Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tampons Vs. Pads

While 81% of the women in the United States use tampons for protection on their monthly period, up to 90% of Saudi women use pads.

Girls here in the US found it shocking that I am not familiar with tampons. Their shock caught me by surprise. It challenged me to research the debate on the two types of protection, and to ask all the Saudi girls I know if they ever used tampons. The answer was always, “What ARE they?”

This seemingly feminine topic is rather an elemental key to much bigger issues that separate the United States and Saudi Arabia! Despite the fact that tampons have been introduced since the 1930s, no Saudi woman allowed it into their lives or that of their daughters yet.

Think about it. Had that “invention” been for men, it would not have escaped the male population -no matter what the downsides are- to try it, and make it public! However, females in Saudi are special. Before they are married, their organs are sacred and must remain anonymous even to them. Once they are married, the female organs become even more holy. They are an important factor in their new life, bearing kids, satisfying the husband, and remaining competitive in polygamy land.

As exaggerated and stereotypical this is, it remains true for the most part. The female being in Saudi is constantly weighed down by the male voice -which becomes her own- and governed by a series of fears. Fear of experimentation, fear of self discovery, fear of losing virginity, fear of vaginal infections, of diseases, of damage, of change, etc.

Apparently, however, it is not the Saudi women alone who are resisting tampons. Other countries, in East Asia for example, are no big fans either. That brings us to the question:

Is the basis of the Saudi resistance cultural, medical or simply the old generation vs. the new?

30 comments:

Polite Politely said...

well aysha...
It's a matter of differences in cultures and healthy belief.
You know how feminine traditions and behaviors in both western and eastern culture are completely different, if I gave you an examples from the feminine traditions in Najd especially, I might make you laugh, but I’m sure I’ll convince you that our culture is different, special, and worth respecting...
The Najd traditions in Saudi of feminine hygiene are not only based on protecting virginity, but also caring for her vaginal wellbeing as well as the sex organs, so as to allow her to pleasure as well as give pleasure while enjoying great health.

As an example, old ladies in the society advice girls against showering or being exposed to high winds at least during the first days of the monthly period. They also advice girls to take warm or hot drinks refraining from water as much as possible. They suggest a diet that includes meet, dates, and whole wheat, and excludes dairy products and sour foods as much as possible. Moreover, there all those herbs that experienced women prescribe to one another out of experience.

I personally see those traditions as worthy of respect and further investigation and study. One reason for that is a personal experience I’ve had. At a point in my life I had some hormone turbulences. Going to a specialized doctor, her prescribed to me a Western medication that had caused my period to stop for three full years! I didn’t have my period back until I went to an old beduwin lady from Najd, who prescribed an herb to me saying “Mind not the talk of the doctors!”

Such confident remark coming from a woman with 10 children makes you wonder why and how did she spend a serene, traditional, and comfortable sexual life away from Western medicine and their methods of personal hygiene.

Not only is using tampons inconvenient for me, it is greatly painful (even though I am married, Aysha!) Just thinking about it makes me cling to my abdomen with pain.

That tampons have not harmed 80% of Western users does not mean it should be accepted and used in the Arab world. Having 10% of Saudi women use it is not an indication of it being bad or harmful either, nor is it a proof of fear for virginity and experimentation.

The matter is simply that each person is brought upon an individualized personal hygiene that should be considered part of the culture that is worth respecting and holding onto.

Deema said...

It has always caught my attention seeing it in public toilets in malls and other places, and the questions are triggered: While almost 40% of women actually do not bleed on their first sexual encounters, is a woman using a tampon no longer a virgin? Do tampons and virginity simply contradict? Then, why is the 'virginity' = 'purity' of a girl arbitrarily connected to bleeding! Still looking for answers.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Before this post, I'd never made a possible connection to tampons and sexuality. But now that I think about it, I think you've hit the nail on the head! Considering how many Saudi women I know didn't even know about periods until the day they start screaming and crying at the sight of it, the fact that tampons aren't considered doesn't surprise me.

In order to use them one must be somewhat familiar with her own anatomy on the "deepest" level which may even require one to touch or examine this sacred part of the body. I remember when I thought I might be in labor my MIL told me NOT to let the doctor do an internal exam to see if I'm dilated and cited several examples of people who've had internal exams resulting in fetal death and other birthing tragedies.

