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Dear Sexpert,

I want to explore alternatives to pads and tampons. Are there more environmentally friendly products that I can use during my period? What are the benefits of these products and what should I look out for?

-Shark Week

Dear Shark Week,

There are many menstrual hygiene products, so it is important that you keep in mind the range of products on the market, have open and honest conversations with people you trust, and try out different products (keeping in mind that it might take two to three periods to get used to them.)

There are basically two types of period products: external and internal protection. External products absorb your menstrual flow after it leaves the body. Internal products are inserted into the vagina to catch or absorb menstrual flow before it leaves the body. Both forms of protection are safe when used correctly; just follow the the product directions closely so you know to change products every 4-8 hours.

A benefit to reusable pads is that they are not filling landfills like disposable pads, and they can be used for at least five years which makes them more cost-effective.

Disposable pads, however, are easier to find in stores and are offered in a greater variety of shapes, sizes, absorbency levels, and brands. Also there is no need to wash or store disposable pads (and tampons), and they are often more comfortable. If you're concerned about the environmental impact, you can buy disposable pads made with organic cotton and without chemical additives in most health food stores.

Reusable/absorbable period underwear are the newest menstrual product on the market. The crotch is four layers thick and absorbs light to medium amounts of menstrual flow. People wear this type of underwear with or without a tampon, and they are washable, reusable, and environmentally friendly.

A menstrual cup is a type of cup or barrier worn inside the vagina during menstruation to collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it. The cups look like a cervical cap with small flexible rod connected to the base. The cups are made from a few different types of materials, such as medical grade silicone (non-latex) or natural gum rubber. They can be worn for up to twelve hours on light flow days, which is twice as long as a tampon so they’re handy for overnight use. Finally, they are also more environmentally friendly

While most menstrual cups are washable and reusable, there are also disposable menstrual cups. The Instead Softcup covers the cervix. The manufacturer claims that it can be kept in place during any activity, including sexual intercourse (Note: the Instead Softcup during sex does NOT protect against pregnancy or STIs). The cup must be thrown away after a single use. Instead Softcups are sold in drug stores and supermarkets, but they can be hard to find and are more expensive than tampons.

The last product is the sea sponge tampon, a natural alternative to synthetic tampons, that comes in different sizes to absorb varying amounts of menstrual flow. Once in place, it works like a tampon to absorb menstrual flow. A sea sponge needs to be rinsed out about every 3 hours and thoroughly cleaned, dried, and properly stored at the end of each menstrual cycle. Care must be taken to remove the sea sponge to avoid tearing it. According to the manufacturer, Jade & Pearl, Inc., the sea pearl sponge can be left in place during intercourse, but it must be removed and cleaned thoroughly afterwards.

Whichever type of menstrual hygiene product you choose, remember you can always switch things up. Comfort, convenience, and effectiveness all come into play when choosing among the different types of menstrual products, but rest assured that when you use them right, all products are completely hygienic and safe. Along with examinations and screening, McCosh Health Center provides sexual and reproductive health counseling regarding different menstrual hygiene options.

Best,

Sexpert

For more information:

http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/reusable-vs-disposable-pads

http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/ins-and-outs-menstrual-cups-–-how-do-they-differ-tampons-and-pads

https://sexetc.org/info-center/post/transguys-get-periods/

http://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/03/28/period-products/

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