Staying Clean on Your Period
One of the basest forms of dignity is a sense of cleanliness. It’s why we tend to love hot showers, long baths, and the scent of clean laundry. Achieving that unique sense of cleanness can be challenging, especially during menstruation, when it can be hard to feel fully clean. The aches and pains and the need for sanitary products and blood clean-up can make anyone feel a little unhygienic. Not to mention, there is a societal idea that periods and menstruation, in general, are inherently dirty.
From a young age, we are taught not to bring up the subject or let anyone know when we are on our periods because it is “gross” or “wrong,” which can only add to that feeling you lack cleanliness during that time of the month. Some individuals may struggle to have that sense of cleanliness during their cycles due to inadequate access to hygiene products or feelings of dysphoria. Some products may even affect how clean we feel during our cycles, so one or a combination of factors can affect your comfort.
It can feel like an uphill battle just to have that feeling of dignity and comfort when it should be a basic guarantee as a human being. What factors specifically affect your sense of cleanliness, and how do you maintain your definition of cleanliness when faced with societal and internal discomfort?
As a society, we have progressed now to a point where menstruation can be discussed more openly than it has been in the past. This doesn’t mean we’ve won the war against menstruation being viewed as ‘taboo’ or ‘dirty,’ but we have made great strides toward opening up the conversations that many of us have been forced to keep quiet. Since we were very young, we have been told that periods are gross and shouldn’t be talked about openly or seen in any way.
There is a multitude of problems that are then perpetuated in young people as they try to navigate what they know is natural to their body while also trying to be ‘socially acceptable.’ This furthering of the stigma associated with menstruation only leads to generations of people who menstruate feeling shame and discomfort about their body and its processes. We start to think of ourselves as unclean or gross when our cycle rolls around because society has taught us that menstruation is dirty.
Though we have made significant progress in destigmatizing periods and reclaiming their ‘dirty’ status, we still have a long way to go. It’s been so ingrained in us for years that our blood is gross and that other people can smell when we are on our periods, but these are all just things to make us feel ashamed of ourselves rather than embrace how natural our cycles are. Many of us don’t even feel comfortable showing our period products in public, so we hide them in sleeves, pockets, or purses.
This feeling of dirtiness has also historically been furthered by the very same companies who sell those products to us. Commercials boast scented or compact products supposedly designed to make us feel more at ease on our cycles but can further stigma and make us more uncomfortable. Scented products have a statistically higher chance of causing pH imbalances and can lead to yeast infections or UTIs. Compact products, while helpful for saving space in your bag, are often made more flimsy or don’t hold as much blood as we might need for every day of our period.
Companies also market wipes, washes, and sprays to us that are supposed to eliminate vaginal smell but can also harm your pH and cause issues. These products cause lasting problems with your pH balance and can be downright uncomfortable, all so that we can smell a little better. Why should we add that to our list of concerns when most of us don’t have a problem with scent on our periods anyway? Even if we do, it is typically attributed to a slight smell of blood or a deeper issue that should be addressed with a doctor.
You may also be someone who is working within a system that isn’t providing for you. Period products can be expensive, and there are a wealth of individuals who don’t have proper access to sanitary products. You may be living in poverty and can’t afford the high price of good quality period products, or maybe you’re suffering from homelessness and lack access to sanitary products. Periods can be messy and low-quality products can often leak, or if you’re unable to access them, you might be forced to free-bleed.
Regardless of their monetary situation, no one should be forced to feel unclean during their cycle. Lack of quality period care can lead to infections or general discomfort, and period poverty is a global issue that has yet to be properly addressed on a large scale. Many nonprofits are focused on helping people who menstruate access sanitary products when they are in need. They also fight to drop the pink tax and create widespread access to more affordable or free menstrual products.
These societal factors can seriously disrupt our sense of cleanliness, and it can be hard to undo that damage once it's been done. The best way to navigate your cycle without accepting societal pressure or stigma is to make yourself comfortable. Your period can already be stressful, don’t add the stress of other individuals on top of what you’re already feeling. As long as you’re doing what makes you feel the best during your period, you shouldn’t be made to feel any shame for what your body is doing naturally.
