If you’ve ever had a period, you know all of the annoyances that can come along with it. Cramps, irritability, and ruined underwear are just some of the issues you might deal with when managing your period. Drastic changes to your skin during your menstrual cycle might also be something you struggle with. Most people who get their period experience hormonal acne right before or during their period week, but your skin is constantly changing throughout your menstrual cycle.

Why do hormones affect my skin?

Right before or during your period you might notice your skin is more dry, oily, sensitive, and broken out than usual. These changes in your skin are due to your changing hormones during your menstrual cycle. During your cycle, your levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, and it just so happens that these two hormones greatly affect your skin. 

Estrogen is basically responsible for all things radiant and lovely in your skin. Estrogen affects your skin’s hydration, collagen production, skin thickness, skin’s ability to heal, and the effectiveness of your skin as a barrier. Progesterone, which is the other dominant hormone during your menstrual cycle, is responsible for triggering breakouts. Progesterone closes up the skin’s pores and causes a build-up of sebum to be trapped under your skin. Sebum is an oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands, which start making oil during puberty.

What type of skin changes should I expect?

During the first week or so of your menstrual cycle, estrogen levels are fairly low. Because of estrogen’s effect on retaining moisture in the skin, your skin might feel a little dry or dull during this period. Other than that though, your skin shouldn’t be too irritated and should be looking and feeling pretty good. The next phase of your cycle, the follicular phase, occurs between days 10 and 16 in your cycle. During the follicular phase, estrogen and testosterone levels rise. Your skin will look its best during this phase because of the increased hormone levels. Your estrogen increases during this time because your body is preparing for ovulation. The next phase is ovulation, which occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle, which for most people is around day 14 of the cycle. During ovulation, your estrogen and testosterone levels begin to drop, and your skin will continue to look and feel healthy for a few days as your progesterone levels increase. The final phase of your cycle is the luteal phase, which is right before and during your period. During this phase, your progesterone levels are up, which, as we learned earlier, traps oil in your pores. Your skin will be at its oiliest and most broken out during this phase. 

Some people also report having increased skin sensitivity right before and during a period. This sensitivity is due to prostaglandins, which are chemicals that are released as your uterine lining sheds. Prostaglandins cause inflammation throughout the body in general, which we can feel the effects of on our skin during this time. 

What skincare tips should I follow?

So what are some things you can do to manage your ever-changing skin during your monthly cycle? Experts recommend always washing your face and not sleeping with makeup on. Wash your face twice a day and be sure to moisturize, especially during the beginning period of your cycle when your skin is clear but dry. As your skin gets more oily, avoid oil-based moisturizers, wear your hair back off your face more, change your pillowcase more frequently, and avoid touching your face. Experts also say to use a gentle cleanser on your skin during the times when it is most irritated. Exfoliating or using harsh face washes will only inflame your face more, so save those for the beginning of your cycle.

Maintaining a balanced diet can also help your skin stay clear. Every article I’ve read as research recommended limiting sugar and caffeine to help keep your skin clear, which can be so hard during your period when you are craving both of those things. Flo.com has a great article with specific skincare tips for each phase of your cycle.

Are there other options for treatment?

If your skin really suffers during your period, talk to your doctor. Hormonal birth control is often prescribed to treat hormonal acne, but there are other options as well. Hormonal birth control contains varying levels of estrogen and progesterone and shuts down ovulation, so the pills can help regulate your hormone levels and manage your acne.

Now that you know exactly what’s going on with your skin each month, you should be better prepared to combat breakouts and treat your skin well. Good luck!

Living with frequent migraines can cause many intense symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity, nausea, and even seeing an aura of light around your eyes. If you experience an aura during migraines, you’ll often see flashing lights, zigzags of light, or even blurry lights in your peripheral vision. If you are someone who is prone to migraines, another risk factor can be hormonal birth control pills. 

How do hormones affect migraines?

Hormonal birth control pills use combinations of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to help prevent pregnancy. Changing levels of estrogen that occur naturally in our bodies can often trigger migraines. Have you ever experienced a headache in the days leading up to your period? That’s because your estrogen levels drop during this time, triggering headaches or migraines. Because headaches and migraines can be triggered this way, some doctors prescribe birth control pills to patients to treat headaches. For others, this is just an extra perk of taking the combination pill for other reasons. In some cases though, it can increase the risk of stroke and other serious health complications to take the combination (estrogen and progesterone) pill.

If you get migraines regularly and particularly get migraines accompanied by an aura, ask your doctor about your birth control options. Typically, doctors don’t recommend people taking the pill with estrogen in it if they also get auras with their migraines, or if they have a family history of migraine or blood clots. If you have this history, the estrogen in the pill could increase your risk of stroke, deep vein thrombosis, also known as blood clots, or cardiovascular disease. 

