Time to Upgrade Your System? Women are Welcoming the 21st Century
I’ve always been a fan of technology. Especially the kind that makes life easy and fun like GPS, smart phones, e-readers and fuel efficient cars. As a scientist, I like learning how things work, and finding new ways to make life better. In the past two years, I’ve transitioned to the 21st century in an area of life I didn’t even realise needed upgrading.
I am talking about menstruation. We think of it as “women’s business”, however with the cumulative effects of disposable products, sanitation chemicals, the disruption to lives and the resulting inhibition of global progress, menstruation has become everybody’s business. I’ve adopted two recent technological advancements that don’t require disrupting your hormones or altering your natural cycle. And they make life a heck of a lot easier.
The first of these two innovations is the period tracking app. Various trackers are available for smartphones and tablets, making recording your cycle easy, so your period doesn’t sneak up on you. Tracking your cycle with an app is interesting and fun, and gives you a simple way of checking what phase of your cycle you’re in. This has the added bonus of knowing roughly what our hormones are doing, providing the ability to know when emotions are likely to slump or soar, on the female rollercoaster of life. Learning how to operate and own your biochemistry is not only empowering, but extremely useful. It’s great to know when you may need some relaxation time in advance, or when you’re more likely to be feeling energetic. As a data-junkie, I get a real kick out of this.
The second innovation to bring women’s cycles into the 21st century is the menstrual cup. Whilst it was originally patented in 1937 by Leona Chalmers, recent developments in medical grade silicone technology have finally made this invention viable. Medical grade silicone is durable (one menstrual cup lasts a woman up to ten years), heat resistant (cups can be easily sanitised between cycles by boiling in water for three to five minutes) and soft and flexible (makes folding, insertion, and wearing the cup comfortable). Medical grade silicone doesn’t create lesions or irritate delicate membranes, and is therefore much kinder to the system in relation to the breeding of bacteria and other potential health problems related to tampon use.
The average woman menstruates for approximately five days a month for 40 years of her life. In developed countries, this amounts to about 11 400 disposable products per lifetime. The catchphrase of this century has become “eco”; found everywhere from eco washing powder, to eco schools. Menstruation is one area that until recently has been overlooked in examining our ecological footprint. Disposable products end up in landfill, and most disposable pads can take centuries (about 550 years) to decompose as they are mostly plastic. If these products had been used throughout history, we would still be dealing with landfill created by Galileo’s daughters, Livia Galilei and Maria Celeste, or Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.
The menstrual cup has taken Europe and Canada by storm, is revolutionising some third world communities, and is about to make a huge impact in Australia. I regained five days of freedom a month by using a cup, as I’ve found it easier to play sport, swim, sleep, travel and work. These five days a month have a huge impact on productivity, and in some places are stopping females keeping up with males in fields like science, technology and mathematics due to the lessons they miss. In fact, poor menstrual hygiene is holding many places back from achieving several millennium development goals. Some great work is being done in places like Kenya, where menstrual cups are assisting girls stay in school, and keep up with their classmates.
Australia is an innovator in many areas of science and technology. It’s time we became a world leader in menstrual hygiene and menstrual education. I’m about to cycle 4000km across America to present at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Conference at Suffolk University in Boston. I’m riding as the only international member of Sustainable Cycles, a collective of seven spokeswomen who are dispelling menstrual myths and giving workshops along the way in places like rural Texas, Washington and The Bronx. The state of menstrual health is inhibiting a truly level playing field between men and women across many areas of life globally. Period tracking apps, menstrual cups and positive conversations around menstruation go a long way towards changing this. I’m certainly glad I’m not dealing with Galileo’s daughters’ sanitary napkins, and I’m glad my descendants won’t be dealing with mine, in 22 generations’ time. Welcome to the 21st century.