- Convenient. Disposables are very convenient. They come individually packaged, so you can even grab one from a friend if you find yourself in need.
- Short term cost. For those of you on a strict monthly budget, pads and tampons are generally fairly cheap, but you have to replace them, which often adds up to being more in the long run.
- All of the chemicals. Disposable feminine hygiene products are full of bleach, fragrances (even unscented ones have a fragrance added to make them "unscented"), and other chemicals. This can be problematic for placing them in or around the sensitive area that is your vagina. The vagina has a very specific pH (acid/base level) that can be altered by many of the chemicals found in these products (also by things like lubes and condoms so be discerning when purchasing those as well). Also always remember that the flesh of the walls of your vagina are very permeable meaning that the tissue absorbs chemicals. This can lead to worsening cramps and more.
- Dry materials in your vagina. If you are a tampon user, you have probably felt that nauseating feeling of pulling out a tampon that is mostly dry. The dry cotton sticks to the tissue of your vagina and you are literally tearing it out and ripping it from your flesh. Aside from just being painful, this can lead to toxic shock syndrome which is a potentially fatal condition in which naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina is able to enter the blood stream. Tampons (especially the super absorbent kind) provide a perfect growth medium for the bacteria, and when the walls of the vagina are torn, that bacteria can enter the bloodstream. If you experience fever, low blood pressure, vomiting, rash, lightheadedness, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or any other similar symptoms after inserting or removing anything from your vagina, seek emergency medical treatment.
- Long term cost. While an individual package of pads or tampons isn't that much, because they are each one time use, this can really add up especially for those of you who tend to have heavier flows.
- Waste. All of those (not so) lovely chemicals in your disposable feminine hygiene products are not only harmful to your body, but the materials used are not biodegradable. You may have heard statistics about baby diapers in landfills, and the same goes for pads and tampons. The average woman uses an estimated 11,000 pads and/or tampons in her lifetime. Multiply that by all of the women who use them, and you are looking at a whole lot of waste.
- Most similar to tampons if that is what you are looking for.
- Made of natural fibers without the harsh chemicals you find in disposables.
- Usually handmade, so you can help out small businesses.
- Fairly easy to wash. Washer/dryer safe (make sure to read the care instructions just to be sure).
- Cost. These are relatively inexpensive. You can get a reasonably priced set, and they are reusable so you don't need to replace them often.
- Fabric in your vagina. As with anything that is inserted into the vagina, there is a risk of tearing of the vaginal wall, and having something stay in can cause it to become a growth medium for bacteria. This means that there is a risk of toxic shock syndrome, however it is believed to be less than with disposable tampons. Make sure to change your tampons regularly to cut down on this risk.
- Insertion and removal is about the same as regular tampons without the applicator which may be a pro for some but a con for others. If you have had trouble with this in the past with regular tampons, maybe consider some of your other options. Women who have never had intercourse and those who have IUDs should consult their care provider before using anything that is inserted into the vagina.
- You can have sex while using a sponge. Because it is soft and malleable, the sponge should not get in the way of intercourse and is said to be virtually unnoticeable.
- Naturally antibacterial. Because sea sponges are antibacterial, you don't have to worry too much about care. Wash them out between uses, but because they should be wet for use, you can just remove, rinse, and reinsert right away. No waiting for the laundry to dry. If you are changing it in a public restroom, this can be a bit awkward for some, so try to make sure to have a wet bag and a back up (don't forget to wet the new sponge in the sink before switching them out).
- Cost. A set of menstrual sea sponges will last anywhere from 3 months to 1 year, but they are relatively inexpensive compared to some of your other reusable options, so they aren't as big of an investment all at once.
- Replacement. Sponges require more replacement than many other reusable products. A sponge should last between 3 months and a year based on how many sponges you are using and how well you care for them. However it should be noted that these are far more cost effective than using regular tampons.
- Risk of toxic shock syndrome unknown. Because sea sponges are naturally antibacterial and toxic shock syndrome is caused by bacteria entering the blood stream, you can feel confident that the sponge itself will not become a growth medium like some other options. However, because you are inserting something into your vagina, there is risk of tearing the vaginal walls, so there may still be a risk, but it is believed to be far less than with other insertion methods.
- You only need to buy 1 (or 2 if you want a back up). Unlike cloth options where you will need to have at least 5-6, you can rinse out the same cup and reuse it immediately. This means that although they tend to run about $40, you don't need to have a set. You can also generally find these easily in stores.
- Less odor. Okay, so this may be something that only you notice. Many of us tend to feel like we smell bad on our periods. More often than not, no one else notices it, but for your own peace of mind, because the cup catches the blood and holds it in until you pull it out, there is no odor leaking out.
- Messy. One of the biggest complaints about menstrual cups seems to be that it can be a bit messy to empty, especially if you are new to using them. I have heard some horror stories about trying to empty the cup for the first time in a public restroom and either getting blood everywhere, or dropping the cup in a strange toilet. For this reason, I would recommend trying to make sure that the first few times you use it, you can empty and clean it in your own space.
