The Top 10 Intimate Hygiene Habits No One Talks About
Kaleigh Heard is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Unmentionables, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organisation. Grace & Green is proud to be partnering with them on their mission to provide undergarments, feminine hygiene products, sexual health products and related education to global refugees
As she tells it, Kaleigh Heard grew up ‘in a wild household’, with two athletic brothers who brought a daily explosion of energy and competition. Yet despite all of the rampant testosterone, the three were some of the most educated pre-teens around regarding sexual and reproductive health. This was thanks to their mother, a High School Physical Education and Health teacher who taught thousands of students about the ‘often uncomfortable, slightly icky, make you squirm’ kind of health.
This meant that in-depth, no holds-barred hygiene talks were always on the table. It meant learning at length about healthy relationships and intimate partner violence. It meant knowing from a young age the risks associated with not maintaining good intimate hygiene practices. Not just for Kaleigh but for the boys as well.
It wasn’t until Kaleigh co-founded The Unmentionables - an organisation that provides undergarments, feminine hygiene products, and sexual health products to displaced people around the world - that she realised how unusual this education was. The taboos surrounding these issues are immense.
Women and girls are only just now feeling comfortable being open about their periods and fertility issues. Open conversations about intimate partner violence are only recently coming to the forefront because of brave individuals who are telling their stories. Men and boys are only just now gaining access to conversations on intimate health topics at all.
Kaleigh now applies her unique education – which includes two Masters Degrees in International Conflict Management and a visiting doctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford – to providing relief for global refugees who have extremely limited access to hygiene products.
Yet it’s the early education from her Mother which has often been so indispensable. We asked Kaleigh to share her top ten tips for intimate hygiene and how The Unmentionables apply this to their work in refugee camps...
1. Wearing wet, or even damp, undergarments or swim suits will result in a yeast infection. And they are the worst.
Same goes for sweaty underwear. This is, of course, not a big deal if you live in stable circumstances with access to laundry facilities. But think about this in the context of a refugee camp—where do you dry your underwear? Would you hang it outside for everyone to see?
2. Wearing underwear for multiple days can lead to skin irritations and infections. And let’s be honest, no one ever wants a UTI.
There are real risks for both significant skin irritations and infections below the belt for men and women, as underwear carries tons of bacteria. Changing undies often and washing them with hot water and soap kills bacteria and prevents infections. But for displaced people, accessing clean underwear and the ability to wash and dry them appropriately is often out of the question both during their journeys and in refugee camps.
3. Fabric and fit matters!
Your underwear fabric makes a significant difference for your health! Cotton, or a breathable moisture wicking fabric is best, allowing for breathability and the absorption of moisture. Loose fitting pairs protect against vaginal infections, jock itch, and (oddly) ingrown hairs. This is why The Unmentionables is careful about what kinds of underwear we provide to migrants living in difficult, damp, and unhygienic circumstances.
4. Thongs can spread E.Coli to Your Vagina.
And no one is cool with that. Not saying never wear a thong again...but be careful! These sexy little things can spread bacteria from the back to the front that leads to vaginal infections, UTIs, and general irritation. While some migrant women choose thongs (migrating does not stop your love of pretty things!) The Unmentionables is very careful to educate them on the risks and proper intimate care should they choose them.
5. Going commando during the day has health risks.
Here’s looking at you, boys! We all know you do it. Some of you even brag about it. Ladies—we pretend we don’t, but we do. As great as it is when you have no clean undies left, not wearing underwear causes a whole host of problems because your clothes don’t have a liner. Pants will rub the area and irritate sensitive tissue and cause chafing, and the natural moisture produced by both male and female intimate areas has nowhere to go, which can irritate the skin further and lead to yeast infections and jock itch. This is why The Unmentionables provides underwear to displaced peoples—no one should be exposed to these kinds of risks without choice.
6. The average age a girl gets her first period is 12.
All of us remember our first period. We were young, already awkward, and now we had blood running down our legs. It’s the worst, often most embarrassing moment of our already awkward adolescent existence, and it’s often a memory that stays with us for life. Though, most of us have had mothers, female guardians, teachers, friends or health professionals around to help us make sense of it all. Many refugee girls do not have access to this type of support or education, nor do their mothers. The Unmentionables strives to provide education, products and support for a girl’s first period and wider menstrual education for refugees.
7. Feminine hygiene products must be changed at least every six hours.
Bacteria from blood and sweat can cause infection, rashes, and in the case of tampons, Toxic Shock Syndrome, if not changed regularly. Not adhering to these guidelines can lead to fungal infections. At The Unmentionables we ensure we provide each woman we serve with enough feminine hygiene products that meet these requirements for the entirety of her monthly period.
8. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to serious reproductive tract infections and infertility.
Multiple intimate infections can lead to serious vaginal, cervical, and uterine infections for women and UTIs can have devastating impacts on men. Repeated infections, for both men and women, can result in infertility as they scar and permanently damage the reproductive tracts.
9. Condoms are the only contraceptive option that can prevent both unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Condoms are 98% effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when used consistently and correctly and, when it comes to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) using a condom makes sex 10,000 times safer, with an 80-94% reduction in risk of contracting HIV, a 92% reduction in risk of contracting herpes, and nearly 100% effectiveness in protecting against HPV related diseases. The Unmentionables provides condoms both for family planning purposes and for STI prevention - you can buy them directly for them here.
10. The condom is one of the most accessible and inexpensive forms of birth control and intimate infection prevention available.
The cost of condoms is as low as $0.04 each. Meaning for less than a dollar you can protect 20 intimate encounters against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Many of the individuals The Unmentionables provides condoms to have had to resort to survival sex (prostitution to buy food, water, and shelter). While we can’t prevent their circumstances we can make sure their futures are not coloured by unintended pregnancies and painful or fatal sexually transmitted infections.
Given the taboos around Intimate Health, the provision of these products are often overlooked as donors and aid organisations try to meet the most obvious and easily donated items—solutions for food, water, shelter, and clothing. But intimate health products are essential to human dignity and wider personal and comm
Grace & Green is proud to be partnering with The Unmentionables and is committed to being socially responsible in everything we do.