When was the last time you thought about menstrual hygiene? If you’re like most people living in developed countries, the answer may be never.
Menstrual hygiene means having access to period products, a safe place to change them, and somewhere to dispose of used products securely. In other words, menstrual hygiene allows people a non-stigmatized and healthy way to manage their cycle.
Even if you don’t often think about it, maintaining menstrual hygiene is critical no matter where you live. Here are eight reasons why menstrual health matters.
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It allows for menstruation without shame or stigma
Did you know that around 300 million people worldwide are menstruating on any given day? That’s almost equal to the entire population of the United States.
Despite this number, the topic of periods remains taboo in many cultures, and many menstruators suffer the consequences of a dire lack of female health resources. Menstrual hygiene is vital for ensuring that those with periods don’t suffer shame or stigma because of menstruation.
It keeps girls in school
Access to period products and a safe place to change them is a significant issue around the world. Girls without access to hygiene products tend to drop out of school, or, in the best-case scenario, they end up missing several days per month due to their period.
If keeping girls in school and granting them the same opportunities as their male counterparts is a priority, menstrual hygiene must also be.
It prevents toxic shock syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a severe condition caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Though TSS is rare, it’s life-threatening when it does present. Most people associate the disease with tampon use, but you can also get TSS by using menstrual cups, diaphragms, or sponges for too long. Having no safe space to change out period products can lead people to wear them for too long, increasing the risk of TSS development.
To prevent TSS, practicing good reproductive health hygiene is essential. One way to do it is by wearing cotton-period underwear. For instance, high-waist cotton period underwear with bottom coverage provides enough support during bloated menstruation days. Furthermore, cotton period underwear is breathable and absorbent. It can help protect your intimate area from bacteria buildup due to perspiration and menstruation.
It reduces the risk of suffering cervical cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the leading cause of cervical cancer, but did you know that a lack of menstrual hygiene can also play a role? The link between the two has been discovered in India, which has an incidence of cervical cancer almost two times the world average.
The human papillomavirus is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Hence, even women who aren’t sexually active may still acquire HPV infection. HPV signs and symptoms may include wart-like lesions in the cervix, painful sexual intercourse, unusual vaginal discharge, and bleeding. The confirmatory test for HPV is the Papanicolaou test or pap smear.
Because of taboos about periods, many people use homemade period products. These homemade solutions are more likely to cause infection, and infections lower the body’s ability to fight off HPV.
It’s essential to avoid wearing someone else’s underwear, such as borrowing from your sister, cousin, or your best friend, to prevent the transmission of bacteria or infection. Viruses and bacteria may linger on used underwear and be transmitted to you. Regularly wash your intimate area using mild soap and water to maintain good menstrual hygiene and overall reproductive health.
It helps girls and women avoid bacterial vaginosis
It’s vital to avoid practices that disrupt the pH of vaginal flora, and unhealthy menstrual care can do just that. Changes in vaginal flora pH can make you more susceptible to bacterial vaginosis, otherwise known as an infection of the vagina. Vaginal infections don’t resolve on their own, and they may make conceiving harder if you’re trying to get pregnant. Left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can increase your risk of contracting an STI, including HIV.
It reduces the risk of UTIs
Whether you don’t have access to pads or you simply forget to change yours, using the same pad for too long is a recipe for urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Not changing pads allows unwanted bacteria and yeast (like candida Albicans or E. coli) to flourish. The bacteria then travel to your urinary tract, causing infection. Painful urination, fever, and back pain are all UTI symptoms.
To avoid suffering from uncomfortable UTIs, make sure to change pads often--every four hours is best. You should also wash the vulva daily with water and a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. With these simple hygienic practices, up to 97 percent of infections are preventable.
It reduces the likelihood of genital rashes
Wearing a pad for too long can also cause another agonizing problem: genital rashes.
Genital rashes occur when the moisture in a pad is in contact with the genital area for a prolonged period, leading to skin irritation. If there are any openings in the skin, the irritation can turn into a full-blown infection, with swollen, red, or even blistery skin. Extended exposure to the plastic in pads can also irritate the skin.
Genital rashes are very uncomfortable, but they’re easy to avoid by changing your pad regularly. If it’s your first time using a particular sanitary pad brand, discard it immediately if you develop skin rashes or intense itchiness. Your skin might be allergic to the component of the sanitary pad, which commonly occurs on products with high-recycled materials.
It promotes reproductive health
Finally, proper menstrual hygiene promotes reproductive health, which is vital if you want to become pregnant at some point.
Issues linked to poor menstrual hygiene often play a role in reproductive difficulties. For example, recurring bouts of bacterial vaginosis (mentioned above) can wreak havoc on the reproductive system in several ways.
Bacterial vaginosis has been linked to a higher miscarriage rate, premature births, and babies with low birth weights. It can also lead to problems conceiving, both naturally and through in-vitro fertilization.
Additionally, repeated reproductive tract infections can have consequences like ectopic pregnancies and a higher likelihood of contracting HIV.
As you can see, menstrual hygiene is about more than making menstruation a more comfortable experience. It’s as essential for self-care as brushing your teeth every day. Perhaps most critically, it allows individuals who menstruate the freedom to live their life without barriers or shame.