Now that I'm thinking about it, look at the birth control options here too. I haven't had even one diaphragm, sponge, cervical cap, or spermicidal jelly offered to me as a birth control option. It's either the pill, the shot, or a doctor implanted IUD but nothing that is inserted by the woman herself. I even felt like a freak requesting a pap smear, something else that is NEVER offered here on its own, I've had to request it.

When I was in the states last year, I was 8 months pregnant buying cartons of tampons at the local WalMart before my trip back home. Although I can find tampons here, on occasion, many times they're the "without applicator" meaning I have to get more intimate with myself than I care to. This would make them even less attractive to the average Saudi woman.

The thing is, Saudi women aren't prudes when it comes to sex so I can't assert that the issue may stem from a fear of female sexual gratification. Some of my husband's friends who've had both foreign and Saudi wives claim the Saudi ones to be much more sexually adventurous and aggressive in bed than the foreign ones and in conversations with my international group of friends, I've noticed the same thing.

Possibly it may have to do with the absence of a male during these vaginal explorations that's the key factor. Maybe it means that "those" parts aren't really ours, they're for our future husbands before marriage, and for our husbands during marriage. Hmmm.

Inspire Your Mind said...

LOL girls..
I fully understand your comments and concerns..
But being an OBGYN [Obstetrician and Gynecologist] myself; I look at these things slightly with different perspectives..
We can surely write volumes of books on female sexuality in the Middle East; so many positives and loads of negatives and that's where sex education comes into play..
As with respect to Tampons; medically they are not advisable though cos they can cause a serious life-threatening infection called the 'Toxic Shock Syndrome' or TTS; and I saw doctors getting the disease themselves; no one is spared..
As with respect to 'experimentation' and getting familiar and friends with our own body and feminity; I think it's part of knowing yourself and it's part of your identity; no one should dictate to us how we should behave on a very private level..
I always advise my friends to go exploring; and they're for sure much happier females and more confident with the 'she' inside after meditating with their bodies..
Please feel free to consult me should you need further clarification on any matter related to your sexuality..
IYM

Cairogal said...

I agree w/ SSW...Egypt was the same in terms of its 'pad preference' and I attributed that to not wanting to insert anything into the vagina-be it fear of inciting some carnal lust, or perhaps just out of fear for the hymen. Obviously, virgins wear tampons all the time w/o damage to the hymen, but we all know how sexy tampon insertion really can be... ;-)

Cairogal said...

"As an example, old ladies in the society advice girls against showering or being exposed to high winds at least during the first days of the monthly period."

American women said the same thing up until the mid-70s, I think.

Inspire Your Mind said...

Sorry but not showering is really bad hygiene..
What ? no one cares about her smell and all.. !!
Those are all myths and they have nothing to do with the physiology of the menstrual cycle..

Cairogal said...

Before I was old enough to menstruate I recall women my sister's age not showering during their period. I wish could remember the logic behind it. By the time I got to high school, there were so very girls who adhered to that anymore.

Cairogal said...

"They suggest a diet that includes meet, dates, and whole wheat, and excludes dairy products and sour foods as much as possible."

I don't know about you, politely, but during my period my stomach is very easily upset. Things like meat which require more work to digest don't work for me, though dairy products do.

Um Naief said...

cairogirl, i've never heard not to be in the wind during the first few days of your menstral cycle, and i grew up in the 70s in the states. i'm not sure that what you say is true.

as far as tampons vs. pads... i think that in the middle east, nothing is taught to girls about their bodies. so the use of tampons would probably be seen as a taboo, because you are messing w/ that area and you are not supposed to. many families don't even allow their girls to play outside when they're young or ride horses for fear it'll break their hymen. i think it's a very old fashioned way of believing.

i also know that, indeed, you can get TSS if you keep a tampon in for longer than 4 hrs. i think that a lot of young girls who use them ignore this fact or aren't truly educated about the dangers of using a tampon.

i personally use them some days and then some days not. pads are bulky and if you're wearing anything that might reveal them, it's somewhat embarrassing. and.. tampons are good for swimming.

all of my cousins used them when we were in school. i was the last in the family to start. one of my girl cousins taught me how to use them when i was in the 8th grade because we had swimming class as part of PE and if you were out due to your cycle, then all the boys would tease you. it's the last thing you wanted... so going to tampons was much easier and would keep you from being teased in the worst sort of ways.

i think it's personal choice. and i also think that women shouldn't be taught that it's better not to know your body all for the sake of this great "virginity".

Cairogal said...

