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Call Your Congressman About the Proposed Tampon Safety and Research Act! Here's How and Why.

Does the Instead Menstrual Cup Live?

Two sources told me last week that a company called Akces bought the Instead menstrual cup (one source said for US$5 million) from the bankrupt Ultrafem corporation. I tried to find the company on the Internet but only ran into a media company, some other seemingly non-related sites and many non-English language sites; I assume for some reason that Instead is in the hands of an American company, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I misspelled the company's name, and maybe the company is not on the Web.

Incidentally, I clicked on and found a page with no clicks to other pages, three pictures and no words - oh, except for There is no access to anything, and the picture is of a desert and a road, perhaps leading nowhere. If this is the new parent company of Instead, it looks like a continuing dark future for the cup. [That site DOES appear functional on 28 July, but seems to have no connection to Instead.]

Even though I feel the advertising for the Instead cup was less than honest - it is not the most important development in menstrual hygiene in 60 years (I think the adhesive pad is, and cups were in use long before Instead) and the cup is often a mess to remove - several women have told me they like it, and I am all for choice.

Apparently some women use it for special occasions, such as sexual activity and for long stretches (up to 12 hours) when they simply don't want to fuss about menstruation.

But I believe the number of women who want to use it is so small that the company selling it cannot spend tens of millions of dollars advertising it, as Ultrafem did; the Tassaway cup did the same thing, and both companies spent themselves into bankruptcy. The Keeper operation, which is very small, seems to do the right thing.

The Museum Closes Until 7 November, But This Site Stays Open

After spending almost every weekend for four years guiding visitors through the Museum of Menstruation in my basement, I've decided to take a three-month rest, repair and expand exhibits, and look for a completely public place for your MUM.

As a friend said recently, it's a gain for you and me: you wouldn't have to worry about visiting the house of an old bachelor if I relocated it, and I could start a social life and goof off a bit.

About 1400 people, aged from four months to the seventies, and 95 percent women, have seen the actual museum. They've had to call me, negotiate a time on a weekend to visit, follow a maze of streets to get here, and finally work up the courage to enter; a few couldn't complete that last step, and I can't say I blame them!

The museum started on the last day of July 1994, when a reporter from the Washington Post, a writer from Seventeen magazine and her three girlfriends, two friends of mine and a man from the federal agency I work for got the first tour of your MUM. Someone from Mademoiselle magazine had told the Post reporter about this museum that very day, a Sunday, and she called to see if she could attend the ceremony.

Big ceremony! I think I had cheese, crackers and wine. But it was big to me.

It won't be easy to let your MUM out of my house. My visitors have been the smartest and nicest in the world, and I have learned more from them than they have from me, including that it's entirely possible to publicly discuss a subject embarrassing to most people. But at least in the future they would be spared the sight of the rest of my house on the way to the bathroom.

And it won't be easy to find space somewhere in an urban area, possibly with another organization on a fiscal-sponsorship basis. We'll see.

Anyone who has already arranged a time to see the MUM is still welcome at that time. I ask other interested folks to wait until November.

In the meantime, I will continue to expand this Web site weekly. Please stop by!

At Least the French Once Liked the Odor of Menstruation

Rachel Sobel, an undergraduate at Harvard now doing some research at MUM about the tampon industry for her senior thesis, mentioned that menstrual odor was once considered seductive in the odor-rich 18th century. (By the way, Ms. Sobel has an article about cloning in the science section of the 3 August edition of U.S. News and World Report, "Copying a multitude of mice," and also one entitled "Irradiation kills E. coli, not taste.")

Ads embarrass Americans into being odor free by pushing underarm-odor killers, menstrual pads with baking soda, tampons with deodorants, etc. But after reading Alain Corbin's The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986) Sobel wrote that

in 18th century France, menses was considered to be "impregnated with subtle vapors transmitted by the essence of life." These were particularly seducing, as a woman was "dispersing seductive effluvia" and "making an appeal for fertilization." Thus, societies have celebrated the seductive aroma of menstruation, rather than stifled [it].

