Sunday, December 29, 2002

And while I'm in the neighborhood...

So what did I do over my Christmas vacation? Yep, I researched the history of feminine hygiene. Apropos of nothing in particular, I must be careful to note. Of course, so is most of what I post on this blog.

Anyway, after the Kotex thing I had to include the stuff I found about tampons. I'm sure women used variations on the concept for a very long time before they were commercialized (just as I'm pretty sure that they discovered the clitoris years before Renaldus Columbus in 1559), but the commercialization posed unique problems.

The first hurdle was probably more psychological than anything else. Tampax dealt with this when they introduced their tampons in 1936. They used attractive, active models ("you can run, swim, climb trees, ride horses..."), and always dressed them in white.

The Tampax people might well have done some substantial R&D before releasing their product, but if they did I didn't find anything about it online. Anyway, stuffing something into the vagina sounds simple enough to be harmless as long as it is removed eventually. But this fails to account for the eternal presence of bacteria of various species in the vagina. It's an ecosystem of sorts, and this ecosystem's composition can be changed radically by seemingly trivial external changes such as the type and composition of underwear.

This composition can also be changed by introduction of germs from the outside, such as by the insertion of a tampon. So it is important that tampons be sterile themselves, and that they be handled with clean hands. Failing to do this can have fatal consequences.

How? By a condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). As I understand it (and I am no medical professional), it is a severe staph or strep infection with flulike symptoms that can strike rapidly. This 16 year old spent 5 days in ICU recovering from it.

TSS can be caused by other things, but it has been associated with highly absorbent tampons. After Procter and Gamble introduced superabsorbent Rely tampons, the US Center for Disease Control released a study that showed a high correlation between toxic shock syndrome and the use of those tampons. This culminated in a $75M recall/buyback program by P&G.

What does absorbency have to do with anything? It's not clear that researchers know to this day. The cynical among us would be very willing to conclude that the absorbency and duration issues are nothing but scams to spur tampon sales, and of course lefties would call this further evidence that corporations run the govt. Believe what you will, but it so happens that the US Food and Drug Administration has established standards for absorbency as noted here.

No, I'm not trying to spread terror like this person is. Toxic shock syndrome is not very common, so tampon use isn't exactly Russian roulette. But there's no harm in awareness, and I'll note that I'm kind of partial to some of you vagina-bearers out there even now that I'm through doing the dishes.

PS - This is another way to get killed via your vagina. To my knowledge there is no corresponding threat to men, but I support further research.

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