Tired of tampons and pads? Consider alternative menstrual products

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Tired of tampons and pads?  Consider alternative menstrual products

The world of menstruation is far different from your grandmother’s time.  No longer taboo to talk about, the feminine topic of monthly menses is out in the open for everyone (literally) to see – from glossy magazine ads featuring new menstrual products to a runner in the 2015 London marathon. This runner got her period the night before and made the decision to “free bleed” or to let the blood go onto her clothes since she chose not to put in a tampon or wear a sanitary pad while running the race. 

Over the course of an average woman’s lifetime, she will use almost 17,000 pads and tampons during her time of the month.  Each year, women spend around $2 billion on purchasing disposable sanitary pads or tampons that are contributing to landfill waste.  There have been few alternatives for women to choose from other than tampons or pads over the decades.

In the past several years concerns with the economy and the environment, have now begun to affect menstrual products being sold.  Surprisingly, sanitary pads, tampons and other feminine hygiene products are not required to be tested for safety before being sold to the general public.  With apprehension over cost, being more eco-friendly, and preventing the rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection of toxic shock syndrome, women are now looking for alternative menstrual products which are becoming more accepted and expected by women everywhere.

Here is a look at new alternative products a woman can now choose from other than tampons and pads when her monthly menstrual cycle begins:

·      Menstrual cup

Menstrual cups are actually not a new product as they have been around since the 1930s but the U.S. is beginning to accept them now more than ever. This eco-friendly alternative to pads and tampons is a small, soft bell-shaped flexible cup made of silicone or latex rubber.  Instead of absorbing a woman’s flow, it catches and collects it. It is inserted into the vagina like a tampon but without an applicator and if used correctly, a woman should not feel it.  Once in place, the cup will spring open and will rest against the walls of the vagina forming a seal to prevent leaks.  The blood will then simply drip into the cup.

Depending on how heavy the flow is, it needs to be removed at least every 12 hours but always read the packaging to determine if the cup chosen is reusable or disposable.  If the cup is reusable, simply remove it by pulling the stem sticking out the bottom and pinching the base to release the seal.  After emptying the contents, it should be washed with soap and water – at the end of the cycle it should be sterilized in boiling water.  Never share a menstrual cup with anyone else. 

·      Menstrual sponge

Also referred to as sea sponges or sponge tampons since most are harvested from sponges on the sea floor, menstrual sponges are irregularly shaped sponges that are first dampened with water then squeezed as dry as possible before inserted into the vagina.  They work very similar to a tampon by absorbing menstrual blood but they do a better job of conforming to a woman’s body when inserted in place.  Women report that when they are properly inserted, it feels like nothing is there. 

 One drawback is they are messy to handle after removal and do need to be thoroughly washed every few hours.  There is also a possible safety concern in the fact the sponges come from the sea floor which could be contaminated with dirt, sand, or bacteria.  The manufacturer has the choice whether they are disinfecting the sponges or not.  Because of the potential health risks, the FDA does not allow sponges companies to sell natural (sea) menstrual sponges in the U.S. without premarket approval.  If a woman feels uncomfortable using a natural sea sponge, there are synthetic options also available.  However, most medical experts recommend against using natural sea sponges because of safety concerns.

·      Reusable pads

Any woman looking for a more economical, “natural” alternative to synthetic disposable sanitary pads, might consider reusable pads.  There are many options to choose from and many are made of bamboo and charcoal to help minimize odor.  Available in different sizes and absorbencies, these pads rely on tabs and snaps to keep them in place instead of an adhesive strip that sticks to underwear.  They need to be changed often and they can be washed in a washing machine. 

·      Menstrual underwear or period panties

Thinx is the brand name of the latest addition of alternative menstrual products.  This washable underwear has several different layers of fabric in the crotch designed to absorb blood as well as prevent odor, leakage, and unpleasant wetness. Women who prefer not to insert items into her vagina may want to consider menstrual underwear.  Period panties look and feel like regular underwear and state they can absorb up to 2 tampons worth of blood.

·      Free bleeding

Not for everyone and just like it sounds, free bleeding is the most “natural” and primitive alternative of all.  The main reasons why a few women are opting for this method is usually for concern for the environment, refusing to wear or insert menstrual products available, and the belief that menstrual cycles and bleeding from the vagina should be viewed as a normal natural event rather than being shunned.