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Let’s reimagine menstrual health

Tampons don’t work for everyone–we asked, ‘Why not?’

When I experienced a life-threatening blood clot in 2014, I didn’t know it would cause me to rethink menstruation and begin a journey to transform how people think about menstrual equity.

It started when I played college soccer. I experienced intense period pain. I didn’t want to be sidelined, but I felt overwhelmed by menstrual symptoms.

I turned to a hormone-heavy birth control to mitigate the symptoms, but suffered an unintended–and dangerous–side effect. I developed a blood clot that led me to spend five days in an intensive care unit. 

Thankfully, I got through this frightening experience and found that it sparked a fire in me. I’d seen firsthand the lack of options in caring for myself when I had my period. In fact, I learned that menstrual health generally is a mostly overlooked and underserved area of health. To change how menstrual equity is experienced and perceived, I’d have to start with me.

Making tampons easier to use

I had my first chance at this in a biomedical engineering design class at Georgia Tech. The assignment was to choose a medical device, understand and define its problems, and improve it. My classmates and I decided to redesign the tampon. One of our first discoveries astonished us: Tampons hadn't been redesigned in 90 years (and the person who originally designed it didn't have a uterus). 

This project kept me up until 3:00 AM in our dorm room some nights, Googling problems with tampons. One night, I stumbled on a forum for people with spinal cord injuries–a  thread titled “Help with tampons.” 

“I used to use tampons before my accident, but after my accident, I'm now tetraplegic and struggle with dexterity,” the original poster explained. “I can’t wear a pad because it causes infections and interferes with my catheter. What do I do?”

Some responses to the query were from people who needed a partner to insert tampons for them, and another induced menopause with hormones because she couldn’t manage her periods. Another underwent a hysterectomy at 28 years old. 

I was shocked because people were choosing serious, permanent alternatives because they felt they were out of options to manage their menstrual cycles if they couldn’t use tampons or pads. 

These problems clarified our goal: To redesign the tampon to be more accessible so that even those with challenges–from dexterity to weight, to simply being a first-time tampon user–can manage periods with ease, comfort and confidence.

Making tampons work for you

With user-centered design in mind, our team has created TINA, the tampon insertion aid. Now those who face physical challenges that make using tampons difficult can get the reach and angle they need to insert tampons correctly and easily, every time.

I’m committed to TINA’s development and look forward to expanding menstrual health options, even as I work to complete my PhD in biomedical engineering at Stanford. I’m looking to use cutting-edge science to transform how we think about menstrual equity.

Some feel burdened by menstruation, even though it’s a natural process the body undergoes frequently. But with safe options and more control, we can stem some of that frustration. Having an easier relationship with our bodies also can offer a richer sense of independence and empowerment.

The TINA team and I look forward to hearing from you, and if you’d like to hear from us, please join our mailing list. Let’s continue, together, to reshape your options when you have your period so that you can determine the best way to manage your menstrual health.

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