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Let’s talk about… vaginas

Today I wasnt to talk about vaginas. In an article in the Guardian it states that one in five young women in the UK has experienced bullying about periods. It also discusses how boys should be taught about menstruation in school. “If men don’t know about periods, how can they take period poverty or the tampon tax seriously. Or even sympathise with someone in pain once a month?”

Everyone should be given proper menstrual education. Chella Quint created the project Period Positive. Chella “believes menstruation education should be free, unbranded, objective, inclusive of reusables (like menstrual cups and cloth pads), and easy to understand.” They say “We strive to ensure that no matter what your gender, whether you menstruate or not, that you’ll feel more confident and comfortable talking about menstruation publicly and privately.”

100 vaginas

But how do we expect menstruation to be discussed openly when vaginas themselves seem to be such a taboo subject? I watched 100 Vaginas recently, a documentary by artist Laura Dodsworth. Laura “photographs women and hears their moving, powerful or funny stories about how their vaginas have shaped their lives.”

It’s a brilliant documentary that I really believe should be shown in schools. As a 37 year old woman I watched in awe, wishing I’d have seen this as a young teen. It really smashed some myths around vaginas and vulvas and seeing so many was an eye opener! I realised I have only ever seen my own vulva, one other woman’s and vulvas in pornography. So the views that I held on what’s ‘normal’ we’re so skewed!

Just hearing women celebrating their vaginas was wonderful. It made me realise how much negative language you usually hear about vaginas. Women talking about the beauty of their vulva, the joy of their vaginas and the pleasure they bring. It was a powerful and surprising documentary that I would recommend to anyone.

Does my vagina smell?

There was a part where they talked about smell and it hit me in the gut taking me back to being 13 years old. Some boys in class were laughing and talking about someone having a “fishy fanny”. I specifically remember these phrases including one about her vagina smelling like a garbage truck. They weren’t talking about me and to my shame I didn’t stand up for anyone. I laughed along whilst inwardly panicking if my vagina smelt right!

Then I went home and got in the bath washing myself thoroughly with soap and bubble bath. Sadly spraying my knickers with perfume and tried to desperately hide the natural smell of my vagina. I used to clamp my thighs together, wear knickers, then tights, then another pair of knickers on top!

Unsurprisingly, I then got thrush. I’d basically stripped away all the good healthy things in my vagina and caused a heavy dose of thrush. There was too much embrassment to talk to my mum about it. It wasn’t something we would ever discuss, I never had a period or sex talk with her. We also didn’t have google!

So after thinking I was dying, I went to the library and read a medical book. Then went to a newsagents and read a woman’s magazine and diagnosed myself. Even then I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I didn’t eat school lunches all week so I could spend my dinner money at the chemist on some thrush cream! Having thrush then made me more embarrassed and self conscious of my vagina, stuck in a vicious circle!

It’s funny though, as I haven’t thought about that in over 20 years. But watching the show brought up thoughts about the internal shame we get about vaginas from society, the media and our peers and how talking about it can rid us of these fears and shame.

blogger sam cleasby talking about taboos and vaginas

Vaginas and Disability

Vaginas seem to even be a taboo when it comes to medicine. I have had jpouch surgery. Subsequently having the jpouch and my rectum and anus removed. I had so many worries about my vagina and sex life. The surgeries were deep in my groin and had created issues with the pouch pressing on the vaginal wall causing it to start to prolapse. Yet when I asked questions about how this could affect my sex life, nurses and doctors were quick to brush it off. Concentrating on the recovery leaving me feeling like a freak for asking if it would affect my ability to orgasm!

I speak to many people who say that Inflammatory Bowel Disease plays havoc with their periods. Either making them heavier, not regular or more painful. Yet there seems to be so little research done around this area and doctors don’t seem to have an answer.

If the vaginas of non disabled people are taboo, then if you add illness, chronic illness or disability into the pot, the discussion shuts down completely. The desexualisation of disabled people is everywhere. The feelings, fears and questions of disabled people remain unanswered and unspoken.

What do you call your vagina?

And I suppose that’s why today, I wanted to talk a little about vaginas. Or the many different names we have for them; fanny, pussy, tuppence, tutu, front bottom, cunt, foo foo, flue, vagjayjay… Isn’t it odd how for so long we were almost afraid to use the words vagina or vulva to young children to describe their body parts?

So here ends my little chat about vaginas. May we talk about them, may we celebrate them, may we educate and teach the world about the magnificent and wonderful vagina!

✌🏽 & ❤️

Sam xx

Sea Sponge Tampons – a review

I am coming to the end of my fifth day wearing a sea sponge tampon and I am humming the theme tune to Spongebob Squarepants as I write up perhaps one of the oddest products I have ever reviewed.