Alternate birth control options

So what do you do if you are someone who wants to take birth control and also has a history of migraine auras? First, speak with your doctor about it. It’s important to be transparent with your doctor about your health history when getting new medication anyway, but especially mention if you have a history of migraines. In addition to the combination pill, there is also a pill with just progesterone that could work for someone with migraines. There are also non-hormonal birth control options like condoms or the copper IUD. If you’re someone with no history of migraines, but you start having migraines after starting hormonal birth control, go chat with your doctor about it immediately. It’s important to mention all of these symptoms and things you notice in your body so you can be as healthy as possible.

Talking to your doctor about migraines

I first learned that migraine auras plus birth control pills can be dangerous over the summer when a co-worker of mine told me she needed to go see her doctor because she was starting to get bad migraines and was on the combination pill. Despite being on the pill myself for many years, I had never heard of this! My doctor never told me about the dangers of migraines and the pill. This just shows the importance of talking about women’s health out loud and without shame! Ask your doctor questions, even if they seem silly. Talk to your friends about what birth control they are taking if you are considering it. Talk to them about other health issues. It’s normal to talk openly about all this stuff because it not only keeps us more informed, but it also keeps us healthier and prevents serious complications in the future.

If you know me and have spent more than an hour of your life around me, you know I love talking about sex. If we’re good friends that share parts of our lives with each other, I probably have asked you “How’s your sex life?” or “What’s your relationship with sex and your sexuality right now?” as casually as I’ve asked you how your job is going. That’s because practicing sex positivity is super important to me!

I don’t necessarily mean I love talking about sex in a graphic, “give me every detail of your sex life and I’ll give you mine,” kind of way, but also, if you feel inclined to share, I’ll probably listen. I am incredibly passionate about sex education and normalizing talking about sex so we can take away the cultural shame and stigma surrounding it. I am sex-positive, baby!

What is sex positivity?

Since people’s relationship to sex is so diverse and personal, it’s hard to pin down one, all-encompassing definition for sex-positivity. In general, though, sex positivity is having a positive, open attitude around sex. People who are sex-positive view consensual sex as a healthy part of life that can be openly discussed without shame or awkwardness. It’s also important to point out that you don’t have to have sex to be sex-positive. You can have a positive, open attitude around sex without it being a part of your life.

Stigmas around sex

We live in a sex-negative culture, meaning we receive all sorts of negative messaging surrounding sex that creates shame and stigma. How often have you heard a woman or even teenage girl referred to as a slut for being sexually active? Sex negativity! The idea that “normal” sex only exists within heterosexual marriage and all other sex is taboo or wrong? Sex negativity! Masturbation is dirty and sad? Sex negativity!!! Despite being bombarded with oversexualized women in magazines and on television, and despite seeing graphic sex scenes in movies, we still have a bunch of shame around sex as a culture. Sex positivity is all about breaking up that shame and learning that sex is a natural part of life that can be discussed openly without judgment.

When was the term created?

The term sex-positive has actually been around since the 1920s when Austrian psychoanalyst William Reich coined the term. If this word and idea have been around since the 1920s, then why is there still so much shame around sexuality in our culture?! One large contributing factor is not having comprehensive sexual education in all schools. Some schools teach abstinence-only sexual education or even require a parent’s signature to allow children to receive sex ed, so some kids are either told don’t have sex until they’re married, while some children don’t get any information at all. 

Sex positivity in education

Comprehensive sex education teaches things like consent, as well as LGBTQ+ sex, information about STDs, sexual desire, and the biology behind sex. Having sex education be open and inclusive in the information it is giving will create healthier attitudes towards sex in children and teenagers when they are first learning about it. Studies have also shown that students who receive comprehensive sex education have their first sexual experience at a later age, have fewer instances of STDs, and have a lower rate of teen pregnancy. 

Now that you know what it means to be sex-positive, what are some ways you can practice this? For me, being sex-positive means knowing that sex and sexuality is an essential part of life. Sexuality should be celebrated. I feel free to explore my body and my sexuality without judgment or limitations. I accept other people’s sexual preferences and want to learn more about how people feel good, even if they are not my own preferences. I do not tolerate slut-shaming or the concept of “losing your virginity,” because these ideas perpetuate restrictions and shame put on people, especially young women when it comes to sexual expression. I also know that not everyone wants to have sex, and that is also part of being sex-positive! 

A really important part of sex positivity to me is wanting to learn more about sex and sexual expression. I also strive to never “yuck” somebody’s “yum,” meaning just because someone is into something you wouldn’t find pleasurable, don’t shame them for it! It’s good for them, but not for you, and that’s okay. 

