Written by Nicole Banister (@theycallmebanz)
Punani. Fanny. Vajayjay. Flower. Box. Kitty. Downstairs. Different colloquial words, same definition. Yes indeed ladies, we are talking about our vaginas. Don’t even be afraid to use the actual word — say vagina loud and say vagina proud!
Despite the vagina being the most beautiful and powerful thing to grace half of the entire world’s population, women, men, and everyone in between have been made to feel taboo for even the slightest mention of it. In an era where gross injustices like rape and female genital cutting continue to threaten the female body, it’s more imperative now than ever before that anyone with a vagina is especially comfortable and informed when speaking about this particular part of our lovely lady lumps.
So check it out: Sarah, the founder of DOCC, is a gynecologist. (DOCC is short for doctor. See what she did there?) I work as a public health advocate for a sexual health organization. Between the two of us, we’ve never had a conversation that didn’t involve the vajeen. We once had a thirty-minute debate on whether or not herpes was only transmitted when visible symptoms were present (like a cold sore) or if the virus could still be shed when someone is asymptomatic (no visible symptoms). Casual car ride conversation, amirite?
(The answer is that herpes can still be shed without visible symptoms, by the way.)
Like me and Sarah, a lot of today’s women are woke. They know where their parts are, how they’re used, how to get pleasure from them, and what happens with them every month. But not all women are like that, and not all women — probably not even most — are having open and honest conversations about it.
It’s time to get real about what’s going on down there. Let’s start off simple and chat about that which we’ve all been experiencing since we were tweens: our period. In my Save the Sea Turtles article, I mentioned “period panties” as a cost-effective, sustainable, and eco-friendly alternative to plastic pads and tampons when getting your monthly visit from Aunt Flo’. Period panties are just one of many new and innovative alternatives to traditional approaches to menstruation. You have got options, girlfriend!
Peep the following five alternatives to pads and tampons that will help you manage your monthly cycle.
Nobody enjoys shoving a cylindrical wad of chafing cloth up their vagina. Insert the sleek and smooth menstrual cup instead! Wet it a little to give it an extra touch of natural lubricant, and then fold the cup vertically in half in order to push it up into your vaginal cavity. Once inserted, turn it a bit or pull it gently so that the cup releases the folds. After your cup is fully released and sealed to the walls of your vagina, you’re good to go for alllllll sorts of physical activity whilst on your period – exercising and dancing included. When removing, pinch the bottom of the cup, or dislodge one side of the cup, to release the suction. Be sure to do this over a toilet — you’ve got a cup full of blood in your hands with no lid, and you don’t want to spill it on yourself or your clothes by accident. The menstrual cup is reusable, eco-friendly, easy to clean, in different sizes for our different vajayjays, uses less resources for insertion and removal (like water and tissues), and absorbs way more blood per cycle than your average tampon. As with any new period product, we highly recommend you try the cup out for a day before you’ve actually started your period. As it’ll be your first time using it, lock down the insertion, suction, and removal methods easiest on your body when you don’t yet have to deal with the mighty waves of the red river.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? The menstrual sea sponge – sans the pineapple. Yes team, this is indeed a real sea sponge from the ocean. It has been cleaned and sterilized in order to serve as a natural and very comfortable alternative to everything else on this list. The menstrual sponge does exactly what it sounds like it does – it soaks up all of your blood similar to what a dishwashing sponge does with all of the spare water around your sink. With little to no reports of leaks whatsoever when the sponge is inserted (they conform precisely to your body and can stay inside of you for hours because of their absorbency), you do need to be a bit prepared for some flow as you maneuver around your vaginal cavity to remove it. There’s no string attached to the sponge, so it’s up to you and you alone to part with this sea creature once its reached its capacity. Don’t throw it away after you’ve removed it for cleaning, though. Insert another sponge for immediate use, but a single sponge can be rinsed, air-dried, and reused for anywhere between 6-12 months depending on the brand. Some people believe sea sponges are the most reusable, natural, and sustainable source of menstruation management on the literal planet. Others, however, argue that when intimately examined, sponges contain dirt and other bacteria as these are part of the natural ocean environment in which sponges live. Try it out for yourself to decide whether or not the sea sponge is the perfect motion to manage your bloody ocean.