"cairogirl, i've never heard not to be in the wind during the first few days of your menstral cycle, and i grew up in the 70s in the states. i'm not sure that what you say is true."

I was referring to the "don't shower/bath during your period" as an old wive's tale. Never heard of the wind, myself.

Cairogal said...

"i also know that, indeed, you can get TSS if you keep a tampon in for longer than 4 hrs. i think that a lot of young girls who use them ignore this fact or aren't truly educated about the dangers of using a tampon."

True... though I've only known one woman personally to develop TSS. It's not about better or worse, but I think Aysha's post was about the tendency to prefer or not to prefer the use.

Um Naief said...

cairogal... you're right about the post. and i've never heard or known anyone to get TSS. i think that one would have to leave it in there for an awfully long time to do such... but whose to say.

yeah.. there are all sorts of wives tales about the cycle. my mom used to not allow me to put my hand in the pickle jar or anything like that, saying it would contaminate the whole jar. she was taught that by her mother. and i think, like you, that a lot of these are just tales.

Cairogal said...

lol..no hand in the pickle jar. When I was 'coming of age' pads finally had adhesive on them...I recall hearing about those dreaded 'sanitary belts'.

Cairogal said...

I think sometimes 'western' nations forget that it wasn't so long ago...in Ireland 30 years ago, a woman didn't enter a church during her period or for x# of days after giving birth. She was viewed as 'unclean'.

Aysha said...

Girls, your comments are v. insightful.
I love it when cultures come together and their seemingly different beliefs turn out to be a matter of time difference that is to be bridged eventually. Sometimes I get the feeling that "traditions" that people so strongly hold on to, are a mean of holding onto a time line. It is not that a culture is different from the other, or the human element is any different, it is just a matter of where a certain group of people are pausing, standing, or walking on the very same extended time line/ time circle!

How cool, we have an OB on site ^_^

I'm loving this!

Inspire Your Mind said...

My pleasure Aysha..any time..
IYM

Lynn said...

I'vr never heard any of these Old Wives Tales regarding menstruation. I wonder what the wind would do to you?

Regarding tampon use, in the 30 or so years that I have used them I have never woken up in the middle of the night to change one and I rarely sleep less than 6 hours a night. I've never had TSS nor have I ever met or heard of anyone that has and the vast majority of women that I know use them. I'll probably get it this month since I just said that!

Lalla Mona said...

wow this post is...hmmm
I don't know why but it took me back to when I was in school and one of my friends highlighted her hair so the principal and teachers gathered and asked her to dye it black the next day!!!

Carol said...

What a lovely blog you have! I smiled to myself as I read this posting about tampons and culture. Shortly after I had arrived in Saudi I was grocery shopping with my stepdaughters (early 20's, late teens) and asked them where would I find the tampons. They looked at me blankly and I ended up giving a basic impromptu biology lecture as we continued our shopping as they had never heard about the existence or use of tampons until then.

I have also noticed that most of the Saudi females in my office habitually call in sick for at least the first three days of starting their period. I don't believe that it is that this time is more difficult here for women than in other places as I work in a multi-cultural environment and the other females from different countries as well as myself do not need to take these days off each and every month.

Some interesting food for thought...

American_bedu

Um Naief said...

women usually take off in Bahrain too... the bahrainis. one of my SILs stays in bed for several of the first days.... and then it's back to normal.

i can't imagine wearing pads w/ belts... they're bad enough as they are.

Cairogal said...

I think Egyptian and UAE law provided at least one day/month for period-realted absences. I have to admit...women seemed to feel more affected by their periods than I ever have been. I take the brufen for the pain, try and stay away from certain foods, and have immodium on hand for when it's really bad. I don't think I've ever missed school/work because of my period. I also found pregnancy to be somewhat equated w/ 'illness' in both the UAE and Egypt. Save that for another post, Aysha.

Aysha said...

lynn, lalla mona & carol,
Welcome aboard! Glad to read your comments.
Lynn, Goodness no! May no harm ever come your way.

Lalla Mona, what an interesting memory that the post provoked!

Carol, you made me laugh so hard. I totally imagined you trying to give such a lesson to men who surely needed a lot of body language to support the little English they know.

um naief, cairogal,
I found it very interesting that there's a law that excuses such absences. Do you think men who do not understand the situation fully were trecked into setting such rules ^_^?

Lisa said...

