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August 10, 2006



One young woman wrote in her journal this week: "It was a very interesting discussion. I didn't know we had a clitoris, or knew it was a word. I think it's a good thing to talk about." (Emphasis mine.) She's not the first to write something like that. Remember, these are college students, but they come from many different backgrounds and many parts of the world.

I'm going to go a bit off-topic and offer a teaching aid if you'd like to use it, Hugo.

There's an all-volunteer organization called SFSI (San Francisco Sex Information). It's completely confidential and anonymous. You can either call during business hours (posted on the website) or email any sex-related question that you have, and someone will answer it. Now, when you don't know where to start, as in never even hearing of the word "clitoris," the service might not be applicable. But for your students who may have heard of something that they don't understand, or want more information about topic x, y, or z, it's not a bad resource.


That's an excellent resource, and I'll pass it on. Thanks!


Hugo, don't ban me for this, but I want to know why you always use the word "gals" for women. Have you blogged about it before? You used it once when I came to see you in office hours, and you use it all the time in your posts I notice. It doesn't seem consistent with your feminism at all. "Gals" to me sounds like "chicks", which is totally not feminist.

When I was in this class, by the way, I was so shocked by the stories of my classmates. I've used tampons since I "started" (age 12), as did most of my (white) friends growing up in Sierra Madre. It really is eye opening, and I am glad you spent so muich time on this taboo topic.


I've dropped the "gals" more recently, Brianna. It's something I grew up with; my intent is to use it the same way folks use "guys". I've been called on it (Ginmar was quite forceful about it last year), and my more recent posts haven't contained it as often, though I may have slipped. I'll work on being better in office hours too! Mea culpa...


Hi there. I just had to respond to this post because this was something I talked about at length with my mother during my adolescence. I am first generation Korean-American, and my mother has told me stories of her youth that included no reproductive health education, whatsoever. She told me that menarche for her was in her early 20s; I can still hardly believe that, and she claims that she did not begin menstruating as a RESULT of this lack of education (I cannot see how those are correlated). She vehemently opposed my using tampons at such an early age, but I was a competitive swimmer. Since then, my choice for menstrual cycle protection has confused her even more. I fell in love with The Keeper years ago, and I have no desire to use anything else, especially since I am an avid cyclist and international and independent traveller.

By the way, I found your weblog through a former friend of mine, and I have always enjoyed reading it. Some people consider me as a non-traditional feminist, but I always enjoy discussing feminism, especially when tied to science and medicine.


Thanks for the feedback, Artemis; I've heard many enthusiastic reviews of the Keeper.

Sorry that the friend who showed you my blog is now "former"!


My mom always (rather derisively) equated putting on a tampon with masturbation. It wasn't just the knowledge one would have to have in order to use the tampon, it was the actual act of wearing one. I still can't get myself to seriously try wearing tampons even though I'm very familiar with my body.


I recognise that the point of your post is not really about whether or not to wear tampons; I just wanted to make the small remark that choosing to wear tampons or not is not quite in the same category as choosing to masturbate or not. There are non-personal reasons why young girls especially might not want to wear them, chief among these that (recalling personal experience and that of other friends) even mini sizes can be very uncomfortable for younger girls who hadn't yet had penetrative sex; if they don't know this then it could be a further source of anxiety to them abour their bodies (why is it hurting? what's wrong with me?) There is also the small chance of toxic shock which is not there with the pads.
Which of course is to say that I'm entirely with you about the necessity of making more information available to young women about their bodies.

Good luck with the book!


Anna, outside of one bad outbreak a quarter century ago, there's no longer any serious risk of TSS from tampon use. I have no problem with those who find tampons personally uncomfortable (though some young girls may not be trying to use them correctly); I have a problem with a culture that refuses to accept "penetrative" methods of coping with menstrual flow. With tampons, you can still be on the swim team, for example -- there's no question that a "pads only" lifestyle is generally going to be more inhibiting to a young female athlete (see the comment from Artemis above.)

Q Grrl

Just to goad you a little, in a very playful way: I have problems with a society that insists on mainly penetrative methods of "controlling" menstrual flow. I'm intrigued by the centuries long taboo on mestrual blood -- the utter social absence of something that surrounds us, literally, every day. I'm not sure I have any political insight, but I'm curious about the anthropological (?) aspects of this.

I personally cannot use tampons anymore. I don't know why: they cause severe, debilitating cramping and are almost impossible to insert. I've had TSS (in 1985) and I don't like the idea that most commercial tampons contain dioxin (from the bleaching process). There are other insertable options for women, like the Keeper, etc. - but there are also other means of discreetly and hygienically maintaining your flow. Unfortunately, the more arcane methods are not taught from mother to daughter anymore. I don't want to go into details, mostly because I'm still eating lunch. I just think it's interesting to see what "body knowledge" gets lost with the advance of technology, etc.


Well, the taboo isn't the same cross-culturally; some Native American tribes viewed it with awe and religious implications.

I have no problem with expanding inter-generational conversation among women! I'm not shilling for Proctor and Gamble, either.


I found it interesting that the non-applicator tampons are far less widely available in the US than the UK. In fact, there is only one brand over here that I'm aware of, while every supermarket has its own brand in the UK.

I'm not sure why they are not so popular- could be something to do with encouraging girls and women to keep their hands away from the area, or with the taboo on menstrual blood.

There are plenty of good reasons for not buying a tampon which comes with its own plastic (or occasionally cardboard) waste.

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