3. Menstrual Discs
Unlike the cup and the sponge which sit in your vaginal cavity, the menstrual disc sits above the vaginal canal. Push it in down and back around the cervix, open side up, and press the last part up so that it’s locked in behind the pubic bone. To remove, hook your finger around the rim and pull it out so it’s parallel to the floor – this is the best way to avoid spills from the open bag of blood you just pulled out of yourself. Menstrual discs are hypoallergenic, BPA & phthalate free, and made without natural rubber latex or silicone. They also have no links to TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) like tampons. Discs can hold up to 5 tampons’ worth of blood in a single use, but while some discs are reusable throughout your cycle, some are actually only single-use. So while they do reduce friction and chafing, prevent dryness around your lady bits, cancel out odors, and are mad comfy once inserted, you might still have to throw it away when you’re done using it. This article isn’t exclusively about eco-friendly menstruation options, but rather about options, period. The disc is definitely an option, and not only is the disc a period option, it’s a period sex option. Even though having sex on your period is completely safe and normal, sometimes partners decide it’s not the time they prefer to play. If you’d rather not be taken out of the sex game for an entire 12 weeks every single year, you can insert the disc before you want to get your freak on. Positions don’t matter and neither does rigor – the disc can completely curb your flow when you’re ready to go.
4. Reusable Pads
Typically made out of layers on layers of cloth, reusable pads are just like regular pads except they’re not plastic. The thing I like most about reusable pads is that the first time you put them on, you immediately realize how uncomfortable you’ve been wearing plastic pads for the past 15 years. Because reusable pads are normally made out of cotton and other fabrics, they’re nice and gentle on your inner and outer labia, unlike regular pads that are scratchy, sharp, and just generally the worst. Just like your favorite regular pads, reusable pads also have wings. There’s typically a small metal clasp on the sides of the wings so that you can snap them together around your undies to ensure that your blood ain’t going nowhere it ain’t supposed to go. When your reusable pad has done its due diligence, simply take it off and throw it in the wash with the rest of your clothes. Blood comes out of clothes easily and doesn’t leak or stain onto other clothes. So: wear, wash, repeat. If you’re not quite feeling intrepid enough for the first three menstruation management options on this list, at least get yourself an option that combats global plastic waste, significantly reduces your monthly period expenses, and eliminates the general discomfort of pad and tampon wearing. Reusable pads are that option.
5. Period Panties
I’m mentioning period panties again because I can’t get enough of them. On your period but still want to wear a thong? How about some cute cheeksters? Or maybe you prefer the solid coverage of boyshorts? You can have it all! Period panties are sleek, good-looking, and totally inconspicuous. They come in different colors and different styles, and they hold different amounts of blood. On your heavier days, use a high-waisted or sporty pair designed to hold a couple tampons’ worth of blood. On your lighter days, rock that thong and free yourself of those pesky underwear lines. As with reusable pads, these bad boys are sustainable (buy ‘em once then wash and reuse ‘em for 3-5 years), cost-effective (roughly $35 USD for one period panty that lasts years vs. spending $20 USD on a box of tampons every single month — skrrrr), and eco-friendly (no plastic disposal from wrappers and applicators). I can already feel my wallet, and the planet, thanking me. Some of the newest versions of period panties have even branched out from simply being “panties” — there are period shorts, period leggings, and even period leotards that all have extra layers of cloth around the crotch to support your natural need and want to move while menstruating. Exercise and dance away — your period will be managed the whole entire day.
As the current and next generation of mothers and fathers to raise girl children, it is imperative that each and every one of us normalizes this conversation. It should not be taboo for people to discuss their periods. It should not be unfamiliar to know multiple methods for managing menstruation. It should not be a surprise when men demonstrate interest in knowing our cycles and pain days. It should not be strange to see free period products presented alongside free condoms.
Challenge the negative narrative that permeates the most natural and normal cycle on the planet. Share this piece with a friend and join the #menstrualmovement.