This won't happen soon in the U.S.A., which is basically terrified of such things. Read more about odor.

Friendly Advice: Don't Wash The Keeper in the Toilet Bowl!

A nurse sent this letter, responding to some suggestions in the letter right below, about The Keeper (menstrual cup; see more comments):

Dear Mr. Finley,

To the woman with the suggestions on how to properly use The Keeper - much appreciated! I have had some problems with mine and will take her advice.

However, she needs to know that she absolutely should never rinse her Keeper out in the toilet bowl (and reinsert it, no less - talk about grot)! As a nurse, I can tell you that ANY toilet bowl, no matter how "clean" looking, is full of heinous bacteria - I can't believe she would put that back into her privates. Instead, (no pun intended), she could take to the toilet either a glass of clean water or a small collapsible water bottle that can fit in a purse - you can get them at camping stores. Please tell her to stop before she starts growing something frightening in her vagina!

Thank you. Keep up the great Web site.

A visitor from the Washington, D.C., area discusses using The Keeper menstrual cup, which she likes:

Dear Mr. Finley,

I've written to you before to congratulate you on the site. I want to add some comments about The Keeper.

I've been using it for about a year now and I am very pleased with it. I have VERY heavy periods and The Keeper is just about the only product on the market which has saved my sheets from eternal ruin.

A tip for first time users: try running warm or hot water over it to soften the rubber up so it isn't so stiff. I do this when I'm first putting it in when I get up in the morning and it's made it a lot easier.

Also I think they really do make that tab much too long for women with shorter vaginas. I basically just cut the whole thing off, leaving only just enough to give the cup a good tug to make the seal.

This may gross some of you out, but to get around the restroom problem, I empty the cup into the toilet bowl, flush out the dirty water twice and then rinse the cup from the bowl.

I tend to do this only at work though. If you read your Keeper literature carefully, you will also note that they suggest that you wet a few paper towels to wipe it off with inside the stall after you've emptied it.

This works well too, but bring more than one, use the first to wipe and get up most of the flow, then use the second to finish cleaning it up before you pop it back in.

In response to the suction question: If you're getting very heavy suction, you've probably put it in too far. The Keeper sits LOW in the body and your muscles should be keeping it in place, not so much the suction.

I do have some concerns about blood-borne diseases which were raised by another respondent. [That respondent never fulfilled my request to supply articles discussing problems of cups.] I assume that these are only a problem if you are not emptying your cup often enough and not washing your hands and the cup properly before insertion. Just like with a tampon you HAVE to wash your hands thoroughly if you're going to be sticking your fingers up inside - that just seems like common sense to me. [Apparently there is a potential hazard in the rubber because of its porosity, affording areas for bacteria to grow.]

Anyway, keep up the good work and keep us posted on any developments about The Keeper and disease.

More Letters to Your MUM

An e-mailer reports about the menstrual-hygiene company menarche booklets:

The old Growing Up and Liking It books were still in use in schools as late as 1991, when I was in fifth grade and got the lecture from Mrs. Porter, the nurse. I went to a Catholic school, as did several cousins, and all of us (from four schools in three different towns) got the same booklet, with the 1978 edition cover (last cover on that page). The public school girls got a newer edition called Andrea's Story; it had a more modern cover and different names for the characters, but other than that was word for word the same booklet. [See more covers of the booklets.]

My school also distributed the old belt-style pads into the early nineties. [What an awful introduction to menstruation. Self-adhesive pads became available in the early 1970s.] They were kept in a drawer in the bathroom janitors closet. I guess at one time they had bought quite a supply for the machines and were trying to use them up.

Here's mail about the relationship of religion to menstruation discussed last week (second item down)(see also a list of books about this subject):

I was interested to see how closely the Hindu and Zoroastrian menstrual taboos were like the Jewish ones. I have been meaning to say that I thought your site you could use some links to Jewish ritual purity laws and menstruation. [Please send some, readers!]