Sea sponge tampons are a reusable, eco friendly alternative to regular disposable tampons and I was sent the Natural Intimacy Caribbean Silk Intimate Sponges to try by Stress No More.  Made from natural sea sponge which is non-toxic and completely bio-degradable, I like to think of these as mermaid tampons.  Seriously, I think this is what Ariel uses on her time of the month…

sea sponge tampons

I have used a mooncup for years and so I’m already a convert to the reusable options when it comes to menstruation, but I have to say, the sea sponge was a bit weird even for me.  I think it is so ingrained into us that our only options are tampons or sanitary towels (i.e. the items that are taxed and make a lot of money for the government!) that any other option is seen as alternative or hippyish.

So, according to the Stress No More website, the sea sponge is “harvested by divers straight from the Caribbean ocean, with the utmost respect for marine resources. Sea sponge lives on the ocean floor, it’s not coral or a plant; it is in fact an animal that has no brain or central nervous system.”

Wait, what?? Oh, now I feel a bit more icky that I have an animal up my flue.

“This renewable natural resource has the powerful ability to re-grow parts of the sponge that has been broken off by water currents, the divers cut them at the base so the sponge remains intact, ensuring that the sponge still has the ability to re-grow and reproduce over and over again.”

“No one ever really talks about the damage that traditional, disposable sanitary products have on our bodies and the environment. Tampons and sanitary pads are pumped with fragrances, dioxins and are usually made with non-organic cotton or rayon.”

Not to mention the waste that goes into landfill and into the sewage system, so the sea sponge really is a renewable and eco-friendly option.  I recently tried the Tampax Pearl tampons and I couldn’t believe the amount of packaging and waste produced, each tampon applicator is made of plastic that goes into landfill because I couldn’t bring myself to put it in our plastic recycling pile.

The box arrived and had two sea sponges inside, there was minimal instructions, it just said to wash or sterilise before use but little else.  To be honest, the packaging and instructions are pretty odd.  There is no mention of menstruation, periods, blood or anything about my vag-j-j.

“Intimate sponges” they call them, “smooth and delicate”, “natural, absorbent and easy to clean, for internal or external use”.

I had to go to check the site to make sure I had the right product!  This kind of annoyed me, if I am using an alternative menstrual product, let’s be proud of it and shout it from the rooftops! SPONGEBOB IS GOING TO BE MY TAMPON!!!!!!! (Well, he does live in Bikini Bottom)

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And so to the website directions.

“When washing and soaking your sponge, be sure to use natural soap that is chemical free; this will make sure that your sea sponges stay clean and are always safe to use. Using soaps that have fragrances and chemicals can cause you irritation when in use.

Soak your sea sponge on a cup of warm water between 5 – 10 minutes with either of the recommended:

  • 1 tbsp of vinegar
  • 2 – 3 drops of tea tree oil

After the soak, rinse thoroughly and squish out any water that is left inside.

Please do not:

  • Boil the sea sponges – this can toughen and shrink them
  • Soak your sea sponge any longer than the advised time – excessive soaking can make the sponge deteriorate
  • Avoid using any harsh chemicals or soaps! This will be bad for your body and your sponge”

So after soaking and washing out, I used the sea sponge for the first time, once washed it becomes very, very soft and pliable and so I dried it out by squeezing it, rolled it into a cigar shape and pushed it in.  I was a bit concerned it would feel dry and horrible going in, but really it was quite smooth and easy.

Once in, I couldn’t feel it AT ALL.  Nothing.

The sponges are quite big, but once rolled and squished, they mould to whatever shape you put them in and so it stays quite compact in the vagina.  The site says you can trim it down, but I didn’t need to as, like I said, you roll it and squish it small anyway.

sea sponge tampon

So my mermaid tampon was in and if I’m honest, I didn’t trust it.  I headed to bed with a towel to lay on incase of leaks and feeling pretty nervous.  But I had no leaks at all, it was brilliant!

Since I’ve had so much surgery in that area, I can no longer use a moon cup as I can feel it inside and it is quite uncomfortable and so I have been back to using tampons and towels, I mention both because I usually leak with a tampon only.  This makes periods a pretty crappy time for me, I have a very heavy flow and spend one week a month waddling round, buckles and braces, with a tampon and a big pad feeling like Carrie.

This also costs a lot of money.  I go through around 5-6 tampons a day with 5-6 pads too, equally around £6 or £7 a month.  Is it breaking the bank? No, but it does gall me to be spending money on something that  makes me feel crap.  So I decided to try the alternatives.