What if you’re not bothered by what other people think? What else can disrupt your personal sense of cleanliness? Well, some of us struggle with individual discomfort or dysphoria that can make our cycles feel like a dirty or disgusting thing. The effects of societal stigma can translate into our everyday lives and cause issues internally that linger even with the forward progression of society. Some of these internal issues may have nothing to do with stigma but instead personal comfort.
There is a lot of debate over what period products are the most sanitary or comfortable, but the answer varies from person to person. Some people like the way pads feel, as they don’t enjoy the invasive feeling of tampons. Other people may find pads uncomfortable as they can create more mess or feel almost like wearing a diaper. The seal on the menstrual cup may also drive others away as it can be nerve-wracking trying to pull it out to empty it your first time.
Whatever your reason is, not every sanitary product is made for every person in mind. Some people feel cleaner when they use a tampon or menstrual cup as they are comforted by the anti-leak promises they provide and don’t want to navigate the awkwardness of an improperly placed pad. Pads or something like period underwear may also be the only things that help you feel secure while you won’t ruin your favorite jeans on your period.
Other factors that can lead to a feeling of discomfort or uncleanliness are the dysphoria that may surround certain period products. Trans or nonbinary folx may find they don’t like the feeling of something being inserted as it conflicts with their gender identity. But others might find they can’t wear certain comfort pieces, like a packer or boxers while wearing a pad as it is too bulky or the pad won’t cover you properly in your boxers.
It can feel like an uphill battle while navigating your comfort and what you need to stay or feel clean on your cycle. It shouldn’t have to be a pick-and-choose situation.
How To Achieve Your Own Sense of Clean
If societal and internal factors feel like a burden, you may need to evaluate what gives you the most comfort during your period. The ‘sense of clean’ means something different for everyone, so there is no right or wrong answer to achieving it. Some things you should remember while on your cycle are:
- Your experience is valid: While someone else might find tampons or pads comforting, you don’t have to. There may not even be an option that makes you feel clean, which is entirely understandable. Your period can be rough to navigate, so don’t feel bad if you select the least offensive option and still don’t feel right. We are still progressing every day, and new products are always in development, so if there’s not something you feel best about right now, you might find the right option for you later.
- Don’t neglect your comfort: If you need to feel clean to function, don’t neglect your comfort during your period. If you need to shower twice a day to feel clean, go for it! If you want to keep extra clothes or sanitary products on you and change often to prevent possible leaks or uncomfortable feelings, you absolutely should. Don’t feel awkward about taking your sense of cleanliness seriously, as physical comfort also affects mental and emotional comfort. You’ll feel better if you prioritize it.
- Test things out: Don’t be afraid to try different options. As long as you prioritize your health and happiness, you shouldn’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks. Test out different sanitary products to see which makes you the most comfortable. Never forget that these products help keep your cycle running smoothly, so even if they feel out of place, they don’t define you or your identity.
- Help others if you can: If you’re privileged enough to have access to period products and general hygiene supplies, consider contacting your local shelter or a nonprofit that offers aid to those who menstruate but are struggling with poverty or homelessness. You may be able to donate products like tampons and pads or things like soap and body wash, as they can make all the difference to individuals who need it most.
- Try not to stress: Your cycle can already be a lot to handle, so try not to focus too hard on if you’re being perceived as clean. As long as you feel clean and do your best to stay comfortable, you don’t need to worry about anyone else's thoughts. That is, of course, easier said than done, but your body is natural, and there is nothing about your cycle you should feel is dirty.
If you’re still struggling to find your sense of cleanliness, you might want to try keeping more products on you that will help you feel comfortable and prepared. No one wants to be caught off guard without a new sanitary product or even something to change into in case they happen to leak.
If you struggle to remember when they’ve last changed their period products, the Orchyd app has you covered with a handy tracker, SafeFlow™, to help you know when to grab a new pad or tampon. Your sense of cleanliness can depend highly on how fresh your products are or if your underwear remains unstained. So don’t get caught out without anything to change into. It’ll help you so much more to know that you’ve got it all covered.
And remember, your sense of clean is what makes you feel best, so find what works for you rather than focusing on what might work for everyone else.