The other day I did something I’ve never done before: I went to the grocery store and bought two packages of maxi pads and no tampons. Just a year ago, I would have called this behavior insane. I was the type of Western woman who believed in stocking up on a year’s supply of Tampax before any trip back to the Levant. People talk all the time about the clash of civilizations – Christianity versus Islam, bacon versus kibbeh, but you want to know what the real East versus West debate is?
Pads versus tampons.
My conversion to the school of maxi pads has been slow. Since the first time I managed to insert a tampon without wailing in pain, I could never understand why anyone would want to use a pad. Why go through life trudging about in a little diaper soaked with your own menstrual blood when you could just pop in a little cotton and pretend the whole thing never happened? (Just don’t really forget, mind you – lest you get Toxic Shock Syndrome).
In Lebanon, Arab friends of mine would ask, "Nadia, do you have a pad?" I would say, "no, I have a tampon." They would look at me revolted, as though I had just offered them a slice of bacon to put down their pants instead. I chalked up the Lebanese disdain for tampons as an attempt to preserve one’s hymen for marriage. Perhaps, too, there might be a cultural belief that women should suffer in seclusion and be locked away during their unclean time, just like the Bible says. I would have none of that.
A few months ago I went tampon shopping – and found that not one single pharmacist nor grocery store in my neighborhood carried tampons. Pads only. I asked the pharmacist, "where are all the tampons?" She told me that there had been a problem with the supplier. That was it. I was certain there must be a massive government conspiracy against tampons - so as to keep women in diapers. I nearly staged a one-woman protest on Makdissi Street until a friend informed me she’d found a box of Kotex at the pharmacy in her building.
But then, a few menstrual cycles later, I was writhing in menstrual pain in my apartment and had a divinely inspired moment of intuition. What if tampons might be making my already torturous menstrual cramps worse? This hypothesis was confirmed by some extremely scientific googling – that is, I came across a message board where a bunch of people said they thought maybe their tampons were making their cramps worse.
According to Yahoo Answers: Do tampons make cramps worse?
"They always make my cramps worse too. idk why, maybe it's because your muscles down there have to be a little extra tense to hold in the tampon? it may just be psychological. idk."
Later, I had another thought, this time while googling home remedies for “the fishy smell.” Some websites advised that infections clear up directly following menses. Could it be that tampons – in plugging up my vagina like a cork -- were exacerbating certain imbalances of the sundry florae and faunae? Were tampons the cause of that certain odor of death and horror…? I mean, really, if you sit down on the toilet and take a long look at a used tampon, you can’t help but think, "this can’t be healthy."
So I thought I’d give the padded life a try.
Alert all media outlets. This just in: No one wears tampons in Lebanon anymore, including me.
Although I lack hard scientific data, I suspect that it is healthier for my vagina and easier for my menstrual cramps. I am equally sure that science will one day support this. Although I was raised in the Western culture, where man must dominate nature and all bodily fluids are seen as repellent and in need of sanitization, I have come to believe that it’s healthier to just let it all out.