The Caribbean Silk Sponges are £9.95 + £3.95 delivery, they are said to last at least 3-6 months and you get two in a pack, therefore my annual menstrual costs would go from around £84 a year to just £13.90 saving me over £70 a year!

Anyway, there were no leaks on night one, and in fact, I haven’t had one leak for my whole period.  It was extremely comfortable, I genuinely couldn’t feel a thing, so much so that I forgot I had it in a couple of times, it went a good 8 hours overnight without me having to get up.

This could be a coincidence, but my usually terrible period pains were almost non-existent this month.  Could it be that my body wasn’t having to react to having big wads of cotton inside me? Who knows?

Back to actual usage, so it was easy to insert, super comfortable to wear and then it comes to removal.  I had read a review that said it could be really tricky, some people use a piece of dental floss tied around it to remove but that it could tear the sponge in half.  There is no getting around this, you have to be comfortable with your body and your blood to use the sea sponge.

I found it really quick and easy to remove, it is a little weird as the wet sponge does feel like flesh inside so it takes a second to figure out which bit is which, but once I caught feel of it, I bared down slightly and just pulled it out.  Very simple and clean, yes you get your fingers slightly bloody, but barely worse than grabbing a bloody tampon string or disposing of a pad filled with blood and certainly no different to removing a moon cup.

I think it is the next bit that will get people.  You have to squeeze out and rinse the sponge under the tap before reinserting it.  Yes, you do get some blood on your hand but it is under running water and so it isn’t anywhere near as bad as you would think.  Also because it is fresh blood, it has very little smell, I would say it is unnoticeable, unlike a sanitary towel where the blood is old and has been sat in the pad, the sea sponge felt very clean.

mermaid leggings sea sponge tampons

You wouldn’t be able to change it like this in a normal public toilet, a sink and running water is absolutely necessary, but you do get two and they come in a little sealed baggie, so you could take one out, put it in the sealed bag and then use the other and deal with it at home.  I work from home and so this hasn’t been an issue.  I also find they don’t need changing often and so you could go a good few hours without needing to change.

People find reusable menstrual products a bit gross, they say that they don’t want to have to be touching they blood, but I just find this argument so weird!  Sanitary towels sit in your pants filled with your blood, you then have to take them out, wrap them up and put them in a bin.  Tampons need removing and inserting.  You have to wash your vagina during your periods, so reusable products aren’t any more faff than the usual two, we have just been taught that tampons and pads are the norm.

If more options were taught in schools to our children, then future generations would know they had a choice in their menstruation.  My friend Chella Quint runs a project called Period Positive, I strongly recommend you go take a look at her site and learn more about the way we teach society that periods are dirty, embarrassing and a taboo subject.

My verdict? I have to say, I am really surprised! I thought I would give it a go and perhaps it could be a back up plan for if I really can’t get on with my moon cup or when I just can’t bare the tampons and pads any more.  But it has been a really eye opener! No leaks, no discomfort, no waste (they are biodegradable and can be put in the compost at the end of their life), sea sponge tampons are a real and genuine option for women who want a choice when it comes to the products they use during shark week.

If your current menstrual products aren’t working for you, then give it a go, you might just be surprised by the results.

Now, whoooooooooooo lives in a pineapple under the sea?!!!

To buy your own sea sponges, head over to Stress No More.  I haven’t been paid for this review but I was sent the products free of charge, I don’t earn anything from affiliate links here either, I just genuinely liked the mermaid tampons (fingers crossed someone rebrands these with the name and a mermaid splashing up on the rocks with a red sea behind her…)

 

Sam x

 

Periods and IBD

I’m going to warn anyone who cringes and faints at the mention of “wimmins problems” to step away right now as this post probably isn’t for you…

Still here? Good. Let’s talk menstruation!

Now since my surgery to create a j pouch, things are, well, different down below.  I suppose it is to be expected, the new pouch is right up alongside my uterus and vagina and I was warned before the surgery that there could be changes in my vagina especially during the old sexy time.  But what I wasn’t expecting was the change in menstruation.  My periods are now particularly heavy and really painful, they are lessening in severity as the months pass but at first it was crippling, bent over, gripping the stomach, water bottle pain.  I am also finding that during my period, my pouch plays up.  I get a lot more diarrhoea and find myself going to the toilet a LOT.

periods and j pouches poo ibd menstruation

Annoyingly there is little information I can find about j pouches and menstruation, google brings up lots of personal accounts on blogs but little from the NHS or any other official websites.  It’s an odd thing really, you expect in this day and age that you can find out anything and everything online.  It got me thinking about how taboo menstruation is even in this day and age!