If you’re interested in becoming more sex-positive, but don’t know where to start, look online. There are so many amazing sex educators online who help normalize talking about sexuality. Three of my favorite educators are Esther Perel, Shan Boodram, and Hannah Witton. Start with some education, and eventually, you’ll feel open to discussing sexuality as well. Let’s leave sex-negativity BEHIND in 2021. Sex positivity only going forward!

“Ingredients: Rayon and/or Cotton Fiber. Polyester or Cotton String, Polysorbate 20.” Those are the ingredients in my tampon of choice, “Playtex Sport’ unscented tampons. My “U by Kotex” menstrual pads don’t list any ingredients anywhere on the box. Even though I use these products every month, and have used them for YEARS, and will use them for years to come, I’ve never considered what ingredients I’m putting inside of my body.

Organic Ingredients?

If you’ve ever listened to literally any podcast with women on it, you’ve probably heard an ad for Lola. Lola is a subscription-based period product company that uses 100% organic tampons. With Lola and other organic cotton period products becoming popular, there’s been a lot of talk about what ingredients are in menstrual products and whether or not they are safe for us.

Several years ago the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act of 2017 was created. This act proposed that manufacturers had to list all of the ingredients of period products on the box so consumers could be one hundred percent informed. I didn’t realize this wasn’t already enforced, and because the pads I use don’t list ingredients, it seems this act didn’t get passed, so it’s hard to know what you are putting in or close to your body each month.

Finding Research on these Ingredients

From all of the research that I’ve done, it seems people are very unclear about which chemicals in period products are actually bad for us. I found numerous conflicting reports about similar ingredients, so honestly, I’m still not sure which ingredients are truly “good” or “bad.” It is important to note, however, that most of the articles I found talking about how toxic tampon and pad ingredients are were written five or more years ago. This shows that more research needs to be done on this topic so we can have more conclusive and definitive answers. I think part of the reason extensive research on this topic hasn’t been done is that there is such a stigma surrounding menstruation and so much shame in talking about it. We need to talk about periods, and we need to get that research done! But I digress…

Toxic Shock Syndrome

If you use 100% organic period products, obviously you don’t need to worry about any chemicals in your body. Although organic cotton period products don’t have chemicals in them, it is still possible to get Toxic Shock Syndrome from leaving a tampon in for too long. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and leave your tampon in for more than eight hours. You’ll still be at risk for TSS, even if your products are organic. Menstrual cups are also recommended as alternatives for tampons and pads that are full of chemicals. Most menstrual cups are made of body-safe silicone or rubber, last for up to 12 hours, and don’t have the same chemicals in them that tampons do.

From what I’ve found, it seems chlorine, dioxin, BPA, rayon, and “fragrance” are the most harmful chemicals overall. Although there are some misconceptions about chlorine and rayon used in tampons.

Chlorine 

This was used for bleaching tampons in the 1990s, but actual chlorine is no longer used. All brands use chlorine-free bleaching agents to clean their products, and according to the FDA, this is safe. When it comes to tampon production, “bleaching” is used to clean and purify the fibers of cotton or rayon used in the product. The tampon being “bleached” white isn’t the goal or reason for using chlorine in this part of the process.

Bleaching is done to reduce the levels of dioxins in these products. Dioxins are “chemically-related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants.” What does that mean? Dioxins are a grouping of dangerous chemicals present in our environment that can be very damaging if high levels of exposure persist. Through these chlorine-free bleaching methods, the levels of dioxins in tampons are severely lessened to a supposedly safe level, and the levels of dioxins in our environment pose a much greater threat than those in our tampons.

BPA 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic. You probably see refillable water bottles advertised as “BPA-free”— this is that same thing. BPA has been linked to disrupt hormones and cause other health issues. BPA would only be present in your applicators and not in the actual tampon itself, so look for BPA-free applicators, or use cardboard applicators or applicator-free tampons instead if this is a concern.

Rayon 

This showed up as a “bad” chemical in a lot of my research, but I also found just as many sources saying it’s okay. According to Tampax’s website and the FDA, the rayon used in menstrual products is completely safe. Rayon has been called unsafe because it’s a synthetic material, so people fear that it could increase the likelihood of toxic shock syndrome if any rayon fibers are left behind in the body. This is hasn’t been proven, and just as I said before, even organic tampons can still cause TSS.

Fragrance

You should never use ANY vagina products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. Fragrances will not only disrupt your vaginal pH, which can lead to infections but products are not required to list what exactly goes into that “fragrance.” Always get unscented tampons, pads, or toilet paper, and stay away from vaginal hygiene products.

