As Memorial Day approaches, as well as summer vacation, barbecues, and thoughts of swimsuits and tan lines, it’s very apparent that the days of covering up the female physique are long gone. Beyond what we wear, the ways that females approach our bodies, particularly reproductive health, have expanded tremendously over the past few years. A combination of modern medical research and traditional approaches has resulted in some new, alternative—and often controversial—practices for common fem-ailments.
Chances are you use apps like Uber, Instagram and Venmo on a fairly regular basis. Women have also started using apps to aid with an alternative form of birth control known as Natural Family Planning, or NFP. Apps can be used to not only track monthly menstrual cycles, but also to predict ovulation and a woman’s fertility window, which occurs a few days before and during ovulation. As much as many of us were taught to fear that getting pregnant was as easy as getting the common cold, those trying to conceive are often surprised to find that it’s only possible during a few days (approximately five or six) each month. Apps like OvuView, Ovia Fertility, and Glow (which track fertility treatments, too) have gained popularity, as some women have opted to stay away from traditional methods of birth control in favor of hormone-free, non-invasive, natural options that have more scientific backing than “pull-and-pray.”
Although cycle tracking apps can be useful for women with predictable cycles, they may be tricky for women with irregular periods. However, there’s good news here, too: Women with irregular periods can chat with their doctor about using an ovulation urine test, or ovulation cycle tracking, which uses a simple blood and ultrasound test to determine the best time for baby-making (or alternately, cold showers).
Among menstruating women, several options have become popular instead of traditional panty liners, pads and tampons. Previous studies linking Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) with tampon use caused many women to raise an eyebrow, yet for those with active lifestyles, wearing pads isn’t realistic or comfortable. More recent concerns around cancer-causing bleach, dyes, perfumes, and other chemicals used in most sanitary products (which can essentially be absorbed into the bloodstream) have highlighted the need for products that are both safe and effective. Both menstrual cups and period panties have emerged as possible solutions. They are also cheaper and more environmentally sustainable because they don’t have to be purchased and disposed of on a monthly basis.
Menstrual cups, which are made of medical-grade silicone or latex rubber and are available from mainstream sellers like Amazon, have started gaining traction. The cup is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood, then removed and literally poured into the toilet, before the cup is cleaned and reinserted. It may sound intense, but it’s not much different than the purpose of traditional pads and tampons. On the plus side, if inserted correctly (which takes a bit of practice), you shouldn’t feel a menstrual cup (just like a diaphragm or birth control ring), and the cup should stay put during activity. There are possible limitations for some (for instance, those with latex allergies will need to make sure they go with silicone option), but a discussion with a doctor should give a green flag to the vast majority of women interested in testing out the cup.
And what about those bizarre, “all-in-one” period panties you keep seeing ads for on Facebook? Part “eww” and part magical unicorn, period panties—from brands like THINX, PantyProp, Dear Kate (including “Go Commando” yoga capris)—have garnered whispers, as well as many blog posts. The panties, which use layers of fabric to absorb menstrual blood, claim to absorb without leaks, stains, smells or feeling like diapers. Many brands are machine washable, like the cloth diapers a lot of us wore as babies (and we turned out okay, right?). Generally speaking, the reviews have been positive. Most women love period panties, preferring certain brands or fits based on individual needs, while some women use them more as a backup option. Considering trying out a pair will only set you back the cost of a few boxes of pads or tampons, so they are worth experimenting with.
Turning to more natural ways of supporting women’s reproductive health doesn’t stop with twenty-somethings. Studies have shown that more menopausal women are seeking alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy. While there is much debate as to the efficacy of many alternative treatments, as well as how to appropriately control quality and dosage with such products, there are natural options with great promise. A recent study from the Center for Complementary Medicine focused on the use of pomegranate seed oil for menopausal women. Traditionally, pomegranate oil was used in the folk medicine of Mediterranean countries, as well as Ayurvedic medicine to treat various disorders. The results of the study demonstrated significant improvements in all of the menopausal symptom categories “remarkably including the difficult-to-treat urogenital symptoms [like vaginal dryness].”
Perhaps these newer practices allow women to become more in tune with their own bodies, changing a traditionally crude and secretive view of women’s bodily functions into a less taboo understanding of biology. As society becomes more focused on ingredients in our food, chemicals in our home environments, and holistic approaches to wellness, it’s encouraging to see that products around women’s (natural) wellness are increasingly mainstream. You may not be personally ready to run a marathon “au natural” on your monthly, but it’s nice to know there are options beyond chemicals or silence to help your body and mind rock the female walk.
Chelsea Vincent has been teaching fitness for almost ten years. Prior to teaching, she had 15 years of formal dance training. Chelsea has a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University and is a certified power yoga instructor, spinning instructor, barre instructor, and weightlifting Instructor, as well as an ACE-certified personal trainer and wellness specialist.