Even though men with sores, etc., are also considered unclean, it is clearly an abnormal condition that makes them ritually impure, unlike women, where a "normal" condition makes them impure. [See Leviticus, chapter 15, in the Christian Bible.]

I believe that in Orthodox Judaism an emission of semen makes one impure for 24 hours also, so maybe that's a little more fair.

On the other hand, if I had eight kids and were living in a crowded house in Bombay, being sent to a room by myself and not having to cook might not be so bad!

(I'm not Jewish.)

And more on the Keeper and Instead menstrual cups:

I didn't realize The Keeper/Instead debate was on a Web site. [See more comments.] One of my regular net groups had a debate and a bunch of women tried and liked Instead, but couldn't afford the initial fee of The Keeper [about $35, but it's good for 10 years, according to the company]. They haven't reported problems getting Insteads in Seattle and Indianapolis. Is it still bankrupt? [Yes, but see the article above.]

Anyway, one of the more recent comments was regarding the non-sterility of the cups. So, would a dish washing be hot enough to sterilize the cup without damaging it? (And yes, I'd wash the cup the way I usually do before putting it in with the dishes). [I'm no scientist, but I would say "yes."] Are non-industrial dishwashers usually hot enough? Would it have to be the only thing in the dishwasher at the time (which is more wasteful than it's worth)? [I would say "yes" and "no" to each question, respectively.]

I've had my cup since 1993, and I've wondered if running it under water as hot as I can stand for several minutes is totally ineffective. [I don't think it's totally ineffective. I would say it very much reduces the potential problems.] I still prefer it over toxic shock and contaminated landfill waste.

Also, thanks for the photos; the product sites didn't have them for a while. I didn't know what the Instead actually looked like. My Instead-using friends and I have never been able to compare our cups. If we had them with us, it was when they were in use.

At the bottom of her message is the following interesting quote:

Don't trust any belief system in which humor doesn't figure prominently. - Rob Brezny

A potential visitor sent this e-mail:

Okay, I can't resist sending this joke from grade-school days:

Q: How do you know when your pet elephant is on her period?

A: Your mattress is missing!

Great site, I've been there twice today. You are SO BRAVE (my husband is afraid he will turn into a woman if he gets within 10 miles of the place). [People in my office suspect that I am turning into a woman: I've started a museum of menstruation, I have collected three stray cats (only two remain, unfortunately) and I've developed a constant baby talk around the house because of the cats.] And I understand that you even did an interview (bottom of page) with Howard Stern!!! I think you deserve a medal for that one! [I hope it's in the mail!]

I love your sense of humor and your cats (bottom of page).

I'm going to make arrangements for a visit (even if I have to come alone). I can't imagine that a serial killer would display his chamber of horrors on a Web site; however, I'll make sure that plenty of people know my whereabouts! (Just kidding.) [At least one reporter who visited the museum has said she made sure the editor knew she was here, and when.]

Do You Have Irregular Menses?

If so, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome.

Jane Newman, Clinical Research Coordinator at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University School of Medicine, asked me to tell you that

Irregular menses identify women at high risk for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which exists in 6-10% of women of reproductive age. PCOS is a major cause of infertility and is linked to diabetes.

Learn more about current research on PCOS at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University - or contact Jane Newman..

If you have fewer than six periods a year, you may be eligible to participate in the study!

See more medical and scientific information about menstruation.

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New this week: Menstrual humor - DIRECTORY OF ALL TOPICS

Take a short tour of MUM! (and on Web video!) - FAQ - Future of this museum - Tampon Safety Act - Visit or contact the actual museum - Board of Directors - Norwegian menstruation exhibit - The media and the MUM - Menstrual odor - Prof. Mack C. Padd: Fat Cat - The science and medicine of menstruation - Early tampons - Books about menstruation - Menstrual cups: history, comments - A Note from Germany/Neues aus Deutschland und Europa - Letters - Links

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