As plastic pollution threatens the survival of the planet, women are told to ditch the tampons. But, as Earth Day 2018 calls us to act, there’s something far more powerful we can do than reaching for a menstrual cup.

We can challenge the social and economic influences that drive us to invest in environmentally damaging products in the first place. And we can boycott the “feminine care” brands that promise to sanitize our most intimate parts, not only at the expense of the planet, but of our bodies too.    

Feminine Hygiene Is a Feminist Issue

It’s also a $20 billion industry, which isn’t surprising since the average woman has a tampon inside her for more than 100,000 hours of her life. Yet the Food and Drug Administration is cagey about policing what goes into a tampon. So who knows what we’re putting into our bodies, let alone the trash can.  

Feminists may have heralded the tampon as freedom-giving when it first came to market in 1936, but now it comes with the baggage of this mega industry that profits from our body insecurities. Intimate sprays, powders, moisturizers, washes, and deodorants are aggressively marketed as being essential to feminine health.  

The female body still baffles medics, men, and women alike. Which is why this industry seeks to control the uncontrollable, and homogenize something that can vary wildly from month-to-month, woman-to-woman. That’s why we’re constantly being told to clean up our unhygienic mess.

Plastic-Free Periods

The dominant messaging around menstruation is deeply influenced by our patriarchal throwaway society. Many of us can’t imagine using anything other than a disposable solution. Eco options, such as reusable pads, can seem as unattractive to the consumer as they are for big corporations hoping to maximize profits. This is why advertising prioritizes discretion. Out of sight, out of mind, they tell us—but we can’t get out of our bodies.

The products designed to camouflage our odors and mop up our discharge not only generate pollution, but also cultivate a deep disconnection between mind and body. This separation of physical and mental experience is precisely what drives our environmental faux pas.  

But our bodies are constantly reminding us to reconnect. All those smells and secretions are nature’s way of waking us up.

Why Do We Have Vaginal Discharge?

The vagina is a self-cleaning ecosystem full of bacteria that flush out dead cells. This produces our daily discharge. In the same way that tears protect our eyes and saliva allows us to swallow, vaginal moisture is a must.

When we’re aroused, the vagina self-lubricates to prevent pain or damage. When we’re fertile, cervical mucus carries sperm towards the egg. And when we’re infected, our discharge changes color and begins to smell.

What’s Your Vaginal Discharge Trying to Tell You?

The texture and volume indicate where you are in your cycle. Around ovulation, for example, your discharge becomes thick and stretchy, like egg white.

Douching and excessive washing can actually interfere with the vaginal ecosystem, as can dietary choices or antibiotics. If your pH balance is wonky, a yeast infection may throw out what looks like cottage cheese, or bacterial vaginosis will cultivate grey discharge and a fishy smell.

Why Does Your Vagina Smell?

Every vagina has a unique aroma that changes according to your health or activity, so it’s counterintuitive to try to disguise this. Periods, pregnancy, sex, and exercise can all have an impact on our smell, but an overly fishy, musky or yeasty odor is a sign that your body needs some loving attention.

You may have an infection or simply need to swap your synthetic underwear for cotton panties. A vagina needs to breathe, after all, and it stands that the more we care for our lady-scape, and our bodies, the more we’ll care for our environment too.

Can Climate Change Affect the Menstrual Cycle?

So long as we continue to disrupt nature, we’ll feel it every month. Changes to our environment also change the way we move, eat and sleep, which can interrupt the way our bodies regulate hormones. And, as pollution increases, we’ll notice fluctuations in our cycles, our fertility, and our feminine potential.

We can use all of the above as a signposting system, alerting us to the relationship between our internal and external experiences, and the ways we can respect both body and planet.

Cutting plastic consumption means vetoing the non-essential items. Ditching the tampons, however, is a different matter altogether. The power to instigate real change begins with the freedom to bleed no matter what we’re doing. It begins between our legs. If we can take charge of our own bodies, we can do the same for our future.  

Featured image by Will Cornfield

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