Saudi Arabia: The Series of Firsts…


I remember walking into a chemist (pharmacy) shortly after I had arrived in Riyadh.  I was strolling up and down the aisles simply taking in what merchandise was and was not available.

Being female I was particularly interested in the selection of products for when it was “that time of the month.”  The first thing that stood out to me was there were no choices or options of tampons.  I was not confident enough to ask the Egyptian clerk where I could find them as he was already closely watching my every move.  I sauntered over to my husband and whispered my query in his ear.  He just looked at my blindly and told me he had no idea what I was talking about.  He suggested I keep looking.

I continued up and down the aisles and finally came upon a section for sanitary napkins.  I was sure that the tampons would be near but no such luck.  However what I did notice that in the same area as the sanitary napkins were stacks of slender brown paper bags.  It was evident that women were to put their “sensitive purchases” in the bag before going to the cash register to check out.

The next stop for me was the hair care aisle.  I noted that there were a multiple of choices of hair color for the woman who wished to dye her hair.  However on closer inspection I noted that the faces of the women had been covered with round stickers.  That was my first exposure on seeing the protective measures taken within a place of business on concealing a woman’s face. I was already aware that magazines were generally censored before put on display.

However as my time in the Kingdom passed I saw less censorship and restrictions.  More items appeared in chemists, grocery stores and department stores which did not remove the face or image of a woman.  I could purchase magazines which did not have the woman’s face or body blurred or inked out.  Commercials appeared on local stations with a Saudi woman (in traditional attire).

Therefore, I view  the recent release of IKEA’s Saudi catalog omitting the images of women as a fluke and not an issue of equal rights.  In fact, IKEA publicly apologized for the incident.  It is the global press that tends to make a mountain out of a mole hole.

But, unless there have been recent changes, tampons are still not available in Saudi Arabia. ..


20 Responses

  1. Yes, tampons are available in Saudi Arabia. They’re in stores like Panda, Carrafour and Safeway supermarkets and many more.

  2. Good to know about less marking out of women over time!

  3. By the way, a few weeks ago I read a story about ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who were buying glasses that made their vision blurry. That way they wouldn’t see women (at least not clearly) and be tempted. While I think it’s ridiculous to think of women as walking temptresses, I applaud these men for doing something to themselves instead of forcing women to hide or cover up. Hooray for personal responsibility! I hope others take lessons and follow suit.

  4. I remember back thru the 70’s when we lived in Dhahran, when at first we could only get powdered milk. In around 78 they brought in a square carton of Dutch milk called Domo that made it to where we could really enjoy our cereal. About that same time, they had brought in a load of Twinkies. My brother ran down the aisle hollering for mom to see what he’d found! It was pure enjoyment that day. My how things have changed for sure!

  5. Even in my three short years I saw so many changes take place and many more items available, especially with a store like Danube.

  6. I thnk when we lived there it was peak censorship time 🙂 lukily for me F traveled quite a bit and he wuld come loaded back with tampons , undergarmets and stuff !!!! I hate to think of what the customs guys thought of him 🙂

  7. As far as I know, for the last 10 years, tampons have been available in the Kingdom. Some commenters in the past pointed this out before. Maybe you missed those comments? I’m not sure how often you view them.

    From a health standpoint, I would not recommend using tampons. I’m not a doctor but in my opinion they seem more harmful then helpful- my concern being with the bacteria, etc and not the hymen. 🙂 But I suppose that’s off topic. Sorry.

    I remember once shopping at a local pharmacy for sanitary napkins. I noticed they had a sale and was in a bit of a hurry so just quickly grabbed a couple of boxes. I wasn’t embarrassed about the men in the store seeing what I had in my hands- why should I be? The Pharmacist’s assistant, on the other hand, took one look at me and hurried to bring me a purple plastic bag. He proceeded to put my things in quickly and placed the bag on the counter for the Pharmacist to ring up while I waited in line. I thought it was helpful and cute and admired the man’s modesty.

  8. Now that is a great and understanding hubby!

  9. @Muslim Woman – thank you for the updated information. I don’t think discussing the health aspects of tampons vs napkins is off topic. It can help a woman make a more informed choice.

  10. I though both napkins and tampons had their pros and cons, and maybe I disagree with Muslim Woman in the fact that it is more about how clean you are, not about the fact that you use tampons, anyways, the fact is that even if you choose tampons, you still need the napkins for when you sleep cause using one tampon for lets say 7 or 8 hours, that’s deffinately not clean and even dangerous.
    My understanding will be that probably saudis are not that much into tampons since you wcan lose your virginity and that is apparently what makes you valuable as a woman, not your values…

  11. i think this is funny because I remember when I was a young girl about a million years ago and when my mother sent me to the drug store the (so called) sanitary napkins were wrapped up in brown paper tied with string. It was not for a number of years later that tampons and other female items were in plain slight. Oh one last laugh I remember trying to get my husband to pick up a box of these from the store when he was alive. LOL didn’t get to far on that one.

  12. Thank goodness my husband grew up with a pack of sisters who made sure he knew what was what. I think if it was necessary he’d go and buy me whatever I required but I’m past that. 🙂

    In Canada now in a major drug store chain you can even by certain ‘toys’ discreetly available on top shelves and there are no holds barred on what can be advertised on TV either.

  13. I have only found tampons in one store since I arrived in Saudi Arabia 9 months ago. And I’ve looked every time I’ve been in the pharmacy. They aren’t always available in Carrefour.

    As for tampon usage, Muslim Woman, I think those are good questions, but I’ve never had a problem with them. Millions of western women use tampons without problems, so I think they are just fine.. I’ve always had an extremely heavy flow and have had to utilize both tampons and pads to cope with the heaviness. For me tampons are absolutely necessary. I brought a big supply with me from the U.S.

  14. One another comment: using a tampon doesn’t cause you to lose your virginity or break one’s hymen. That’s a myth–and kind of a silly one at that.

    I used tampons as a teenager. I definitely had an intact hymen.

  15. Asalamo alaikum the stickers or blurred faces were not just to women but to men also because of the hadeeth “Do not leave any image without erasing it, nor any elevated grave without leveling it to theground.” (Narrated by Muslim)

    Something that is still in some places in riyadh alhumdulillah.

  16. As others have said tampons have been around for years. And no, tampons do NOT make you lose your virginity. Even if your hymen is NOT intact. An intact hymen is not what makes a person a virgin. A virgin is someone who has not had sex. It’s as simple as that. Some women have no hymens at all. Some are not broken during sex and some are broken without it. People need to let go of the hymen obsession.

    I remember when I first came the sanitary pads were not the normal brands I was used to in the US. I ended up buying some called “Romance”. I still laugh about it.

  17. Good points Sandy.

  18. I used tampons only once when I was 19 and I didn’t like it at all. Also the real worrying issue about tampon, for me, is the Toxic Shock Syndrome that can be caused by prolonged use. Sandy’s absolutely correct about the virginity issue though 🙂 Education is absolute key!

  19. Regarding tampoons, recently I read something about certain well-known brand that had serious problems with it.

    Please check this blog by a lady who found this on her tampoons:

    And Sandy is right. Even men can be virgins.

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