“The Tampon that’s Right Even for Single Girls”

Advertising, Disposable menstrual products, FemCare, magazines

It’s Throwback Thursday on social media, and we’re joining in with this ad for Pursettes tampons that ran in Cosmpolitan (U.S.) magazine in 1966. Nearly 50 years on, little has changed in femcare marketing: Look at the familiar themes of medicalization of menstruation, secrecy, fearmongering, and the dreaded scourge of odor problems.

The idea that tampons can steal virginity isn’t quite as pervasive today, but one can still find it in tampon ads as recently as 1990 in teen magazines.

What’s missing from Mother Jones’ birth control calculator?

Birth Control, magazines, politics

Source: Public Domain

In response to Rick Santorum’s recent assertion that birth control only costs “a few dollars” and therefore there shouldn’t be such a big fuss about denying insurance coverage, Mother Jones published a birth control calculator this week that estimates your lifetime costs for birth control, based on your current age. The calculator asks you to enter your age and then select your preferred method. Options include the pill, IUDs, Implanon, injections, the patch, the vaginal ring, and surgical sterilization. (It doesn’t specify sterilization for women or for men, but given the context of the current debates, I’m assuming the calculator estimates only the cost of female sterilization.) It also fails to take into account that, in reality, most women use more than one method throughout their reproductive years.

Now, I know that aside from the cost of reference books, charting supplies, and perhaps a course or two to get started, using Fertility Awareness Methods is free, but condoms and spermicide aren’t. And as NPR reported on Tuesday, it can be difficult or inconvenient to get those methods covered by health insurance. Diaphragms and cervical caps aren’t cheap either, and they both require physician visits to be properly fitted. Diaphragms last a long time, but they do need to be replaced every few years. It’s been a while since I needed one, but I’m pretty sure that my health insurance covered the cost of my diaphragm, although I had to pay out-of-pocket for the accompanying spermicide gel. In my student days, I got both at my school’s Student Health Center, covered by the student health insurance fees that we were required to pay whether we used the student health center or remained on parental insurance.

I’ve written before about my bewilderment at the diaphragm’s disappearance, but I’m increasingly frustrated that the current political debates about the pill are contributing to the apparent erasure of all non-hormonal methods of birth control. The pill has become synonymous with birth control in some quarters, without consideration of the profound implications of that swap for women’s health.

I am not opposed to the pill, by the way. I want it to be available, I think it should be covered by health insurance, and I want it to be safe. But I also want women to have complete, accurate, accessible information about all of their birth control options. And let’s get all of them covered by health insurance.

Off the Pill, Off the Magazines

Birth Control, Health Care, magazines, Pharmaceutical

Guest Post by Holly Grigg-Spall

“Less stressed, thinner and more interested in sex.” – but not buying magazines.

In a recent issue of the UK’s Stylist magazine — a weekly women’s glossy that is available for free at tube stations and selected clothing stores — there was an article headlined ‘What does 10 Years On The Pill Do To You?‘ As a result of my on-going blog, Sweetening the Pill, which documents my experience of coming off the contraceptive pill, I was contacted by the writer to provide some quotes for this piece. Unfortunately, I was edited out. As a journalist myself, I understood this situation has little to do with the writer’s choice of content and more to do with the magazine editor’s final say on what was most fitting for the feature. Yet the title question is the very crux of my blog: having taken the Pill for 10 years, stopping as a result of discovering the answer to this very question.


Photo Credit: Anthony Easton // CC 2.0

According to the Stylist piece the answer is that the Pill changes your memory skills, lowers your libido, makes you attracted to the wrong kinds of men for you, changes weight distribution, prevents you building muscles, make you retain water, make you depressed and jealous…and how can you tell if this all is just you or the Pill? You can’t and you shouldn’t try to find out, is the message here. We are advised to not take a break from the Pill, not even for a week, and if you are concerned, just ask for a different brand from your doctor. There is no discussion of non-hormonal alternatives. There is also no discussion of the benefits of not taking the Pill, of allowing your body to ovulate once a month.


My answer to this question was: “The Pill has a whole body impact. Taking the Pill shuts down a woman’s hormone cycle — and the ovulation and menstruation that is an essential part of this cycle — and replaces it with a low stream of synthetic hormones. This has an affect on every organ in the body — the impact is wide-reaching and crudely administered. The peaks, troughs, and plateaus of a woman’s ‘natural’ cycle are wiped out. The monthly hormone cycle is integral to many of the body’s central functions, including the metabolic, immune, and endocrine systems. This changes everything — from your sense of smell to your libido to your ability to absorb vitamins from your food.


Many women have said to me that coming off the Pill was ‘life-changing’ and, as someone now two years off the Pill after ten years on, I have to agree with the description. The life-threatening potential effects of the Pill get publicity — the blood clots and strokes — but the quality of life-threatening and the emotional and mental effects are barely discussed. Fatigue, muscle loss, urinary tract infections, bleeding gums, stomach disorders, flu-like symptoms, hair loss — relatively minor physical issues caused by the Pill that together can make life very hard. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, rage, paranoia — all issues brought on by the Pill, due to a combination of switching off the hormone cycle and vitamin B deficiency. I experienced the whole package and when I wasn’t bordering on nervous breakdown I was flatlining, barely able to feel anything at all.”


