Menstruation Products – History

In the pre-industrial era woman used a variety of materials to collect menstrual fluids. Animal pelts, mosses, grasses, sea sponges and seaweed have all been used. Such materials continue to be used in recent times by many traditional societies, for example indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest of North America continued to use dried sphagnum moss until the advent of disposable products.

With the development of manufactured textiles beginning several thousand years ago, cloth became an option for menstrual use. Among the poorer members of society old rags were often used – this is the origin of the term “on the rag”. Once mass manufacturing of textiles and garments became possible as well as “more modern” laundering methods, manufactured cloth pads became available (mid 1800 to about 1940). Also popular were underwear with built in sanitary pads, which were not unlike adult sized diapers. Washable pads or rags remain in use today throughout the poorer countries of the world and in the western world by women with concerns about health and environmental issues related to disposable products.

Disposable products started to be made in the 1940s, starting first with belted pads as there were none of the non-gummy adhesives available that today are used to “keep pads in place”. The unbelted pad appeared in the late 1960s with the development of adhesives that that would not leave behind a gummy mess on underwear. The belted pad’s image of being “grandma’s pad” doomed it and it faded from the market in the early 1970s. Disposable products are usually made of wood fiber, although cotton fiber has been used for some products. The use of absorbent gels has become more common in the 1990s.

Materials for the internal collection of fluids (“the tampon”) are believed to have been used for several thousand years. There is evidence that ancient societies used tampon like fibers for contraception, and the same types of devices may have been used to collect menstrual fluid. As well sea sponges have been in use by coastal societies for thousands of years. The modern tampon was developed in the early 1900s, and of course remains in use today. Several different types of sponge devices have been used in the 1900s including manufactured sponges (in the mid 1900) and sea sponges.


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