Oh and that polysorbate 20 that was one of the ingredients in my tampons? It’s apparently used in a lot of skincare/makeup/hygiene products to help with odor and is “supposedly” not harmful for your body.

Like I said before, it’s hard to know what levels of which chemicals are actually safe for our bodies because of the lack of scientific research done to regulate these products and all of the conflicting information out there. It seems that cotton and rayon tampons are okay, but if knowing completely what ingredients are in your menstrual products is important to you, using 100% organic cotton tampons or a menstrual cup would be the safest. These products don’t use chemicals found in other tampons, and they are fragrance-free.

As I mentioned before, the conflicting reports on ingredients I found while doing research just further show that menstrual hygiene and women’s health needs to be a priority so we can be fully informed on what we’re putting into our bodies.

If you have a vagina, you’re familiar with discharge. Discharge is a fluid produced by the vagina and cervix to help keep them clean. Discharge is 100% healthy and normal. It’s truly essential for vaginal health and a great indicator that your body is working well. There’s a lot of shame put on women for how “clean” their vaginas are and how they smell, and the discharge they produce. That’s a crock of bull! Your vagina should smell like a vagina, and you should definitely be producing discharge.

What is a healthy discharge?

Your discharge changes throughout your monthly cycle, indicating different things about your ovulation, as well as overall vaginal health. Because your discharge changes so much every month, it’s important to know what healthy discharge looks and smells like, and what discharge your body produces when you have an infection.

Normal, healthy discharge can be clear, whitish/cream-colored, or light yellow. Healthy discharge will have a slight smell to it, but this should be fairly mild and consistent throughout your cycle. Healthy discharge is also slightly sticky. Your discharge will become thin and more slippery when you are sexually aroused or ovulating. 

Issues to watch for

If your discharge is white, thicker than usual, or clumpy and has an abnormally strong smell, you likely have an infection. White “cottage cheese” like discharge with a bad smell and irritated vulva/vagina is a tell-tale sign of a yeast infection.

Yellow-green discharge that is thick or clumpy indicates you have a sexually transmitted infection. It’s normal for your discharge to be slightly yellowish, but if it’s dark yellow or green, you probably have an STI.

Discharge that’s pink or red is related to your period. Pink discharge right before or right after your period is normal. Red is obviously your period blood. Pink discharge after penetrative sex can also be common due to irritation of the cervix. Although this can happen every once in a while, you shouldn’t be bleeding regularly after penetrative sex, and penetrative sex shouldn’t hurt, not only because you deserve pleasure, but also because this could be a sign of a greater issue. Consult your doctor if you bleed regularly after sex or experience pain with sex.

What does discharge do?

Discharge is such an important part of vaginal health. It literally cleans your vagina and lets you know that your body is working well. Because it’s so essential for vaginal health, it’s really important to stay in tune with your body and pay attention to your discharge. Tracking your cervical mucus can even be used as a form of fertility awareness for birth control. If you notice the consistency, color, or smell of your discharge change drastically, or if it matches any of the descriptions I listed above, go see a doctor. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you have an infection or some other problem. 

Additionally, if you have any itchiness or irritation, redness around the vaginal opening, pain while you pee, or regular spotting after sex accompanying your changing discharge, go see your doctor!

It’s 2021, people — it’s time to stop feeling ashamed of our bodies, and it’s time to stop this idea that vaginas are smelly or dirty because they aren’t! Sure, discharge isn’t the most glamorous thing in the world, but it’s healthy, normal, and a sign your body is working well. And you should never be ashamed of that.

If you’ve ever worked in any service job, you’ve probably dealt with managing your emotions to keep the customer happy. If you work at a restaurant and you bring food to your table, and the customer says their sandwich came with a sauce on it they didn’t ask for, you need to stay positive and offer a solution to keep the customer also feeling positive so they’ll return to your restaurant. You have to manage your feelings while also managing the emotions of the people around you. This idea of managing emotions, feelings, and expressions is called emotional labor. With Mother’s Day in May, it feels especially right to discuss emotional labor, as women often exercise it most. 

What is emotional labor?

The concept of emotional labor was first fully explored by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1983 book The Managed Heart. When Hochschild was first discussing emotional labor, she mostly explored this concept in regard to work relationships. Other professions that require a great deal of emotional labor are teachers, nurses, flight attendants, or hotel management, just to name a few.

Since Hochschild’s initial writing on the topic, many other sociologists have delved deeper into studying emotional labor. This topic has now been expanded beyond just showing up in work situations. Emotional labor also is present in people’s everyday domestic lives, and unfortunately, women often bear the brunt of emotional labor in many relationships.

