very thankful to have the cup instead of tampons. Sometimes the water doesn’t run at school or I make a mess (woops) or the unbreakable seal breaks… I just try to keep in mind that it’s for the Earth.
Would you recommend this product to others?
ML: I would and have recommended these products to others. One of my friends can’t use the Diva Cup but did purchase reusable pads after we talked about the environmental impact of all the products we use.
RR: Yes! I recommend it to anyone who wants to not spend as much on feminine products/ be environmentally minded. It pays for itself after a few periods so that’s a huge bonus.
LF: I recommend it to others, not for the sake of comfort, but for the sake of our planet… and the people of Thailand. Using tampons or pads would just contribute to the ever growing pile of trash to burn.
Anything else you wish to share?
ML: It has made my life so much easier. I wish I had done this years ago.
RR: My only tip is to deep-clean it once after each period by boiling it in hot water for several minutes. Make sure you keep your eyes on it and don’t let the pot run out of water because a melted diva cup is gross.
CN: Using this product takes all of the obstacles out of the equation for me. I can use the bathroom as I would when I’m not on my period and clean it when I get home. There’s no risk of TSS so I don’t worry if I end up leaving it in for longer than recommended. It also saves a lot of money over time. Most of the time I forget I have it in.
And, in case you’re curious, a 2016 study found over 5,000 slang terms for menstruation around the world. In Germany, it’s called Erdbeerwoche or “strawberry week.” In Brazil, it’s Eusou Com Chico or “I’m with Chico” in reference to socialist Chico Mendes and possibly his gruesome assassination in the late 80’s. In South Africa, it’s “Granny’s stuck in traffic.” And in Thailand, women might – among very close friends – refer to their monthly period as wan deang duat which is literally “red aggressive day.”
There you have it, folks. Life for a woman in the Peace Corps can be stressful – that doesn’t mean your period should be!
*Please keep in mind we are not promoting any specific brands! There are many different kinds of alternative products out there. Every woman is unique in so many wonderful ways; find what works for you!