Why Aren’t Tampons Readily Available in this Country?

This column may contain strong language, sexual content, adult humor, and other themes that may not be suitable for minors. Parental guidance is strongly advised.

In a society, one looks for certain markers of civilization: decent infrastructure, a thriving arts scene, a vibrant retail culture, efficient transport, a tolerable sense of hygiene.  Already, Manila fails in certain aspects.  But it wasn’t until I moved back here that I realized that in Manila there was a glaring lack of one basic commodity that is a basic in any civilized city: tampons.

On my last trip overseas, I added to my shopping list six months’ worth of tampons. SIX MONTHS.  Because it’s next to impossible to find a consistent supply of the stuff in this country.  It’s something that baffles expat women who come to live here, as well as female travelers who visit.  A friend from Paris recently was rather flabbergasted at having to do an entire tour of Glorietta and Greenbelt one afternoon in search of tampons, shuffling from pharmacy to supermarket to convenience store and finding the one and only box of Playtex tampons in the whole of Makati.

“Is there some taboo regarding the use of tampons in this country?” she asked me.  “Because I hard a really hard time looking for tampons today.  It’s so strange.”

The struggle is real, I told her.

After all, it’s safe to assume that a significant swathe of the female population in this country of 100 million sheds the lining of their uterus every month in the form of menstrual blood. So, why are the options in the market for absorbing that flow pitifully inadequate?

Supermarket shelves, in fact, overflow with sanitary pads designed like boats with wings. Unattractive, uncomfortable, and, frankly, neither very sanitary nor practical at the end of the day.  Relying on these during your period curtails not just your activities but your choice of clothing as well.  For one thing, most pads may claim to be slimmer—what a feat of engineering indeed—but they are also longer so it feels like you’re wearing a nappy.  They’re one adhesive strip away from morphing into Pampers Ultra Slim but Extra Long, so not the choice of under-undergarment if you choose to wear something snug and fitted.

And if you’re in the least bit athletic—if you swim, dive, surf, play water polo, or underwater hockey—well, it’s not recommended that you get into water with your pads on, for obvious reasons.

So why aren’t tampons sharing equal shelf space with sanitary pads in supermarkets and drugstores? Why are tampons always a retail afterthought, in the event that that one foreigner comes in looking for something to shove up her vagina when she has her period instead of bleeding onto—“advanced technology” aside—what is nothing more than a stack of paper napkins compressed together like a giant gauze pad?  And she’s the one who’s weird and strange for preferring something perhaps initially more invasive but ultimately more absorbent, more comfortable, more practical, more hygienic and, in the long run, more environmentally and economically sound?

The reluctance to use tampons in this country is attributable in part to outdated cultural beliefs predicated on astoundingly misinformed and unscientific notions of virginity and modesty.

Just to be clear, tampons are safe to use whether you’re a virgin or not.  They are designed for all women who bleed, be they single, married, virgin, non-virgin, straight, lesbian, bisexual, sexually repressed, sexually reserved, or sexually voracious. They are designed for all flows, light, heavy or regular.  They don’t “de-virginize” you if you are still a virgin; they don’t puncture your hymen, which is not an impenetrable bank vault but a thin membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina, but does not seal it shut.  If it did, then your menstrual blood would not be able to flow.  If it did, you wouldn’t be able to insert a tampon.

The medical community is in agreement that most activities believed to “break” the hymen—horseback riding, biking, and doing the splits—do not in fact do so.

As for tampons, they “can be inserted through the opening of the hymen without changing the hymen as well.  Sexual intercourse may stretch the hymen to make a larger opening or may cause a tiny tear or change in the shape of the hymen – sometimes this is called ‘breaking’ the hymen, but it doesn’t really break, it just stretches.”

Granted, there is the real risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) when using tampons, but it is not very common. The Mayo Clinic defines it as a “rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infection.”

While using a tampon requires inserting something inside your vagina, the accompanying discomfort and awkwardness is really quite fleeting, and the applicators the tampons are encased in do make it easier to slide the thing in.

Propagating erroneous beliefs about the hymen and the use of tampons consciously or subconsciously—with the full collusion of the patriarchy, which includes the Church—is dangerous, misleading and unfair, and keeps women in a perpetual state of weakness, ignorance, and shame.

Which is both ridiculous and ironic, when you consider that these sanitary pads, with their cute brand names like “Modess,” “Stayfree,” “Whisper,” and “Carefree” are positioned in the market as feminine hygiene products that enable women to proceed with their lives as normal, free to do whatever they wish, run, jump, work, party, oblivious to the flow of menstrual blood trapped in those giant cotton boats glued to their underwear with adhesive wings.  Except that it’s impossible to forget that there’s an extra layer between your vagina and your panties.  Especially when you’re wearing a thong or g-string.  And when you want to swim.  Or do yoga.  Or sleep without fear of leaking.  Or even have sex.  (Yes, period sex is a thing. There are people into it.)

Tampons, on the other hand, have crisp, concise, matter-of-fact brand names that sound rather clinical: Tampax, Playtex, and o.b.

There’s also a third option for periods, the menstrual cup, which is, unfortunately, not widely available yet worldwide, but could in the long run be a godsend to menstruating women of all ages in poorer, rural communities.

Of course, whatever a woman allows access into her vagina, be it a dick, a dildo, or a tampon, is and should be her choice.  But, like the person we elect as president, I would wish that that choice is an informed and intelligent one.

B. Wiser is the author ofMaking Love in Spanish, a novel published earlier this year by Anvil Publishingand available in National Book Store and Powerbooks, as well as online. When not assuming her Sasha Fierce alter-ego, she takes on the role of serious journalist and media consultant. 

For comments and questions, e-mail b.wiser.ph@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


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