Examples of emotional labor for women

The first time I heard the term “emotional labor” and saw a lengthy explanation of it was a Harpers Bazaar article written by Gemma Hartley. In the article, Hartley describes how she asked her husband to hire a house cleaning service for her as a Mother’s Day gift. She wanted her husband to handle it all so she could relax and enjoy a clean home. She didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of looking up cleaning services, comparing prices, and reading reviews—she wanted her husband to do that for her as part of the gift.

Instead, her husband cleaned the bathrooms himself, which is a nice gesture, but Hartley describes that she ended up watching their children and cleaning up some clothing and a box her husband left out in their closet. Her husband says she should have just asked him to put the box away, and as the author expresses, the whole point is she doesn’t want to have to ask. She wanted to feel cared for by her partner in the same way she cares for him.

Bearing the full responsibility of managing a household and making sure everyone is cared for is a lot of work. Updating a calendar with everyone’s schedules, packing lunches for children to take to school, washing and folding laundry, asking your partner to clean up after themselves, asking them a second, third, and fourth time to clean the bathroom even though it’s their responsibility and they shouldn’t need to be reminded. These are all examples of emotional labor women often are responsible for in a home.

The actual, physical work isn’t the emotional labor— all of the little things you do for others that make their lives easier, and the process of asking your partner to also do their work and share in the responsibilities is the emotional labor.

How can we manage emotional labor?

Having conversations with your partner about them pitching in more, being considerate of their feelings, making sure they understand you asking them to help out and do their chores without being asked multiple times is not an attack on their character, is emotional labor. All the while you just do what needs to be done because if you don’t do it, no one will.

So why is it that women often bear a great responsibility for this? There’s the old stereotype that men will go out into the world and work a full-time job while women stay at home and raise the children and look after the house. Maybe some of this is due to old gender norms sticking around, but honestly, I’m not quite sure. But many modern relationships have both partners working full time, so shouldn’t the housework and in-home responsibilities be split equally?

Obviously, every relationship won’t have this exact dynamic, but if you google “emotional labor,” you’ll find article after article citing specific examples of women handling emotional labor in the home. Think about your own upbringing and who was in charge of domestic and emotional care in your home. Think about those responsibilities in your own life now and who takes care of them in your various relationships.

Do what works for you and your relationship

Everyone has to do some sort of emotional labor in their lives, but if you are thanklessly responsible for the majority of this labor in your home, you should feel able to change that.

If you’re feeling like you are bearing the brunt of all of this in-house labor and you’re having to constantly remind your partner to do their share of housework, run errands, etc., then it might be time for a conversation with them about equally distributing work. Yes, you’ll want to be considerate of their feelings when you talk with them, but you are not nagging! You’re simply asking for an equal share of responsibility. And if your partner loves you and cares about you, then they should want to actively share the responsibility. 

The vagina is an absolutely amazing organ. It can bring life into this world, it helps facilitate your menstrual cycle to let you know your body is working properly, it can be used for sex and pleasure, and it’s totally self-cleaning. And since it’s a self-cleaning organ, that means vaginal hygiene products are totally unnecessary.

Why do vaginal hygiene products exist?

If your vagina is self-cleaning, then why do “feminine hygiene products” like Summer’s Eve and other brands exist? To be perfectly blunt, these products exist to make you think your vagina’s natural discharge and odor is dirty and unnatural so you’ll want to buy feminine hygiene wipes and douches to “cleanse” yourself. Not only do vaginal hygiene products use people’s insecurities and shame regarding their vaginal odor to make money, but these products also are harmful to your vagina’s health and can throw off your vagina’s pH balance, leading to infections or other complications.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, using discharge to flush out any bad bacteria. Discharge is one hundred percent normal and essential for your vaginal health. A specific odor likely accompanies this discharge, and for some reason, people are made to feel ashamed of the way their vagina smells. Vaginal odor is also completely normal and healthy. In fact, a person’s vaginal odor will likely change throughout their menstrual cycle, and can also change depending on diet. The only time you should be concerned about your discharge or vaginal odor is if either one changes drastically. If your discharge changes color or consistency and your vaginal odor change significantly, consult your doctor. You could have an infection.

Cleaning your vulva versus vagina

Although the vagina cleans itself, the vulva does not. Your vulva is the folds of skin (labia) on the outside of your body. The best way to clean your vulva is with warm water. Doctors also recommend warm water and mild soap. If you have very sensitive skin, unscented soap would work best, but again, just water is fine as well. Since all you need for a clean vulva and vagina is warm water, the chemicals in vaginal hygiene products can be harmful to users.

