Recently I read an article in the Huffington Post. If a woman without kids has her period for the first time with 13 years and for the last time with 51, that’s 38 years with approximately 456 menstruation cycles. If each period lasts between 3 and 7 days, that’s 2.280 days, or 6,25 years (!) of having your period over your lifespan. Wow.
So if anyone ever felt that menstruation is something we shouldn’t talk about: You. Are. Wrong. Period. (pun intended).
If you use tampons regularly you may have heard of the risks of TSS (toxic shock syndrome) but also conventional cotton tampons can contain chlorine, dioxin and pesticides that are in direct contact with your mucosa and therefore get absorbed directly into your bloodstream.
But today I’d like to focus on the sustainability aspect. So if during your 2.280 days of menstruation you need around 5 tampons or pads per day… That would be 11.400 tampons or pads, in other words: a tremendous pile of nonrecyclable TRASH.
I tried different alternatives over the last few years and since it’s not been the easiest journey (blood is such a dramatic fluid), I’d like to share my experience and maybe spare you some unpleasant surprises.
Nowadays there is a variety of options if you want to pass on classic pads or tampons. These are the ones I tried:
- Menstrual cup
The menstrual cup became very popular in recent years and can be bought in drugstores and pharmacies or online. It’s usually made of medical-grade silicone and you boil it for disinfection once before the first use in the cycle and once at the end. It collects menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it and you normally empty it into the toilet 1-2 times per day, depending on your flow. Science says that cup users have fewer cramps than with normal tampons because it doesn’t cause retention of liquid like a tampon (I can say for myself that this is true).
There is an endless number of brands and sizes, and here comes the first problem. When I bought my first cup I thought: the bigger the better, so I’d have to empty it less (and emptying it in a public toilet freaked me out for obvious reasons). I also didn’t have any information about the firmness of the different types, I just randomly bought an M size cup and waited for the day to use is. Online you find many tutorials on how to fold the cup correctly before you put it in. So I tried a fold that seemed easy to me and started my first attempt. It was considerably bigger than a tampon and it hurt a bit to stick it in. But eventually it was in a position I thought was correct and I was happy. I had a meeting that day and I went confidently thinking that my magic cup would protect me from any spilling.
Long story short, it didn’t.
Luckily nobody noticed anything but I’ll never forget the moment of cold sweat when I realised that the stupid cup just wasn’t doing its job. I rushed home as quickly as I possibly could to find out what caused this Tarantinoesque bloodbath. Apparently, the cup hadn’t popped open correctly, so the liquid just took its natural course AROUND it. Great. I contacted the company I bought it from (they offer a consultancy service) to ask for help. They told me that 1) I probably bought a cup that was too big for me and 2) one that was too soft. Women that do sports like Riding, Yoga or Pilates and haven’t had kids, often have very strong pelvic floor muscles that prevent the cup from unfolding correctly. That’s why many brands offer a “sports” version with a harder silicone. Also, you should know that the menstrual cup is not supposed to be put as deep inside as a tampon, that’s another common mistake. I’m not going to lie, it takes some practice, at least for me it did.
Once you find your brand and size and master the technique, it’s a great alternative though. You can even sleep with it up to 10 hours and if inserted correctly, you won’t feel a thing. I’d recommend a backup for heavy flow days (see below) and I myself don’t dare to use it for occasions like going to a festival for example. I also don’t use it during the end of menstruation because it’s more uncomfortable to insert.
2. Menstrual sponge
The menstrual sponge is a natural highly absorbing sea sponge (mine is from the Adriatic coast) that comes in different sizes and can be trimmed to your liking. It is hypoallergenic and toxin-free. After disinfecting it for 20 minutes in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon of baking soda or Vinegar, you rinse it (it should always be wet but not soaking), insert it and you’re good to go. It is very soft, adjusts perfectly to your body and is very comfortable. If you’re using it for the first time it might be good to attach a 100% cotton thread or un-waxed dental floss to help you remove it. I didn’t do that the first time and started panicking when I couldn’t get it out right away.
Other than that, I have to say I was surprised how well it works. It is all-natural, 100% leak-free and the material adjusts perfectly to your body. You can also cut it to a size that works perfectly for you. The only downside is that you have to clean it with water every time you change it (latest after 8 hours), so if you’re away from home that might be a problem. The solution could be to buy at least 2 sponges and take the dirty one home in a separate bag.
I like the sponge for its natural comfort and I feel it’s a perfect and comfortable solution for days with a lighter flow, also overnight.
3. Menstrual panties
I think these are a perfect addition to ANY kind of female hygiene product during menstruation. I have a pair by the Spanish start-up “Cocoro” and I also like the American brand “Thinx”. I bought the ones with most absorption possible, so you can also use them alone during nighttime. It seems hard to believe that such light and “normal” cotton panties have such high absorption and you feel completely protected if you use them in addition to a menstrual cup or sponge.
4. Washable menstrual pads
Just to mention this option that I haven’t tried personally because I’m not a fan of conventional pads in the first place. You can buy the pads at Etsy for example or sew them yourself if you’re a bit talented. There are plenty of patterns available online.
In summary, I’d say that switching to sustainable options for your period may require a bit of extra effort. But considering the high impact that conventional products have on your health and the planet, I think it’s absolutely worth trying out the different options.
VERA // Barcelona