Most women grew up using pads or tampons for their periods. But there are menstrual products available now that you might not have heard of. We spoke with Dr. Monica Svets, OB-GYN at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, to learn the latest.
How do you use a menstrual cup?
The cup is very soft and pliant. You fold it in half and squish it into your vagina at a medium depth. Then wiggle your leg a little until you feel it pop open. Once it is situated correctly, it forms a suction seal around your cervix and catches the flow of menstrual blood into the cup. Once that seal is formed, there is really no leaking. You can wear it for up to 12 hours, emptying it more frequently if necessary. Overnight is no problem. The instances of toxic shock are extremely rare. After your period is over, boil the cup to sterilize it.
What are the advantages of the menstrual cup?
First, comfort. Tampons have either a cardboard or a plastic applicator that scrapes the sides of the vagina, which is made of very sensitive muscle tissues. Depending on how heavy the flow is, you may be dry inserting or removing a tampon, which may cause a lot of discomfort. A girl can experience anticipatory pain and contractions of the vagina, which make it even more difficult to insert a tampon. The cup is much kinder to the body.
No More Tampons
Second, [teenagers tend] to be very environmentally conscious. Plastic applicators don’t biodegrade, and you are adding waste every month to landfills. The cup is reusable, and you don’t need to buy a new supply every month.
Also, it’s more convenient. A pad is messy, and it has that diaper feeling next to your skin, which can be irritating and uncomfortable. With the cup, you can go longer without worrying about it.
What are the disadvantages of the cup?
The main disadvantage is some girls in this age group may feel squeamish about using it. In my practice, I see women in their 20s or early 30s using the cup. They love it. It is less painful; it is more convenient; you really can forget about it. Some younger teens may be squeamish about inserting it; but if you can use a tampon, you can use the menstrual cup. It may just require a little bit of practice before you are comfortable. Removal also requires a little bit of practice. The cup has a stem on the bottom, but if you just yank on that, the suction will just increase. Instead, compress the side of the cup to break the seal. As you become better at removing it, there is less mess.
Some women use a sea sponge. Is this a good option?
The natural sea sponge is inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow, and can be rinsed out. It’s soft, easy to get in, and natural, and removal is easy as well. However, there is an increased risk of toxic shock. The sponge will retain bacteria and hold it right against the cervix. Boiling the sponge after each use would be the only way to be sure you have destroyed all the bacteria.
What do you recommend for teens learning to manage their period?
For young teens, pads are easiest. Mothers can give them to their daughters without a lot of instruction. The downside is they’re messy, not convenient for athletics or swimming, bulky under clothing, and give that diaper feeling.
The tampon is still the mainstay for most teen girls. When a girl is ready to try them, I recommend getting the kind with the curved, plastic applicator. Start with the thinnest, smallest size. Use some KY gel or lubricant on the tip of the applicator. Sit on the toilet with your knees apart. Don’t try to insert it straight up into you, as the vaginal canal curves. Instead, point the tampon towards the tailbone so it goes up and backwards at an angle.
Interview by Jane Parent
New Products. New Options. no more tampons
Thinx Period Underwear
No more leaks! These period-proof undies hold up to 2 tampons worth of liquid—yet they look and feel like regular underwear. From $23, thinxbtwn.com
Genial Day Pads and Liners
The most healthy, safe, eco-friendly panty liners and pads you can buy. Featuring new technology which allows for fragrance-free odor control without toxic chemicals. Each package contains 24 liners, 10 regular-flow pads, and 8 heavy-flow pads. $5.99 per package, genialday.com
Genial Day Menstrual Cup
A safe and effective natural alternative to tampons. Made of toxin-free materials, the cup can stay in place for up to 12 hours. Enjoy longer, safer period protection without leaks and worries about Toxic Shock Syndrome. $37.99, genialday.com