The whole body impact, although alluded to in the Stylist piece, is not considered head-on. What does it mean to take such a powerful drug every day for years when you are not sick? And when there are as effective alternatives for pregnancy prevention? On a second, and third reading of the piece I cannot see mentioned an unequivocal benefit of taking the Pill other than pregnancy prevention until we reach the last refuge of the worried magazine editor — the box-out — in which ‘the benefits of taking the Pill’ are listed. These include pregnancy prevention (of course), protecting women from the already very rare ovarian cancer in a very minimal way, and cutting the risk of iron deficiency anemia. Then cited is that bizarre piece of research that surfaced last year which claimed women on the Pill are 12% less likely to die, of any cause. As though Pill-taking were a key to eternal life. To a studied reader, it’s a paltry gathering of research – even I, as anti-Pill as I am, could come up with a better list. And so why this pushiness in the feature itself when it comes to keeping women on the Pill?


Women’s magazines are happy to provide endless advice regarding all elements of women’s lives — from what we should eat to what we should wear to how we should have sex — but when it comes down to the Pill, which at least in the UK the majority of their readers will be on, they are uniformly nervous about passing judgment. We are bombarded with the supposed best and the only and the top ten ways to make every element of our lives better, happier, sexier and more fulfilling, but when it comes to the Pill any tentative dip into the potential negative effects is quickly qualified by a zealous idolatry. This despite the fact that most of the magazines’ preoccupation with improving their readers sex lives would suggest they would be very much against women being sexually dissatisfied and having low libido, as the research cited claims of those who take the Pill. If 50% of women, and so therefore their readers, do experience negative mood changes as a result of the Pill, as is also mentioned here, why not dedicate some time to what these might be and how to notice them? Even better, why not interview some real women about this? Considering the magazines are otherwise full of personal experiences of cancer, domestic abuse, drug addiction, and infidelity, this would seem a natural choice.


In the US this jumpiness could be put down to the proliferation of advertising for birth control Pills that pay for the features to be published. But in the UK, direct-to-consumer advertising for drugs is against the law. The one exception I noticed of a brand being discussed encouragingly in a British magazine was on the release of Yaz. It’s skin-clearing and weight loss promises were too much to ignore. In this piece two brands are mentioned and only to reference their relative cheapness in comparison to other Pills and as a consequence their promotion by NHS doctors in the UK. Although I have to say, when I was on the Pill the most expensive one out there was all the rage in doctor’s surgeries – Yaz – which suggests someone somewhere was benefiting monetarily from this.


Dr. Erika Schwatz is quoted as saying in response to the question of who a woman would be if she hadn’t taken the Pill for a decade, that “She’d probably be less stressed, thinner and more interested in sex.”


A woman who is less stressed, thinner and more interested in sex is, I would guess, less likely to buy a magazine. I buy magazines to make myself feel better, because in my feelings of deficiency I expect a magazine to hold the answers I need to be happier. When you’re stressed and depressed you buy more stuff – because you think that stuff will improve your life. That’s why we call it ‘retail therapy.’ The answer to many questions posed in magazines is to buy more stuff. I doubt this is a conscious understanding by magazine editors, although they do know they only exist because of product advertising. Yet the Pill is part of the agenda of women’s magazines whether they are aware of it or not.

Shed the Shame

Advertising, Disposable menstrual products, magazines, Media

Kotex still wants us to “break the cycle“. But every time I see these ads, I think of Chella Quint‘s message to Kotex: We’re only gonna stop feeling the shame when we take ownership of our periods. And we’re taking it back from you, dude. So you can’t reclaim our periods for us. You’re some of the people we’re reclaiming them from. Got it?


Advertising Wars: Tampax vs. Kotex

Advertising, Disposable menstrual products, magazines, Menstruation

It looks like Kotex is winning. Explicit comparison to the competitor’s product is an advertising strategy of 30-40 years ago. Under the new rules, the competitor’s product doesn’t even exist, and certainly isn’t deserving of mention in a promotion for your own.


This ad for Tampax appeared in the March, 2011, issue of Marie Claire

Last Year’s P***y

anatomy, magazines, Media

September 2010 cover of Cosmopolitan

Not being a subscriber to Cosmopolitan, I didn’t see the cover of the current issue until I was standing in the check-out line at my local Albertson’s on Tuesday evening. I didn’t want to contribute to Hearst’s profits by purchasing the issue and I didn’t have time to peek inside, so I can only guess what “sexy style” is back for your lady garden.

That’s right, ladies – apparently you can stop shaving, waxing, and plucking your nether regions. You wouldn’t want to be seen with Last Year’s Pussy.

How to Ask for a Raise

Advertising, FemCare, magazines

Step 1: Wash your vulva.

Ad for Summer's Eve from Woman's Day magazine

Yep, you’re a lady, so step 1 in asking your boss for a raise is washing your ladyparts with special ladysoap. It’s not until step 8 that we get around to “focus on things you’ve done for the company’s bottom line”.

Excerpt from Summer's Eve ad

(Actual advertisement from actual ladymag.)

[via Trixie Films]

ETA 08/27/2010: Via the always-awesome Bitch magazine, we’ve learned that Summer’s Eve brand manager has apologized for this ad, and is working to remove it from circulation:

Hi I am Angela Bryant, Summer’s Eve Brand Manager. I would like to first of all apologize if this ad in anyway has offended anyone. We are taking immediate next steps to remove the ad from circulation. We want you to know that Fleet Laboratories and the Summer’s Eve brand have the utmost respect for women. While we understand how some may come to an alternative conclusion regarding our recent ad, that was never our intention. Thank you.