- Some difficulty with insertion and removal. This is not something that everyone experiences, and may be eliminated by carefully reading the instructions. It should be noted that many younger women or those who have never had intercourse may find it a bit more difficult to insert. It should also be noted that insertion and removal can cause tears to the vaginal walls which can lead to toxic shock syndrome, however the risk is believed to be much less than with disposable tampons.
- Reusable and green. Because these are reusable, that means fewer nasty chemicals winding up in landfills, and no need to go to the store every month or two to replenish your stock. You also never have to worry about running out as long as you make sure to do the laundry.
- You don't have to change your pad when you change your underwear. I found this particularly helpful on the lighter days when I needed to change it less frequently. Have you ever gone to change your underwear, but found that your pad or liner had basically nothing on it and you wind up feeling wasteful for having to get a brand new one? With the cloth versions, you just switch it over to the next pair of underwear.
- Support small businesses. Most of the cloth pad options are handmade meaning that you get a chance to support small businesses and help our economy thrive.
- Cost. Cloth pads can be a bit expensive at the beginning, especially if you are searching for the right ones, but if you tend to go through a lot of pads, these will save you money in the long run. I have used the same 6 pads for 3 years and counting.
- Care. This does require a bit of effort. You must pre-wash by hand before putting them in the washer. This means some time spent over the sink rinsing blood out of the fabric.
- Comfort. As I said above, it can take a bit of trial and error to find the ones that are most comfortable. My experience with cloth pads was that they felt a bit bulky, much like their disposable counterparts, so if you are an avid pad wearer, this will be no problem. Comfort is a bit of a personal preference, so you may find it to be a pro!
Thinx products (pictured above) include everything thongs, bikinis, sporty, hip-hugger, brief, high-rise, and boyshorts which hold between 1/2 and 2 tampons worth of fluid. Their have boy short design (holds 1 tampon worth of fluid) has a much more masculine appearance which is perfect for women who don't necessarily want pretty lacy underwear, or men or non-gender conforming individuals who get periods. They have recently introduced an organic cotton line as well, but I have not tried those. If you are a dancer or athlete, you can also check out their leakproof training shorts, leotards, and unitards for protection while training.
Knixwear has a pretty basic line of leakproof underwear that include bikinis, thongs, boyshorts, and high-rise underwear in regular and athletic. They have a few basic colors and hold between 1 and 2 tampons worth of fluid. They also have a bikini and boyshort for teens that allow you to add them to a cart and share the cart with your parents. Although pretty basic, Knixwear has a very smooth feel that doesn't leave significant lines which is helpful if you need to wear something more form fitting while on your period. They also have regular underwear, bras, loungewear, accessories, and more.
Dear Kate has a lot of really fun styles and colors to choose from. For each style, you can select regular or curvy with mini or full coverage. Each style also allows you to select thong, hipster, or brief, giving you a lot of options. Some of them have a lot of lace, some are see through for a more sexy feel, and others are a bit more plain because not everyone wants to wear something frilly or lacy. They hold between 1 and 2 tampons worth of fluid. Dear Kates are great for having a bit more fun with your period underwear. They also have a whole line of bralettes, activewear, and dance wear to shop from.
- Reusable and green. As with pads, period underwear are reusable meaning fewer chemicals in landfills, and you don't have to worry about running out as long as you make sure to do the laundry.
- Comfortable. As I said above, these fit like regular underwear and do not feel like wearing a diaper. There is no feeling like you are sitting in something wet either. I have found that they tend to feel a bit more like bathing suit bottoms than regular underwear, but that doesn't bother me so much.
- The price. One pair of underwear will generally run you between $25 and $45. If you are buying enough to last your entire period, this can add up (there are discounts for buying multiple pairs with some brands though). If you can't afford to buy a full set all at once, you can buy one pair at a time and start to switch from your current feminine hygiene products over a period of time until you can build up a set, or get on an email list and wait for promotions.
- Care. Much like cloth pads listed above, caring for your period underwear requires a bit of effort. You must pre-wash them which requires standing over the sink rinsing them out well before putting them in the washer. Not all of them are dryer safe either, so for those of you like myself who do not have anywhere to hang them outside, I generally find that they take a while to dry (1.5-2 days after washing). Make sure to plan accordingly.
- I have used Thinx the longest, so I can speak better to their longevity than the other brands. After almost a year of wear, and very thorough washing, they tend to remain a bit stiff through the absorbent area in the crotch. They have also developed some staining and a bit of a sour smell. I'm pretty sure that it is one of those things that no one else notices, but I can definitely smell it every time I wear them.
- When they leak it can be bad. If you tend to have a heavy flow, make sure you have back up. My flow can go through quite a range throughout a day and a couple of times I have underestimated the amount of protection I needed and wound up with a mess.