It’s hard to think of a world that didn’t have common items like tampons, condoms, and pregnancy tests. Let’s take a look at how not only the history of these common health objects, but how the conversation around them has evolved.
Let us take you way back to 1350 BC. To test for pregnancy, Egyptian women would urinate on bags of barley and wheat each day and wait to see if they grew. If they both grew, it was believed this woman was pregnant. Can you imagine? The patience! Believe it or not, scientists actually find this to be a pretty accurate way to test for pregnancy.
In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed a woman to be pregnant if her urine did things like change the color of a leaf or rust a nail. Unlike in Egypt, there wasn’t much science to back this logic. In 1937, German scientists discovered that injecting urine into a sexually immature female mouse would cause its ovaries to grow. Crazy, right? This was actually a huge breakthrough as far as the science behind pregnancy tests, as it proved that hCG caused mice to ovulate.
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A vaginal speculum is a medical device used by doctors during pelvic exams. Typically, your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to open it up and examine you. But how did such an important medical device come to be? Some primitive versions have been discovered in texts dating back to 130 AD, the first modern speculum was invented in 1825 by a french midwife Marie Anne Boivin to dilate the vagina and let her examine the cervix more clearly. In 1845, James Marion Sims developed what is basically the same tool used today.
Tracking your cycle is so important for women of reproductive age. The first way to track a woman’s cycle was found in body temperature. In 1906, Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde found that women’s temperatures tended to reach a low point the day before ovulation started, and increased when they were ovulating. After ovulation, he found that the temperature went up again until about a day before menstruation started. Called “the rhythm method,” this is how ovulation and menstruation were tracked before ovulation tests.
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Pads and tampons
Thinking about life for a woman without pads or tampons is a scary thought. Throughout most of the 1800s, menstrual cloths were homemade out of clothes and rags. As you can imagine, washing and reusing the same menstrual rags once a month raised some hygiene and health concerns. Between 1854 and 1915, menstrual products began being patented.
During World War I, nurses discovered that cellulose could be used instead of cotton as a more effective adsorbent for blood. In 1921, the first cellulose Kotex sanitary napkin was mass-marketed, providing women with better means for living a normal life through menstruation.
In 1927, Lillian Gilbreth, a psychologist working for Johnson & Johnson, conducted a study on sanitary napkins. Gilbreth interviewed women across the country about their preferences for a sanitary pad (most women wanted more subtle packaging). From here, she came up with a new idea of ad campaigns for women's health products that took away the stigma associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle and inspired her to live her best life while embracing her cycle.
In the 1930s, tampons found their way into women's healthcare. Patented in 1933 under the name “Tampax”, the first disposable tampon addressed the hygiene concern posed by the bacteria developed by pads. Tampons were thought of as a healthier alternative to pads and began to be marketed.
In 1957, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, a lifelong inventor, patented a belt for sanitary napkins. The design included an adjustable belt with an inbuilt, moisture-proof napkin pocket, making it less likely that menstrual blood could leak and stain clothes. She was contacted by a major manufacturer who was interested in licensing the patent, but when they found out she was a Black woman, they dropped their interest.
In the past six decades, tampons and pads continued to develop to accommodate for all body types and flow levels. The government has increased regulation on menstrual products and ad campaigns are focusing on all bodies that get periods in an empowering and inclusive manner. Additionally, many new companies like Rael, Thinx, and Flex have brought new and innovative period products to the market for the modern consumer.
While health products today have come a long way from where they once were, there are still improvements to be made. Stix is dedicated to providing you with a better experience buying and using common health products like pregnancy tests. Check out our products and order today.