Summer’s Eve has a whole host of products such as cleansing wipes, sprays, cleansing wash, body powder, and douche products. It’s important to note that Summer’s Eve is not the only brand that sells these types of products. I am just using them as an example because they are very widely known and easily available. No matter the brand name, these products are unnecessary and can be harmful. 

Most importantly, do not douche

If you gather only one thing from this article, let it be this: do NOT douche. Douching is a method to wash out the vagina using a formula that is sprayed directly into the vagina. Douching products can contain water, vinegar, antiseptics, and fragrances, all of which can be harmful to your vaginal hygiene. People douche to wash out bad bacteria from the vagina and to feel “fresh and clean.” While you are washing out the bad bacteria, you also wash out the good bacteria your vagina needs to maintain a healthy pH balance. Side effects of douching include bacterial vaginosis, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancy, and an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Summer’s Eve website contains no ingredients for any of their products, which I find alarming. Through my research, I found one source that listed some ingredients, some of which include “fragrance” (which the product does not elaborate on what makes up this ingredient), methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, cocamidopropyl betaine, and many more. For a full list of ingredients you could of course look at the products in the store. However, if I am using something to clean my vulva or vagina, I would like to be able to pronounce it.

I also found that Summer’s Eve cleansing wipes contain octoxynol-9, which is a spermicide. There is no warning on the packaging that discloses this information. The wipes are not viable forms of contraception, however, it is unclear if the octoxynol-9 is strong enough in the wipes to affect someone’s ability to get pregnant. 

Your vagina’s smell is normal!

This is no joke! Your vagina doesn’t need to be flushed out with water and other chemicals. Your vagina is not smelly or dirty. This harmful narrative that vaginas are dirty and smell bad is incredibly harmful to your physical and mental health. Being told that your vagina is dirty and literally needs to be flushed out with fragrances in order to be clean and desirable harms positive self-image and feeling good in one’s body. I understand wanting to feel clean or wanting to “freshen up” before a sexual encounter, but as mentioned above, all you need is water for that. No chemicals or artificial scents are necessary.

I’m here to tell you that the messages sold to us by these hygiene companies are lies. There is science to prove how harmful these products are and to reiterate that vaginal odor is normal and healthy! Your vagina is not supposed to smell like flowers or baby powder. You are not a flower or a baby. Your vagina should smell like vagina! 

 

In this great year of 2021, there are many ways to manage your period. From pads, to tampons, to the period sponge, to period-proof underwear, you are bound to find an option that makes managing your period fit with your lifestyle and preferences. Menstrual cups have been gaining a lot of popularity in the last few years, and there’s so much to explore with this environmentally friendly invention.

When were menstrual cups invented?

Although menstrual cups have only become extremely popular recently, they were first invented in 1884! They didn’t hit the market until much later, but the first design was invented then. This first model, known as the Improved Menstrual Receptacle, was invented by Hiram Farr, and was designed to hold several cups of blood at a time. This first design never actually hit the market, but big thanks to Hiram Farr for designing this revolutionary device.

In 1937 American actress Leona Chalmers patented another menstrual cup design, and actually followed through on trying to get it to hit the market. This menstrual cup was similar to the menstrual cups we have today, but it was made from latex rubber. After a few redesigns, this menstrual cup was sold by the company Tassette until the 60s, then they went out of business. Menstrual cups made a comeback in the 1980s with the brand The Keeper and starting in 2003 with the Diva Cup, menstrual cups have become more and more popular.  

How do menstrual cups work?

Menstrual cups have clearly been around for a long time, proving they must in fact be an excellent idea. I first heard of menstrual cups a few years ago when I first learned about the Diva Cup. Unlike the early menstrual cup designs, Diva Cup and other modern brands are made of silicone. Not only is the allergy risk of silicone much lower than latex, but it is also super soft and easy to clean. There are many menstrual cup brands available—Diva Cup, Keeper Cup (that same brand from the 80s!), Moon Cup, Lunette Cup, Lena Cup, Lily Cup, plus some disposable cups or discs. Although there are many brands to choose from, they essentially all work the same.

Menstrual cups are made of flexible silicone material and are shaped like a small bell or cup with a little stem on the end. You place them inside of your vagina right below your cervix and they catch your menstrual blood. You use the short stem on the end to pull them out to empty and clean. Menstrual cups can be left in anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, and need to be rinsed and washed when emptied. When emptying your menstrual cup throughout the day, dump out the blood and wash it with unscented antibacterial soap and water before putting it back in. Some menstrual cup brands also sell cleaning wipes so you can clean your menstrual cup if you’re using a public restroom and can’t wash it thoroughly in a shared sink. Wipe that baby down in the privacy of your stall, pop it back in, and you’re good to go.