This dialog is exactly what I have been looking for. I am doing research on understanding the cultural and religious barriers on the use of a "tampon" style device that could be used at home to test for cervical cancer. Would the fact that the device was similar to a "tampon" stop women from using this type of product? What if it meant you would not need to go to the doctor's office for a Pap smear?

By the way, do you all get regularly tested with a Pap?

I would love to hear any and all of your thoughts!

EAKPT

Cairogal said...

"I found it very interesting that there's a law that excuses such absences. Do you think men who do not understand the situation fully were trecked into setting such rules ^_^?"

Mmm...this is just my take on it, but I think it's this perception that women are somehow weakened by this monthly affliction and pregnancy was an illness that placed women at physical as well as spiritual disadvantage. Even in countries like Ireland until the last 20 years, women post-pregnancy were 'dirty'-not suitable for church.

It fits the male perception which has been enforced over the centuries of women as a weaker sex. Don't get me wrong, I've got friends who have the period from hell, but I don't think that applies to most women. I don't think a woman in Egypt suffers a worse or better period than a woman in China. I think culturally, we take our cues as to what constitutes "under the weather."

a said...

Ayesha,are you serious? . why seemingly to me that you make it a big deal of nothing ?
Indeed ,It's just a different about the way of living .

maybe it's not good for girl , but even the woman had married doesn't prefer "tampons"
for hygiene considerations .
and we don't get used to it .

like they don't prefer " extreme make up " and we love it .

Beth said...

This is a different angle on the issue, but if you look at the environmental impact of using tampons versus pads, I would think tampons are better. There is less material in a tampon and it gets broken down when you flush it, versus with a pad there is extra material around the edges that isn't really used and just gets thrown away.

iMuslimah said...

Assalamu aalykum,

Interesting post! Employed in the medical field, I cannot justify the use of a tampon. I believe that the the uterine lining ought to be shed totally outside the body, not festering in a warm, moisture ridden environment where serious infections like TSS may arise.

It doesnt not surprise me that tampons were invented by a man. Of course my instinct is to start bashing the invention based on the gender who invented it, but I have to realize, back in the 19th century, when they were made, the purpose was to plug war wounds in soldiers, and female physicians were few. Of course, a male OB/GYN implemented the use of the tampon for women. What can I say? I will say this: if men menstruated, these items would be sales tax free, and the world would be a different place. maternity leave for men, would probably be better, and preventitive healthcare would be more easily accessible. Oh yes, and they would probably work into legislation somwhere- that you get a week's worth of sick time for each cycle.

Sanitary napkins have come a LOOOONG way. Who needs belts? Aye carumba, I suppose maybe that would have swayed me to use tampons, I dont know. They are super thin, very hygenic and ultra absorbent these days, not to mention in every shape and variety lol.

If inshaallah I have a daughter someday, I will teach her to use sanitary napkins- and then I will faint.

Ciao bellas!

iMuslimah

Tampon tips said...

Every thing has its advantages and disadvantages. Tampons are very comfortable than pads and it offers more freedom. But one has to be cautious for tampons, if one forget to remove it on time, then it may lead to bad smell, bacteria forms, thus leading to infections. It may also cause TSS disease. One can use tampon but has should be alert. If anytime tampon is not getting removed or facing some problems, one immediately go to gynaecologist.

Anonymous said...

Honestly I've never been one to use pads, I feel like I am wearing a diaper or something, seriously not comfortable. I am very athletic and don't like to be limited on what I can do just because of my menstrual cycle. With that said, I just got married and relocated to the middle east, Jordan to be exact. Though my husband was brought up in a Muslim family they are very open minded and accepting of other cultures, though I was surprised that none of them even knew what a tampon was. It is quite embarassing trying to explain that one, and how it works. I didn't know this until we went to the store to buy toiletries and I mentioned I needed some, and I don't have the language down well enough to ask the employees where they keep them on my own, so I tried to explain them to my husband, who was just in shock lolll. He was pulling out his phone to use the english arabic translater application to see if he could figure out what I meant, but it just translated to something along the lines of a plug or cork. I just laughed and said well yes, it is like a plug or a cork, but for your vagina LOL. He still doesn't fully understand them, and luckily I haven't had my period again yet, however, I still have yet to find a place to purchase tampons. Does anyone know if this is a waste of time? Should I just stop looking or is this something I may be able to find here? You would think living in Amman with all the tourists and everything you could find something like this, but I really don't know. Someone help please.. I am going to be miserable if I am limited to that god awful diaper they call a pad =(