I have a friend called Chella Quint who is a menstruation education researcher and blogs, talks and writes about menstruation in her project #periodpositive  Her work shows just how little we like to talk about periods in general, about the historical use of shame and fear in advertising for sanitary products and how taboo a subject it is.

Chella also created the marvellously brilliant STAINS™, a spoof brand that explores blood stigma in menstruation product advertising. You can see the STAINS™ exhibition in the Bloodworks exhibition at Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin launching on 23 October. The STAINS™ section opens with a fashion show and mockumentary film, and the entire exhibition runs until the 25 January 2015.

“STAINS™ is a removable stain you can wear on your clothing as you see fit; it’s a fashion statement that really says something. We like to call it Leak chic. Be part of this fashion moment by downloading or purchasing your own STAINS™ stain from www.stainstm.com and wearing it with pride. Display your photos using the #periodpositive hashtag and following @periodpositive

stains chella quint

 

 

But it seems when it comes to periods AND poo, it’s just a step too far…

After scouring the web, here is some information on IBD and periods.  As with everything on this site, it is my opinion and information gleaned from the Internet so please do see your own doctors if you are having issues.

“Many women with active IBD have irregular periods. When the disease goes into remission, regular periods sometimes return. No one knows for sure why. But inflammation does affect the hormones that cause periods. Nutritional problems may also interfere with the monthly cycle of women with IBD.

Some women with IBD tend to feel worse right before and during their menstrual periods than at other times. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, exhaustion and other symptoms are often more severe during these times.”

periods ibd jpouch ulcerative colitis menstruation

“The interaction between GI function and menstrual function is complex, and not completely understood. Prostaglandins are an important part of the inflammatory process in active IBD, and are associated with diarrhea and abdominal pain. Prostaglandins are also released by the body during menstruation, causing contraction of uterine muscle and resulting in the cramping pain of periods. By this mechanism, symptoms attributed to menstruation and IBD may overlap.”

And I’m afraid that’s your lot.  Not much is it; this was the best information I could find regarding menstruation and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Anything specifically to do with a j pouch was even more rare!  I am really surprised at the lack of information on periods and jpouches, especially as it seems it is a big problem for a lot of women.  On many of the IBD blogs out there, women are discussing menstrual and sexual problems.  Some of the symptoms talked about are:

Increased diarrhoea

Pelvic pain

Bum pain

Heavy Bleeding

A heaviness in the vagina and pouch

Cramping

Exhaustion

Sickness/Nausea

Some coping methods found around the web are:

Painkillers (a struggle really as ibuprofen is a no no for IBD-ers and codeine can make you constipated)

Heat pads

Bed rest

Mirena coil

Contraceptive pill

Exercise

I am shocked at the lack of easily available information on menstruation and also sexual problems associated with IBD surgeries.  I have found pages and pages of advice and care for men facing impotency issues following surgeries but anything to do with the vagina is shied away from and labeled as ‘intimacy issues’.  For we are but delicate flowers who can’t deal with talking about our own sexuality, no?

I’m not one to talk about my personal sex life on this blog, and the reason for this is that I have three kids who I know peek in from time to time.  I have an open and honest relationship with my children and we talk about sex and all the issues surrounding sex regularly.  But no one needs to read about their mother’s vagina do they!  What I will say is that I am dealing with problems post surgery and I want advice, information and resources to deal with it, yet turning to Dr Google is pretty useless! Where is all the gynae information?!

What we need is to have a more open dialogue regarding any bodily function that goes on within the underpant area.  I find it hilarious (read appalling) that we still have Page Three girls in a daily newspaper yet we can’t discuss the uterus without men gagging.  For the record, this idea that all men find periods gross is silly, yes, there are men whose ears are offended by the M word but to them I scream MENNNNSSSSTRRRRUUUUUAALLLLLL BLLLLLOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDD…  Most men in long term relationships have overcome the pubescent thoughts that it’s gross ‘girl stuff’ and recognise that it is a healthy part of the woman in their lives body.

So apologies if you found this page hoping for some answers, I’m afraid I can’t give those.  But I hope I have given you hope that you aren’t alone in dealing with this and I hope you will go speak to your doctor and get some answers of your own.  Finally I hope I have inspired you to start talking about traditionally personal and intimate issues that most women have at some point in their lives.  Please do take a good look through Chella’s work and share, it is damn fine stuff and helpful to us all.

If you have any experience, advice or links to information, it would be great if you could share them in the comments below.

Muchos Gracias!

Love Sam x

Adventures in Menstruating image courtesy of Chella Quint