How do I use a menstrual cup?

There are different sizes of menstrual cups based on if you just got your period or have had any children. Some menstrual cup brands have more detailed size finders on their websites, and that can be a useful tool to find one that works for you.

To insert your menstrual cup, wash your hands and sit or stand. Similar to putting a tampon in for the first time, this might take a few tries, so you should give yourself plenty of time to get it properly inserted. If your vagina isn’t already slick with a lot of period blood, it might be helpful to use some lubricant to help slide it into place. Be sure to use water-based lube if you do so because other lubes are not silicone compatible and could eat away at the cup over time. 

Relax your muscles and body as much as you can, pinch the top of the cup (most brands come with their own set of instructions on the box and recommend pinching it so the top is a “C” shape), then gently guide the cup into your vagina. You will have to get really comfy with yourself here because you need to put your fingers into your vagina to get the cup in place. Once it’s far up in there, slightly rotate the cup and let go of the top of it and it should suction into place. If the cup is inserted properly, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. As I mentioned, this may take a few tries, so be patient with yourself. The first time you wear it, you may even want to wear a liner or pad just to make sure you don’t leak and see if it was inserted properly.

What about emptying and cleaning?

When it’s time to empty your cup, you’ll have to bear down a bit and activate those pelvic floor muscles. Reach your hand into your vagina and gently pull on the little stem at the bottom of the cup and it should slide out. You’ll have to pinch the cup slightly to loosen the suction at the top of the cup that keeps it in place. If you don’t break the suction it could be very painful to pull out.

In between periods, you can disinfect your menstrual cup by washing it with soap and water, and some people even boil their cup in hot water between cycles. Since your menstrual cup sits below the cervix, it won’t get lost inside your body, and even if it feels like it’s stuck, you can get it out! If you really have trouble getting it out, go visit your doctor and they can easily help you and give you some tips on how to get it out easier next time. 

Menstrual cups are a great option for people to manage their periods. You can reuse them for several years, so they are a fairly cheap option because you get a lot of bang for your buck. They are also good for the environment because they’re less wasteful than tampons or pads. If you’re interested in using a menstrual cup, check out some of the brands’ websites and find a size that works for you. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects people with female reproductive organs. Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can cause enlarged ovaries, abnormally long menstrual cycles, intense pelvic pain, excess hair growth, and loss of fertility. This syndrome affects about 10 million people worldwide, but the exact cause is unknown.

What is PCOS?

People are usually diagnosed with PCOS after puberty or when they are young adults—once their reproductive organs are up and running. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in androgens, insulin, and progesterone, but the exact cause of this imbalance is unknown. Doctors believe PCOS can be hereditary, can be caused by excess insulin in the body, low-grade inflammation, and excess androgens. This hormonal imbalance affects the ovaries and menstrual cycle, among other things. 

All people have a certain level of androgens (known as “male hormones”), but people with PCOS can have higher levels of androgens than the average person, which causes some of the symptoms of PCOS like acne, unwanted hair, and irregular menstrual cycles. Insulin also affects this syndome. If someone produces too much insulin, this causes an excess of androgens, which causes problems in the ovaries. And finally, if someone isn’t producing enough progesterone, this can also lead to problems with your menstrual cycle because progesterone is a hormone essential for your period. Even though this condition affects your ovaries, many people with PCOS don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries but do indeed have complications with this part of their body. Cysts on the ovaries are possible, however, and are caused by follicles or fluids on the ovaries that enlarge them and restrict their function.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Unfortunately, PCOS has a lot of symptoms, but fortunately, they can be managed in a number of ways. Many people with the syndrome experience long last periods with pelvic pain that is present even when they’re not menstruating. Excess hair growth known as hirsutism is another symptom due to the increased androgen levels. This excess hair can be on the face, back, chest, and other parts of the body. Infertility is also a big symptom of PCOS, although people can undergo hormone therapy if they have trouble conceiving, and many women with the syndrome can still conceive naturally. Other symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, acne, mood changes, headaches caused by hormonal changes, and sleep problems. 

How can I treat my PCOS?

Because of the varying insulin levels and weight gain that can accompany PCOS, doctors recommend weight loss and a healthy diet to help treat it and avoid diabetes and high blood pressure. The varying hormone levels do make it hard to lose weight and keep it off with PCOS, but doctors say even a five percent weight loss will help treat the syndrome and manage insulin levels. Additionally, doctors may treat PCOS with hormonal birth control to help regulate your period and lower your androgen levels which will help with the excess hair growth.

