It’s easy to take tampons for granted. We mock the old “Whoah” Bodyform ad, moan about the mysterious blue liquid used instead of blood red in ads and rail against tampon tax and the misuse of funds raised from it. We have plenty of brands to choose from for our various flows and insertion preferences, while Sanitary Owl, Pink Parcel and HelloFlo are among the subscription services delivering them to our doors every month. Yet, many women have no idea tampons even exist, as a BBC journalist has reminded us.
Claire Read was recently stopped in Egypt’s Cairo Airport by a female security guard for having a tampon in her pocket. "What's that … how do you use it?" asked the woman, who had no idea of this most basic sanitary hygiene option available to her.
Given that tampons have been around in their modern form since the 1930s, it’s quite stunning to realise that an adult woman working in a buzzing capital city has been successfully shielded from a product so many consider indispensable. It was such an alien concept to her that she put all of Read’s through the airport scanner by themselves.
Why? Read explains in her BBC News article that in Egypt, menstruation is known as “ma'ib”, which roughly translates to "shameful". Tampons are not offered as an option to girls and women because of the chance they will “break” the hymen of those who have not had sex – a problem for those who believe the myth that penetration determines virginity, in a country where it is highly prized.
Read recounted the experience of a friend who was asked by a pharmacist whether she was married before being shown tampons and said that a newspaper recently featured three mothers fearfully discussing the dangers of tampons.
When Read’s tampons cleared security, the worker asked if she could buy them in Egypt and gladly kept the instruction manual the journalist offered her.
“I wish I had given her some of the tampons,” she writes. “But I'm minded now always to keep a tampon in my pocket at airport security to bring more women into the fold.”