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Contraception deception: The hidden dangers of birth control and tampons

Columnist Cassie Hepler examines the darker side of birth control and feminine hygiene products.
birth control, depo shot, tampons, pads
Birth control often comes with unwanted side effects. Credit: Getty Images

“The only thing that belongs up a woman’s vagina is a man’s penis,” said the family matriarch of feminism, my 96-year-old grandmother.

Modern ladies might argue this phrase until the cows come home, but considering she seems to be outliving all of her friends, she may be onto something.

A phone call to Procter & Gamble shed more light on the matter. P&G’s Always Infiniti uses an absorbent foam which is proprietary, while the Always Maxi has used cellulose since the 1920’s.

P&G’s Tampax is made of cotton, rayon, polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene (plastics), while the string is cotton or polyester braided. Some are plastic. 

Mind you, P&G and Kimberly Clark (makers of Kotex) did not share ingredients until 2015 after customer pressure -- and are still not listing those “proprietary” ingredients.

What exactly are you inserting in your vagina?

Many mainstream maxi pads are made with bleached cotton, plastic liners and ingredients like rayon (a synthetic made from sawdust and a byproduct of it is dioxin, which the EPA says is likely carcinogenic) that can irritate the delicate female reproductive system. Don’t believe me? Burn one. All that black smoke and thick residue indicate the pad may contain dioxins, synthetic fibers, and petrochemical additives.

Your skin is the largest and thinnest organ in your body. Less than one-tenth of an inch separates your body from potential toxins. And skin is highly permeable - especially the skin in and around the vagina. Because tampon and sanitary pads are considered “medical devices,” manufacturers aren’t required to disclose all ingredients.

Ten years ago, House Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation requiring research into the potential health risks of feminine hygiene product use, including cervical, ovarian and breast cancers and endometriosis. Unfortunately, the legislation failed to pass with no further research. The FDA says no expected health risks are associated with trace amounts of dioxins in tampons. So blindly trust the government? Pass. And it’s not just about pads and tampons, it goes deeper than that.

Contraception and its litany of risks

According to Planned Parenthood, birth control use is "nearly universal," with 99 percent of all sexually experienced women using it at some point. And although it's got its good points -- a Guttmacher study found that contraception allows 63 percent of women interviewed to take better care of themselves or their families -- it comes with a slew of warnings about negative health effects.

A high school friend, still in her 30’s, has to take bone building pills every day due to being on the birth control Depo-Provera, an injection women get once every three months which contains the hormone progestin. A listed side effect includes osteoporosis, while progestins in high doses can cause blood clots, heart attacks, strokes, problems of the liver, eyes and although rare, death. A family member was also on the Depo shot, and is now facing a hysterectomy after going through a medley of uterus problems, including that horrific transvaginal mesh lawsuit that was all over TV.

And it’s not just the Depo shot, it’s birth control pills too. Some women have to take it for health reasons such as fibroids, the most frequently seen tumors in or around the uterus. Several factors could influence their formation, such as hormones and family history.

A college friend tried going back on the pill after having children and began violently vomiting. Fortunately, she decided that was a red flag, so she stopped taking it. Combination pills have a medley of potentially deadly side effects including heart attack, stroke and blood clots, according to the medication warnings. It's not recommended to take hormonal contraceptives if there is a family history of liver or heart disease, uterine or breast cancer, uncontrolled blood pressure or migraines.

Since breast cancer runs in my family, I haven’t taken the pill since I was a teenager. I vividly remember taking it, feeling horrendous and having horrible, debilitating cramps and immediately stopped taking it. I’ve been on “team condoms” ever since -- the non-latex ones at that.

Isn’t it funny how men only have one form or birth control? One that causes no side effects except maybe a latex allergy. It’s almost as if women are guinea pigs. And my grandma was right all along.