A drug called metformin can also be used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Metformin isn’t approved by the FDA for treating this syndrome, but it is often prescribed to help lower insulin and androgen levels. This drug can also improve menstrual cycles and help with weight management. It won’t treat the excess hair growth though. Because this drug isn’t approved by the FDA, it’s important to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor about taking metformin. Another drug called clomiphene is also used to treat PCOS because it helps induce ovulation, which can help with fertility issues. There are also many products specifically made to treat excess hair growth. 

Getting support for your diagnosis

Although PCOS is a serious syndrome with many symptoms, there are many options for treating it and managing it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor and they can help diagnose you with a blood test to check your hormones, as well as a pelvic exam and ultrasound. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects a lot of women and can cause serious problems such as infertility and diabetes if untreated. The PCOS Awareness Association has a bunch of wonderful resources on their website such as in-depth information on each PCOS symptom, as well as specialists who treat PCOS. Although there is no cure for this syndrome, there are many ways to treat it and manage the symptoms. If you have PCOS, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it and know that you are not alone.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Although every month should be Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, April allows us to pay extra attention to this issue. The most important thing to know about sexual violence and assault is, it is never the survivor’s fault. The survivor did nothing to egg on the behavior of their abuser. Sexual assault is the abuser’s fault, not the survivor’s. Period.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encapsulates all forms of sexual assault and abuse. The exact definition of what legally constitutes sexual assault varies from state to state. Sexual violence includes sexual assault, intimate partner violence, incest, date rape, and child abuse. Other forms of sexual violence also include sexual harassment, stalking, coercion, revenge porn, plus several others. A full list with in-depth definitions can be found at rainn.org

Although there are many types of sexual violence and different types of sexual assault, consent is the main factor at play within any of these crimes. Consent is when someone freely and completely agrees to something another person has proposed. In order to fully consent, the person consenting cannot be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, they should not be coerced, and there should be no pressure whatsoever. The person is freely choosing on their own accord. Consent exists in everyday life and obviously in sexual relationships as well. Consent is ongoing and can change at any time, meaning just because you’ve had sex with someone before does not mean you have to have sex with them again. You are allowed to change your mind at any moment during a sexual encounter, and you are allowed to communicate that to your partner. The legal definition of consent varies from state to state, and horrifically, Indiana does not have a legal definition of consent., which makes persecuting sexual assault crimes much harder than it should be.

Resources for sexual assault survivors and more

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, known as RAINN, is an excellent resource for sexual assault survivors, advocates, and people looking to learn more about prevention and support. RAINN offers many examples of types of sexual violence, warning signs, and how to help someone in need. If you are a survivor yourself, they also have a hotline available to call into, as well as a chat. 

An American is assaulted every 73 seconds, and most of the survivors of sexual assault are women. Although people do get assaulted by strangers, most of the time it is by someone they know. The main way to prevent sexual assault is for assaulters to stop assaulting, but unfortunately, that cannot be fixed with a snap of our fingers. There are some things, though, we can do to help.

Teaching consent to children

Teach consent from an early age, and talk about consent openly and honestly as much as you can. We can teach young children about consent from the time they first begin interacting with others. Rather than forcing a child to hug an estranged relative because it’s “the polite thing to do,” ask the child if they feel comfortable hugging said stranger. Give them the choice. Encourage the adult to not react offended or coerce the child if they choose not to hug them. Teaching children and the adults in their lives that consent is a normal, safe part of life can help this next generation grow up to be more gentle with one another and honor each other’s boundaries. 

Improving culture’s perception of sexual assault

Most people that commit acts of sexual violence are men. We can change the culture of society to value women as equals and break down toxic ideas of misogyny that tell men they are allowed to treat women as they please, rather than as human beings. Of course, men are survivors of sexual assault as well, and women can commit sex crimes too. We must change the culture to stop these crimes from happening. This can’t happen overnight, but continuing to raise girls and boys as equals could hopefully help stop this intense misogyny.

Step in when you see something not quite right. RAINN has a wonderful page on what you can do as a bystander if you notice something escalating that seems dangerous. They use the acronym CARE to provide a guide for bystander intervention. Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, Enlist others. If your intuition leads you to believe the dynamic between two people seems alarming or unsafe, trust that. Create a distraction such as interjecting yourself in the conversation, then when you have a moment with the person you are concerned about, ask them directly if they are safe. Ask if they know this person who keeps talking to them. Ask who they came with. Interjecting as a bystander can be scary, and you might even think, “Oh it’s nothing, I’m just overreacting.” It is much better to overreact than to let something slide that doesn’t seem right. 

RAINN has amazing resources for sexual assault prevention, education, and support for survivors, as well as what you can do to support survivors. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673. It is free, confidential, and available 24/7.