In December 2018, Kotex recalled their U By Kotex tampons after reports were released of them unraveling inside people’s bodies, leaving pieces behind after the tampons were removed. Scary stuff, I know. Not only were they unraveling inside, but they were also linked to vaginal and bladder infections, yeast infections, discomfort, irritation, and more.
I became furious after seeing this news article floating around my timeline. I called my mom and I called my partner. I was in complete disbelief. How could something like this happen and go on for so long? The products affected dated back to October 2016. As angry as I was, I finally had the answer to an ongoing question about my own health and body.
All of last year, I struggled with a recurring urinary tract infection. I did everything right — I drank 80 ounces of water per day, ate my greens, peed after sex just like my doctors suggested, and yes, I even made sure I wiped correctly. Still, I found myself in urgent care and on antibiotics all too frequently. I went to different doctors and none of them could tell me exactly why I kept getting painful UTIs, they would just continue to prescribe me antibiotics. My most recent visit to an urgent care center really freaked me out. My doctor gave me a heavy dose of antibiotics, the cycle was longer than before, and the side effects were frightening. They consisted of numbness in limbs, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts. Frustrated, I cried because no one could understand the pain I was in. Nothing I did could guarantee that I wouldn’t get a UTI again.
When I read that Kotex — the same tampon brand I was using — had a recall, I immediately recognized what the problem was. In all of my visits to Urgent Care, not once was I asked: “What type of menstrual products do you use?” Why don’t our healthcare providers question what products we’re using? There is little to no regulation on intimate care products like tampons and pads. Meanwhile, your average product includes traces of chlorine, pesticides, and other chemicals. Prior to this experience I never put much thought about what products I was using while menstruating. Do you remember ever talking with your mom, primas, or homegirls about what products they were using? Yeah, me neither. Culturally, we don’t talk about our period like that.
A few weeks ago, I shared on Instagram that I switched over to organic intimate care products after the Kotex recall. What happened next was unexpected. Multiple women messaged me with very similar stories. They all had UTIs, were all using the same type of tampons, and none of their doctors linked their infections to their intimate care products. Not only did they have UTIs, but their friends did too and entre ellas, they never discussed the types of products they were using. Making that connection that the tampons were most likely triggering their symptoms was important for them.
Even putting my own health history out into the interwebs felt like too much, and I was hesitant to share something so personal publicly on my Instagram story. But the result wound up being more important than the reasons holding me back and I’m so glad I decided to share my story. It’s clear that corporations and the government don’t care about our bodies. From trying to control our bodily autonomy, to exposing us to toxins, to the fact that vaginal douches even exist (folks, don’t use those), we live in a culture where talking about our periods and intimate care products is still taboo. Now more than ever before I see a shift of women-owned brands creating their own intimate care products and I see more folks talking about their health in loud and public ways. We have to take control of our health and bodies in any way we can and talking about these intimate details within our communities, with our families, and our homegirls is one way to track what we’re all collectively going through. Sin pena. Sin miedo. We’re disrupting the silence we’ve been relegated to.