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The menstruation cycle throughout history

Dear Mom,

Did you know that the menstruation cycle was much less prevalent than it is today? Women were much more often pregnant, and they got their menstruation much later during their life. It is estimated that in the 18th century, girls started menstruating at the age of 16. So women, instead of having a menstruation cycle about 450 times in a lifetime, as it is the case today, they had it only about 100 times.

The reason for that? Thanks to the improved nutrition, women today have more frequent menstruation cycle, because they are healthier. They have a greater balance in their body. I cannot but mention that we are talking here rather about the Western world or the middle and upper class women. Not everyone has the luxury of eating at least three times a day. When I think it’s a luxury! Imagine that, Mom!

Hormones in food have to do with when a girl will get her menstruation. There are studies that show that girls who eat more meat, start getting their menstruation cycle earlier, most likely due to hormones in the meat. While those whose diet is based on fish and vegetables, get menstruation a little bit later.

what are menstruation cups

The menstruation cycle throughout history

We don’t really have an insight into what women used during their menstruation in prehistory. We suppose that some tribes practiced isolating a woman when she was menstruating, which is still the case today in some countries such as India and Nepal. This practice consists of putting a woman into a separate room and let her bleed directly on the ground.

However, Mom, we do know about the Ancient Times. In some countries, women used sea sponges as tampons during their menstruation cycle. They would put them directly in the vagina. In Egypt, they put a piece of flax on a wooden rod and then used it to collect menstrual blood. Women used wool in the Roman Empire, paper in Japan, while vegetable fibers in Indonesia as a pad. In ancient Greece, menstrual blood was carefully collected to make a sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. She was supposed to give women her protection, make them fertile and enable easy childbirth.

It is interesting, Mom, that, as we lost the gods, and thus the goddesses, we began to look at menstruation cycle as something dirty. What do I mean with this? Well, I mean, when we switched from polytheistic to monotheistic religions. This male god doesn’t seem to be ours, I mean, of all people, but turns out to be literally protector only of men. Well no, I’m not going into some extremism again. But, I cannot but wonder, why would menstruation suddenly be perceived as something nasty? The age of men came, and with it the need for a woman to be humiliated, and menstruation has served for this purpose. Think about it before saying that I am crazy for thinking that!

Discovery of ovulation

Do you know, Mom, when the ovulation was discovered? In the middle of the 19th century!!! That’s why before that there was so much speculation about where menstruation came from, why, how babies were conceived. We basically knew nothing about the reproductive organs. Although, it seems to me that with the development of science and reason, we have taken away intuition and some ancient knowledge, lost forever. No, don’t exaggerate. Wait a minute! I am not trying to say that science is harmful and damaging, but I do believe that there were certain things that were intuitively thought and done and it worked. Today we kind of lost that ability. And no, this is not an extreme feminism.

In the Middle Ages, depending on the country, the menstruation cycle was viewed in different ways. Some thought that women who were menstruating were in fact witches, that something was wrong with them. While in other countries having menstruation was a sign of fertility. Complete craziness!

Ecofeminism and the instinctive flow

Have you, Mom, heard of free and instinctive outflow? Ecofeminism… Who, you are asking? Ecofeminists. They are women who believe that patriarchy has had a devastating effect on ecology and women at the same time. On ecology because men did not allow women to interfere in the development of technology, the human species, etc. A very interesting concept that makes a lot of sense. You can read more in details about ecofeminism here.

Where was I? Oh yes, the free outflow… This means to stop the outflow of blood with the help of muscles and then relax them when you go to the toilet and release all the blood. This being said, you don’t need any protection and a bunch of tampons and pads that can be dangerous for a woman’s health and that pollute the planet.

menstrual pads

Middle ages, the menstruation cycle and hygiene

Apparently, in the Middle Ages, women used the free outflow. I can’t even imagine the strength of their pelvic muscles! Another technic was using clothes. Women in villages had a special skirt that they would wear during menstruation and simply wipe with it, while wealthier women had made special “inserts” of linen, cotton or wool which they tied with a belt. As you can see, Mom, today’s concept of putting something in your underwear during the menstruation cycle is quiet new.

