Having a period is a very normal, natural thing for women to experience. It is shocking to me that so many people are still afraid to talk about it, and that so few people even know what a period is. In my last post, I gave an introduction to menstruation that went over all of the phases of your menstrual cycle, and what is happening during each one. In this installment, we will talk about your options when it comes to feminine hygiene products. Most of us are aware of our disposable options (pads and tampons), and we will go over those very briefly, but for many the world of reusable feminine hygiene products is still a bit of a mystery. For those of you who are looking for safer options to replace the disposables, looking for something greener, or looking to save some money in the long run, read on to learn about some of your options.
Disposable Pads and Tampons
Lets start out by briefly mentioning the products we all already know about. Disposable pads and tampons. When you look down the feminine hygiene aisle at all of the brightly colored packages, these are mostly what you are seeing. Pads come individually wrapped in a variety of sizes, with a sticky side to stick to your underwear keeping them in place. Tampons (pictured above) are made of cotton or other materials and are inserted into the vagina. They generally come with a string attached to the bottom to help with removal, and may or may not come with an applicator tube.
If you are an avid tampon user who is looking for something that is less harmful and more reusable but still like using tampons, you can try reusable tampons. Reusable tampons are usually a square of fabric either knit/crocheted from natural fiber yarn, or made of a cloth like cotton or flannel. You roll the fabric up to look like a regular tampon and then wrap the string around them leaving a little bit of a tail to pull it out.
Sea sponges are one of the lesser known alternatives. If you are a tampon user who likes to have something that inserts but are looking for something a bit more gentle, you may want to give sea sponges a try. If you are interested in sea sponges, make sure to purchase sponges specifically marketed as menstrual sponges. You should not just put any sea sponge into your vagina. Menstrual sponges are chosen based on many factors, and are usually pre-cleaned and sterilized before being sold (double check with the maker just to be sure). To use, wet the sponge and insert. It will soften and expand when wet.
For those of you who prefer something that is inserted into the vagina and sea sponges and tampons don't sound like your thing, another option would be menstrual cups. As pictured above, a menstrual cup is a cup that you insert into your vagina. When it gets full, you remove it, pour it out and rinse it, then re-insert. I have not personally used a menstrual cup, so I cannot give you first hand knowledge, but it seems as though people either love them or hate them. It does take some getting used to, and it is generally recommended that you give it a few cycles before deciding whether cups are for you. Some people like to use a liner as a back up in case of leakage, especially if you have a very heavy flow. You will find that there are a lot of people who do this for tampons as well. Cups are usually made of silicone or rubber, so if you have an allergy to latex, make sure to purchase a silicone cup. Also be aware that some cups are designed to be disposable, so double check the packaging before you buy to make sure you can reuse it.
Cloth pads are a reusable cloth version of the disposable pads you find in stores. They come in a variety of fun patterns and colors which means that they can be customized to fit your personality or mood. They come in a variety of sizes for light to heavy days, and you can even find them for thongs. In addition to pads, you can also find interlabial petals which are smaller pieces of fabric that you fold and place between your labia (the extensions of tissue or "lips" surrounding the opening of your vagina). Cloth pads come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so it may take some searching to find the ones that are right for you. I recommend trying out some of the products on Etsy. I like to support small business owners when I can, and this is a great way to do that.
Period underwear is designed to look and feel like regular underwear while absorbing your menstrual flow. They are gaining in popularity, and there are now several brands with some pretty nice options. You can find everything from athletic or sporty underwear; sexy, see through, lacy underwear; or even more masculine looks for people who menstruate but do not identify with the more feminine styles. Some people think that it sounds gross, like you will be sitting in a pool of your own blood, but as someone who has personally been using period underwear for over a year, I can attest to the fact that it doesn't feel that way at all. Similar to wearing pads, when it gets close to time to change your underwear it can start to feel a bit damp. It is more similar to pads in that respect, but feels much less bulky. I tend to feel like I am wearing a bulky diaper when I wear pads, and I don't get that feeling with period underwear. Here are a few of the brands that I have tried:
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.
Do you have any other feminine hygiene products that you like to use? Let us know your favorites in the comments!
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.