After what feels like a lifetime of periods, it’s easy to convince yourself that you know all there is to know about periods and anything tangentially related to them, but there is still much more to learn. That brings us to the fascinating, extensive history of the tampon.
The fact that we are still dispelling tampon myths you should stop believing lets us know that we have miles to go before we’re walking menstruation encyclopedias. For instance, it’s natural to (wrongly) assume that the cylindrical sanitary products were strictly designated for periods, when in reality they were once utilized for non-menstrual purposes like plugging up bloody bullet wounds.
Given the fact that people are now using tampons as makeup blenders only adds to the wondrous background of one of our most popular feminine hygiene products.
Allow us to fill you in on some stuff you probably didn’t know about the history of the tampon.
1. Tampons were once used as contraceptives.
For the record, modern-day tampons cannot be used to prevent pregnancy, but our human predecessors tried their darnedest to make the cotton wads work as birth control. London’s Science Museum displayed a medicated tampon made of cotton wool that was used in the mid-1900s, but the practice of using tampons as contraceptives dates back to ancient Egypt. Preserved medical documents from that time also cite the use of an acacia berry, colocynth and honey mixture as a spermicide.
2. Tampons were not always a welcome commodity.
Nowadays, we eagerly try out new methods to absorb the ol’ flow, like switching over to menstrual cups or wearing period panties, but when tampons first hit the market, cultural and social norms of the day prevented women from fully embracing them. Women touching their bodies was viewed as sexual and inappropriate, and openly discussing issues like menstruation was considered taboo. So tampons weren’t exactly popular when they were first released.
3. Mailing tampons was once illegal in the U.S.
Congress passed the Comstock Laws in 1873, banning U.S. citizens from sending obscene materials through the mail, which included “pornography or contraception-related” items. Therefore, modern-day campaigns like sending tampons to your officials would’ve been considered a criminal act.
4. One early tampon prototype was a condom stuffed with synthetic cotton.
A Kimberly-Clark employee named John Williamson, who helped develop Kotex, used this DIY method to create a makeshift tampon, which was promptly shot down by his father, the first medical consultant for Kotex. Williamson reportedly said, “Never would I put any such strange article inside a woman!”
5. Nurses once made their own tampons.
During World War I, nurses fashioned their own tampons of absorbent bandages when they weren’t using them to stop soldiers from bleeding. They had to do whatever it took to take care of their patients. Talk about dedication (and imagination, for that matter).
6. The first tampon patent cost $32,000.
For a little more than twice the amount of money a woman spends on her period in a lifetime, Denver businesswoman Gertrude Tendrich purchased the tampon patent from tampon inventor Dr. Earl Haas in 1931. She later formed Tampax, the first tampon company, and they’re still going strong.
7. Early tampon brands had some really weird names.
You know how you can go to the feminine needs aisle and quickly scroll the shelves to find your preferred tampon brand? Well, back in the day, discretion was the name of the game when it came to tampon marketing. Brands had odd names like Fax, Wix, Moderne Woman, and Fibs because, again, open discussion about periods was frowned upon. Thank goodness we’ve changed, even though we still have a long way to go.
8. Tampons were once believed to cause sexual arousal.
Although this was a common belief of clueless non-tampon users in the 1940s and 1950s, nowhere in the history of the tampon have we heard of women deriving any sexual pleasure from insertion.
Someday, some inquisitive individual will wonder aloud about the history of menstrual cups and reusable pads and you’ll be able to drone on about it effortlessly, but be sure your retelling doesn’t dismiss the development of the tampon. It’s come a long way.