My journey with menstruation in India: Part Two
A few months back, I was out on a shopping date with my boyfriend. The two of us were roaming around the mall, looking at books and watches, when a sudden wetness between my legs made me wonder if I had gotten my period. A quick trip to the washroom confirmed my suspicions. Worried that I would leave a pool of blood wherever I sat, I dragged my boyfriend out to the nearest medical store.
There was a middle-aged man seated behind the counter, reading something on his mobile phone. He looked up when we entered. I smiled and asked, “Hi, do you have some tampons?”
The man raised an eyebrow at me, indicating he hadn’t understood what I asked. There was no one else around at that time, so, I repeated my request louder, stressing out each word.
“Can I have some tampons, please?”
This time, his brow furrowed and his gaze moved up and down my body. Instinctively, I crossed my arms across my chest and stared defiantly back at him. Then, he looked at my boyfriend with distaste. A note of disapproval crept into his voice as he confirmed, “Condoms?”
“No,” I said, then added, “Tampons. Do you have some?”
“What?” he asked as if I had uttered something incomprehensible.
I felt a touch on my forearm and turned to look at my boyfriend. He shook his head and gestured with his eyes that we were fighting a losing battle. I nodded at him and let out a sigh. There was no point in embarrassing ourselves further in front of a man who was already judging us for sleeping together when we were clearly not married.
I uncrossed my arms, cleared my throat, and told him, “I mean, can I have some sanitary napkins, please?”
Why Do Indian Women Not Use Tampons?
How would they, if this is the state of affairs regarding feminine hygiene products in the country? If a person who makes a living out of selling medicines hasn’t heard of tampons, it is impractical to expect that the average Indian citizen would. Also, if medical stores don’t stock up on tampons, how would an Indian woman have access to them (unless she orders them online)?
Lack of awareness
To be honest, even I didn’t know about tampons all through my teenage.
But, once I started college, having access to the internet became more of a habit than a luxury. I kept hearing the word ‘tampon’ over and over again in American sitcoms and movies. I couldn’t help my curiosity and looked up everything I could online. To my surprise, there were a plethora of articles listing how life-changing the tampon experience was. The stories by hundreds of women from all over the world were so compelling, that I couldn’t stop myself.
I HAD to order myself some.
To my delight, there were a lot of sellers shipping tampons to my address on all popular e-commerce sites. The prices were reasonable, even lesser than most common brands of sanitary napkins. I watched a lot of videos on how to insert them and found that the tampons that had built-in applicators were the easiest for beginners.
That was what I ordered. And once I did, it was as if the meaning of periods changed for me.
With sanitary napkins, there was wetness, rashes on my thighs, and a piece of plastic glued to my panties that grew heavier as the day passed.
But with tampons, there was freedom.
No more feeling conscious about excessive flow on bumpy car rides. No more squirting blood during an unexpected, explosive sneeze. No more sleeping in uncomfortable positions all night so I didn’t stain my bed linen. No more walking with my legs spread slightly apart on hot summer days so the wings on the sanitary napkin did not cut the skin on my thighs.
But most importantly, there was no longer a constant reminder that I was bleeding. I could go swimming. I could not wear underwear. I could do whatever the heck I wanted to.
It felt like the world was my oyster and I was its pearl!
Now that I had discovered this magic ingredient that changed my life, I couldn’t wait to introduce my female friends to the wonders it worked. But sadly, none of them was ready to give it a try.
Hymens and virginity
The most common reply I got when I shared about my experiences with fellow ladies was this — “What if I lose my virginity?”
The sad truth is — Indians are obsessed with hymens. When girls are young, they are not given sex education by their parents. Rather, the importance of “saving themselves” for their future husbands is impressed upon them from an early age.
Maybe this is why they are so worried about keeping their hymen intact.
But the truth is a tampon might stretch your hymen. It might even break your hymen. But a hymen (or lack of it) does not determine your virginity. Sex determines your virginity. If you do not have sex, you cannot lose your virginity, irrespective of whether or not you have a hymen.
I only wish more women understood this.
But then again, in a country of 1.3 billion people and 0 sex education, this knowledge is expected to be accessible only by a select few.
Would it feel weird?
Another common misconception regarding tampons is that wearing it will make a woman feel awkward throughout the day. That having something the size of their forefinger stuck up in their vaginas would make them uncomfortable.
In truth, a tampon is worn in the upper or inner two-thirds of the vagina. This is the part that is farthest from the vaginal opening and is not sensitive to touch. That’s why you cannot feel your tampon when it is inserted properly.
In fact, you cannot feel anything between your legs — exactly like “normal” days. Maybe this is part of the reason why so many women forget that they are on their period and miss changing their tampon every eight hours. (This is dangerous as it leads to toxic shock syndrome and should be avoided at all costs — may be one of the few pitfalls of using tampons)
The fear of pain
More than the taboo, more than even the awkwardness, the women I talked to were worried that inserting something inside their vaginas would hurt. But, speaking from experience, even if you do it wrong, there is zero chance of you hurting yourself.
In my first try, I wasted three tampons before I could finally get the angle right. I read and re-read the instructions on the packet and must have watched ten videos before I finally attempted the act. I stood with one leg on the bed and the other of the floor, bent over slightly, trying to see where I was pushing it. There was a lot of discomfort, yes, but there was no pain at all.
And once I mastered the art of inserting a tampon properly, the subsequent attempts went by smoothly. It isn’t rocket science. It is simply a matter of stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a step towards a better life.
In a nutshell, Indian women deprive themselves of the wonders a tampon can bring about because of the following reasons:
- Non-availability in local medicine outlets and malls.
- Lack of awareness — both among themselves and most people surrounding them.
- An aversion to having anything inside their vagina before marriage. (Could also be an aversion to having anything ‘inorganic’ inside their vagina.)
Read more about my journey with menstruation as an Indian woman here: