I’m just going to start right off and say that I hate tampons. I hate how they feel going in. I hate how they feel coming out. I hate forgetting that they are there and peeing on the string or WORSE, wiping and accidentally yanking the string as I go. I do not like tampons. Beyond all of that mess, tampons are really bad for your vagina. They put you at risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome, they can cause your period to last longer and they can intensify already miserable cramps. Your vagina is made up of highly absorbent membranes that happily suck up all the fun chemicals that tampons have been treated or created with and I just love my vagina too much to do that. So I want to tell you about the best alternatives to pads and tampons.
In college, as I was perusing the lady isles of wal-mart I found a small box, off to the side of the feminine care labeled “Instead Softcups.” I was completely intrigued. I bought a box and immediately took it home to my roommates to investigate what in the world these were! They had a light pink ring with clear plastic cup and reminded me of the livestrong bracelets that were super trendy at the time. We laughed and ripped out the plastic middles and wore them as bracelets and then I finally got up the nerve to try one.
I studiously read the instructions and had no issue inserting it the first time. It was as comfortable as a tampon and so nice because no strings! The real horror happened when I removed it for the first time. Other than wearing pads, I hadn’t really seen what a cup-full of first-day-of-your-period looked like. Once I was past the initial shock, I successfully used that same cup (they’re actually referred to as a menstrual disc, but more on that later) for the remainder of my period, changing it every 12 hours or so.
Even after a good experience it still took me a few years to fully come around. At the time, using any alternatives to the standard tampons was SUPER taboo (friends rarely admitted to using pads, even if they did!) and for some reason trendiness mattered to me when it came to my period management (seriously, wth?) Every time I would switch back to using a disk I was happy, and then I would forget, buy tampons and move on. I then went through like 8 years of not menstruating (wow! that added up) between depo and pregnancies and IUD’s and I would happily tell people that I loved using menstrual cups but it just doesn’t have the same meaning until I was actually an actively menstruating human.
So here I am. An actively menstruating human. Telling you that you don’t need tampons. Or pads even. I’m here to help save your vagina (and the earth) by telling you how I manage my period better than I ever used to. Because I’m old and wise and done with all of the crap. Here’s the lowdown:
If you haven’t heard of FLEX, it’s time you do. This is the fun sexy sister of the softcups and I’m completely in love with them! Their packaging is black and discreet, you can order them as a subscription (the best!!) and as far as internal period protection goes I consider these to be the easiest to place. Unlike tampons and menstrual cups, FLEX sits just past the vaginal canal and can’t be felt at all once in place. You squeeze the sides together, slide it in and pop it past your pubic bone. When it’s time to remove, you just hook your finger under the rim and gently pull it out keeping it level as you go. You can easily wear these for 12 hours AND while you have sex! That’s right, mess free period sex. For any of you that have used the nuva ring, a female condom or a diaphragm, this is very similar to all of those. Easy Peasy.
*MENSTRUAL CUP/DISC PRO TIP*
I always recommend changing your cup for the first time in the shower, or somewhere else where you can comfortably work through things.
It took us all a few tries to master tampons, and it will probably take you a few tries to master a cup. Our 15-year-old selves were willing to put up with some leaking and falling out and learning because the alternative was pads, AND WE WERE NOT GOING TO DO PADS! Go into cups with the determination of a 15-year-old and try a few times and not give up! Cups cannot get lost in your body, they cannot be sucked up by your uterus, and they WILL COME OUT. Relax. Just because there isn’t strings hanging out of you doesn’t mean you won’t be able to remove it.
Cups typically don’t need to be changed more than every 8-12 hours, so don’t worry about public bathrooms. The worst horror stories I’ve heard about cups has been because someone tried to check on one while in a public bathroom before they knew what they were doing and found themselves in a mess. One of the reasons I love FLEX is because they are disposable, so you can always wrap them up in toilet paper, toss it and insert a new one if you need to on the go. Women have even gone as far as simply rinsing it out in the toilet with a water bottle from their bag and re-inserting it and wiping up with some baby wipes before exiting the stall (which is brilliant because I typically do carry water + baby wipes in my diaper bag!)
2. THINX Panties
I love my THINX. The first question everyone asks about THINX is how thick they are. Think your favorite pair of slinky panties mixed with a swimsuit bottom. They aren’t thick like I had imagined (I think everyone pictures potty-training undies) and even the nude ones are lined with black fabric, keeping the visuals less gory. Period panties are so fantastic for a number of reasons:
- I can wear them for a day or two before I’m anticipating my period. They remove the anxiety that comes with ruining favorite sheets and cute panties!
- They’re amazing as back-up if you’re a die hard tampon lover or anxiety filled cup/disc user. Especially on white jeans day.
- I use them for my first day of my period typically because I’m just too tender to want anything up in my business. I have been so impressed with how well they withstand my heavy flow on my first day too! When they say their hiphugger holds 2 tampons worth of blood, it’s true!
- I loved having these for postpartum. Being able to take a break from surfboard sized pads and mesh panties and slip into a pair of THINX was wonderful.
I find my moods change with my periods. Sometimes I just use period panties, sometimes I use a cup, sometimes I switch off. Either way, THINX have become a large part of my period management.
When it comes to non-disposable menstrual cups, I’ve heard the best things about the Lunette Cup and the Diva Cup. I have a Blossom Cup and I like it, but I really prefer the discs. I thought everyone would be the same as me and LIKE ALL THE THINGS I LIKE and surprise, surprise everyone has their own preferences. So thank goodness we have options!! I feel like there is a steeper learning curve with Silicone Menstrual cups, but once you find your sweet spot they’re pretty awesome.
I have many friends that prefer a menstrual cup to a disc, so like all things to each their own! Menstrual cups are awesome because they last FOREVER (up to 10 years!) and that makes them supremely cost effective! They’re the best for the environment because you aren’t ever throwing anything away and many women like that they have a stem for removal (see story below).
From RACHEL KRANTZ on Bustle:
I squatted over the toilet … but I couldn’t get it out. Every time I tried to grip around the SoftCup edges, it seemed to slip out of my grasp. I started clenching up and getting frustrated and nervous, with that awful, stomach-flip feeling you get when something’s in you that you don’t want to be there. After attempting to pull it out and failing for 10 minutes, I started getting really freaked out, and called my boyfriend in the bathroom. Sh*t was about to get real.
“I think you’re going to need to pull this out of me.” He nodded like a surgeon, washed his hands, and got it out on the first try. “That wasn’t so hard,” he said matter-of-factly. I balanced my urges to propose to him on the spot and smack him, and settled on “See, that’s true love.” He washed my blood off his hands, and I have to say, it was kind of romantic.
Still, I was frustrated to have such concrete proof that I was more comfortable with him having his fingers up in me than I was using my own. My resolve deepened to find the DivaCup and break the fear once and for all.
So what’s your favorite alternative to pads or tampons? I haven’t tried a sea sponge, have you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
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