Now, the view of menstruation changed when we realize that hygiene is important for our health. This was only at the end of the 19th century. Yes, during the first phase of feminism. The 20th century brought us more reflection around designing sanitary pads, which was supposed to be a cleaner option than what women used at the time. On top of that, in the 20th century an important branch developed – marketing. It wisely occurred to someone that sanitary pads would be sold with good advertising. Women started working and got purchasing power, so menstrual protection, needed once a month, sounded like a potentially good business.

The first protections looked something like this. Protection plus strap to hold it fine. This invention could be bought until 1970! Can you imagine Mom!

When were menstrual pads invented

The first time that women used something for their menstruation cycle that they threw away was during the First World War! Those women were nurses, who, as they could not find anything else, used bandages, which they then threw away. The Kimberly Clark firm, inspired by the inventiveness of nurses, made the first disposable menstrual pads. Allegedly, these pads were very uncomfortable, there was no instruction to change them often, and they were humid at all times.

Menstrual cup

Remember I told you there was that menstrual cup now? Can you imagine that it was actually invented in 1869 ?! And it is only in the 21st century that we are actually talking about it. We have to say that many women are still skeptical. This is a living proof that for a product, marketing is more important than the product itself!

At the beginning of the 20th century, the menstrual cup of the Tassette brand by Leonore Chalmes was on the market. What happened to her, I don’t know, but she doesn’t seem to have had insane success when we don’t know about her today and when we look at the menstrual cup as an invention of a more recent date.

first menstrual cup

Tampons

In 1930, Dr. Carl Cleveland Hass invented the first disposable tampon – Tampax! At the very beginning, only married women could buy it, because… It was thought that it could cause women’s pleasure!

After the Second World War, everything changed much faster for women, they started working, and they needed a better solution for the menstruation cycle. In 1947, a German brand made a much more practical and smaller tampon and developed sanitary pads very similar to the ones we use today.

Menstruation cycle and the 20th century

In France, for example, women could buy menstrual pads in the supermarket only from 1963. While we will have to wait until 1970 so that the pads get that sticky part behind, you know the one that allows it to stick to our underwear. In 1980, tampons with a plastic applicator arrived, while in 1991, the Nana brand produced pads with wings, as well as the night pads. Only in 1991, Mom! And how old our civilization is. Okay, yeah, we didn’t have the technology we have today, I understand, Mom. Nor is marketing as it is today, but still!

First menstruation advertisements

Mom, I found that the first advertisement for sanitary pads was made by the house of Walt Disney, which was shown in the cinema in 1946.

The word menstruation was not used on radio and television because it was officially banned. Then, luckily, a law has been passed in the United States to remove the ban from this ban. What a nonsense! You know mom that series Friends? Do you remember Monica? Yes. Well that actress, Courtney Cox, was the first person to advertise tampons in 1985 and it was a big scandal! Here’s an ad for you to see it.

In 1993, this advertisement for tampons was released, and it was also considered shameful and people said that it should be abolished.

The taboo from menstruation has not been removed even today!

It will take the 21st century for us to use the menstrual cup and for menstrual panties to appear. And women are still skeptical. But that is ok. It always takes time for something new to sink in. Have I tried them, you are asking? Yes, I have! And absolutely loved the menstrual panties! They are extremely comfortable, absorbent and, honestly, my periods and menstruation cycle are completely different.

You see, Mom, how important economic independence is for women! If women had been independent earlier, menstrual pads, tampons, panties would not be something so new. Women would have had access to many things we only have today a long time ago, and not only that! There would certainly be more women in the making of pads who would certainly not put in the plastics and toxic chemicals that harm us so much today. But about that in another article…

Love,
Your daughter Biljana

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