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Good Health and Bad Medicine:
 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 1

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 2

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 3

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 4

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 5

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 6

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 7

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 8

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 9

 Feminine Hygiene

 Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Feminine Hygiene

( Originally Published 1940 )

THE terms, "feminine hygiene" and "marital hygiene," have been invoked by manufacturers of proprietary products to cover the entire field of feminine bodily functions. As far as manufacturers are concerned, this includes menstruation, vaginal cleanliness, leucorrhea, contraception, pregnancy, menopause, and even body odor.


Menstruation is a normal physiological process occurring more or less regularly about once every twenty-eight days. Menstruation is not, as many people suppose, a means whereby the body is rid of "impure" blood. Menstrual blood is only slightly different from circulating blood. The bleeding is simply a token of the fact that fertilization of the egg has not occurred. Because of failure of fertilization to occur, the uterus or womb sheds the soft vascular "bed" that was pre-pared for the reception of the fertilized egg. Since fertilization did not occur, this "bed" is no longer needed and it is therefore discarded.

Many women experience some discomfort during the period. The chief symptoms are abdominal cramps and backache. When the symptoms are mild they may be relieved by taking one or two aspirin tablets every three or four hours. Proprietary products such as Midol and Hexin should be avoided, since they contain either aspirin (which can be purchased much more cheaply as aspirin) or a drug such as aminopyrine, which can cause a serious blood disorder (see Pain, page 30), particularly when it is taken during the menstrual period.

A hot-water bag or ice bag (whichever gives more relief) may be applied to the abdomen. Contrary to popular belief, bathing is not harmful during the menstrual flow and some women obtain considerable relief from menstrual cramp by taking a warm bath.

If the menstrual discomfort is severe or prolonged, a physician should be consulted so that organic disorders of the female genital tract may be excluded.

The use of tampons (tightly packed cotton rolls for insertion directly into the vagina) is not without danger. Several physicians and hospitals have reported infections of the uterus and tubes, presumably as a direct consequence of their use. Nevertheless, many women have found tampons satisfactory and harmless. The danger of infection can be reduced by confining their use to the latter part of the period, when the flow is lighter and the likelihood of the blood's being dammed up and forced back into the uterus and tubes is therefore less. Tampons cannot be used by a woman whose hymen is intact, and they should never be used in case of an inflamed or otherwise irritated vagina.


Leucorrhea, or "the whites," has a far less ominous meaning than it sounds. First, it should be realized that after the age of twelve or thirteen, when menstrual periods begin, it is normal for a slight vaginal discharge to appear. This discharge is white, thick or flaky, and serves the purpose of protecting the mucous membrane of the vagina. During pregnancy and just before menstruation the amount of discharge may increase slightly.

A discharge may be considered as abnormal when it stains the underwear or when it is associated with pain or itching in the genital region. A doctor should then be consulted, since the abnormal discharge may be a symptom of a disease somewhere in the genital tract.

Since a slight vaginal discharge is normal and protects the vagina, and since an abnormal discharge is a symptom of disease, it is clear that unsupervised vaginal douching is unnecessary, futile or harmful. No douche containing a powder, drug or solution will "clean" the vagina or over-come body odor, as is claimed. Regular washing of the vaginal canal can, in fact, irritate the canal and increase the discharge. No antiseptic has yet been found that will clean the vagina and destroy germs that may be responsible for a discharge, without at the same time irritating the mucous membrane of the vagina and causing an increase in the discharge. The safest rule to follow is that a douche should be employed only for the treatment of a specific condition, the diagnosis of which can only be made by a doctor. "Daintiness" depends on sufficiently frequent bathing and clean clothing, and not on douching.


The products fraught with the greatest danger to woman's health are those advertised for producing an interruption in pregnancy. These products, known as abortifacients, hide behind such deceptive claims as, "Avoid the worry and strain of delayed periods." The implication in such advertising is that a pill, fancifully named, and as a rule outrageously priced, will induce menstruation and expel the embryo from the womb.

Unfortunately it is not possible, in the words of the old joke, to be "just a little bit pregnant." Most physicians are agreed that if the male sperm has fertilized the female egg, drugs such as ergot, quinine, tansy or pennyroyal—the usual ingredients of abortifacients—will rarely dislodge the resulting embryo, unless a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) was already imminent. Dangerous drugs may, however, poison the user. Certain of these drugs, reassuringly described as "double strength," are widely advertised in less reputable magazines, and erroneously credited by some women with inducing abortions. It can be definitely stated that there is no drug or combination of drugs available that will cause an abortion excepting at the risk of killing the mother as well as the embryo. Violent physical exercise, falling down-stairs or moving heavy furniture, hot mustard baths, and cathartics are equally ineffectual in inducing abortion in the individual who is not prone to abort naturally.

It is important to be clear about the difference between true pregnancy and a delayed or missed period. A delayed or missed period is frequently erroneously assumed to be due to pregnancy. The success of many pills can be attributed to the fact that they either cause some bleeding from the uterus or initiate a delayed period. The risks to health are too great to warrant the administration of dangerous drugs every time there is an interruption in the menstrual cycle.

Many "respectable" magazines carry, as regular features, advertisements for products to promote "feminine hygiene." To understand the copy, simply substitute the word "contraception" for "feminine hygiene." The ideal contraceptive, according to Dr. Hannah Stone, one of the country's leading authorities on birth control, is "harmless, entirely reliable, simple, practical, universally applicable, and esthetically satisfactory to both man and wife." None of the preparations advertised to the public, whether in the form of liquid, powders, foams, tablets, suppositories or jellies, meets these requirements. Many of them, such as Lysol and Zonite, are dangerous.

Lysol consists essentially of cresol, a drug similar in action to carbolic acid. Contrary to advertisements, it is neither safe nor effective for the purposes for which it is claimed to be useful. In fact, there are reports of injuries and deaths which can be traced directly to the use of Lysol.

Zonite is essentially a solution of sodium hypochlorite in water. Although not as irritating as Lysol, it should not be used as a douche either for "daintiness" or contraception. It is superfluous as far as daintiness goes; it is futile for purposes of contraception; and it may cause injury to the genital organs.

The greater part of this chapter has been taken from a pamphlet, "Analysis of Contraceptive Materials," prepared by Consumers Union for physicians, social workers and others who are married and who have been advised by their physicians to use contraceptives. The pamphlet may be purchased from CU for 25 cents.

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