I recently wrote a story for Racked about how some of the period underwear on the market work — the kind that either help keep your pad in place, or help replace tampons by wicking and absorbing blood. And because I always like to know about the evolution of various technologies, one of the first things I did in my research was go to the U.S. Patent Office website to see what kinds of patents already existed for these sorts of things.
It turned out that there were a whole lot of patents for menstrual underwear like this. I’ll quote myself here:
The specific materials that Dear Kate and THINX use are new, but idea of specially designed period underwear goes back nearly 40 years. In 1967, a patent for a “protective petticoat” was issued to a woman named Gladys Ruppel Williams. The undergarment was a half-slip, “constructed with a moisture-proof material” to protect the outer clothing from being stained. In 1988, a Chinese company was issued a patent for “woman menstruation underpants” that included two layers of cloth sewn into the crotch of the panties, each lined with a “non-toxic, flexible plastic film.” In 1995 another Chinese company patented a “clean-keeping women undergarment,” which included a leakproof liner.
Yep, “clean-keeping women undergarment.” But these are just a few of the patents for menstruation related items that I found when I started looking. So I want to share some more of them with you. This time with pictures. Because they’re great.
Let’s start with tampon designs.
Have you ever wanted to know what’s going on with your tampon? Is it too full? Is it ready to come out? Or is it still ready for more uterine gold? Well, there might at some point be an app for that. This patent from 2012 is for a “cell phone based tampon monitoring system” that “features a tampon with a sensor in it, a sensor hub in a wired signal connection with the sensor and in a wireless signal connection with a cell phone.”
Or perhaps you wished your tampons were a little more fun? How about this vibrating one patented in 1988? Or this improved one from 2008? According to the inventor of this device, Steven A. Kilgore, the vibrations of the tampon could alleviate menstrual cramps. “As many women who suffer menstrual cramps are aware, stimulation of the vaginal tract can, under certain circumstances, alleviate the pain associated with menstrual cramp,” he writes in the patent filing. As far as I could find, there’s no evidence to support the claim that vaginal vibrations alleviate cramps, but Kilgore isn’t the only one with a patent on a vibrating tampon. This “Electronically Controlled Wide Band VibratingTampon with Low Disposable Cost” was patented in 2012 by Xu Hua Jiang and Min Lu.
If you’re a germophobe and really cannot stand the idea of inserting or removing a tampon, this oven-mit like invention (a “device for sanitary tampon removal and disposal”) patented in 1998 has you covered. Literally. If you don’t want to feel like you’re putting a bun in the oven, you can go for this smaller lighter insertion system patented in 1987.
Another interesting set of tampon designs I found were related to tampons that could tell you things about your vaginal health, and even fiddle with it. In 1999 someone patented a tampon that revealed little designs depending on the pH of your vagina. In 2007, someone patented a tampon that helps regulate that pH using something called chitosan, the main sugar that helps crustacean make their shells.
And if you can’t decide between a pad or a tampon, this invention from 2000 offers both at once.
If you prefer pads to tampons, don’t worry, inventors are working hard for you too. And they have been for a while. Before sanitary napkins had sticky bits on the bottom, or wings that wrap around your underwear, they were held in place by a belt. Sometimes called “Ladies’ Safety Belts” or “sanitary supports” these belts went around your waist and then included loops or even full straps down between the legs to hold onto the pad down there. Some of the early sanitary belts were made to go over underwear, while others were meant to be applied directly to the vulva, like the ones you’re probably more familiar with today.
My favorite sanitary napkin patent is the one below, from 1975. From the name of the patent, “Anatomically-contoured sanitary napkin” to the design, everything about this patent is hilarious to me.
Check out the incredible little flowers at each end of this pad — those were adhesive, and they were supposed to stick to your skin to keep the pad in place. I am skeptical.
I’m sure no restaurant wants you to test out this “flushable sanitary napkin” patented in 1975 in their toilets. And at the end of the day, if you don’t just want to throw your pads away, you can incinerate them with this sanitary napkin incinerator.
Not all period inventions are silly of course. Some people I know love their period specific underwear. I know others might actually appreciate this panty liner that was patented in 2000 that claims to give you at least three hours notice that your flow is on its way. And who knows, maybe some people really want a “Nether garment for and method of controlling crotch odors” from 1981, or a “Forecasting system for menstruation of women” (sound the alarm!) from 2002. And hey, if wine helps regulate menstruation, like this 2015 patent claims, I’m all for it.