Menstruation, or having your period, is when the lining of the uterus flows out through your vagina in the form of blood and tissue (menses). Usually, menstruation begins between the ages of 11 and 14, and occurs each month for 3 to 7 days. Fun times!Essentially, periods are the body’s monthly notification that you’re not pregnant. We teamed up with Aunt Flow, one of our favorite brands in the period space for their inclusion, use of organic cotton, and commitment to social good, to give you the 411 on all things period.
What period product is best for me?
Given that the average menstruator spends over 6.25 years having their period, let’s first explore the different types of products out there you can use. Bear in mind, you can switch it up throughout your period, based on your unique flow and preferences.
Pads are one of the oldest forms of menstrual products still widely used today. A pad is a piece of soft material that adheres to your underwear to absorb period blood. Some pads have “wings” that fold over the sides of your underwear to stay in place. They can be made with disposable material, or from fabric that can be washed and worn again. Pads also come in various lengths and absorbency levels for lighter vs. heavier flows. For light-flow days or spotting between periods, some people prefer to use pantyliners (really thin pads), or to wear a pantyliner with a tampon/cup for added protection. Unfortunately, some people find that pads aren’t suitable for certain types of physical activity, like swimming.
Like sanitary pads, tampons also come in different levels of absorbency to soak up menstrual blood. Some tampons include an applicator to help ease insertion. The string attached at the end makes them easy to remove. Menstruators often turn to tampons for greater physical freedom during menstruation. However, individuals with vaginismus may find it impossible to insert a tampon, as the contraction of their vaginal muscles prevents penetration. It’s important to change tampons at least every four to eight hours in order to prevent toxic shock syndrome (TSS). If you have not had sex, using a tampon does not cause you to “lose your virginity.”
Menstrual cups are flexible bell-shaped collection bowls for your period blood. To use a cup, first it is folded, then inserted into the vagina, where it unfolds against the walls of the vagina to collect blood. Cups come in different sizes and levels of firmness, and generally last up to 12 hours. Most are reusable (after washing, of course), and some are disposable. Reusable menstrual cups are an eco-friendly and cost-effective option. Menstrual cups might be challenging for people with vaginismus, or that have a tilted uterus or low cervix. It is recommended that you consult with your doctor first about using a menstrual cup if you have an IUD.
There are many great new product alternatives on the market worth considering, such as period-resistant underwear (check out Knix (or Knixteen!) and Thinx). Flex (a flexible, disposable, disc-shaped product that collects menses) is another option that provides up to 12 hours of period protection, and can be worn comfortably during sex! Score.
What about ingredients?
What (or who) you put inside your body is important. We recommend looking for products without chemicals, synthetics, fragrances, toxins, or dyes. Organic cotton pads, tampons, and liners will keep your vagina healthy and safe.
Does everyone have access to menstrual products?
Have you ever been caught without a tampon or pad? Have you ever had to whisper quietly under the stall for a fellow menstruator to help you out? Have you ever been frustrated with the clunky dispensers in public restrooms, or had to shove toilet paper “up there” when they were empty or you didn’t have the ancient artifact called a “quarter” on you? It sucks. Let’s fix it. But you were probably able to run to the grocery story, or least know you would be able to get your hands on one when you got home later that night.
You’ve probably thought about the fact that many of the 16 million menstruators living in poverty in the United States often don’t have access to things like shelter or food, but have you ever thought about the fact that they don’t have access to menstrual products? Probably not. (See shame and silence.) Menstrual products are not covered by food stamps or WIC, and in the majority of states are taxed as a luxury item. Often, people are forced to use dirty socks or plastic bags to stop the flow, leaving them open to infection and humiliation. The solution? Talk about it! Let’s move forward in the movement for menstrual equality.
Food for thought: Why aren’t menstrual products considered as essential as toilet paper in public bathrooms?
Is it normal to have an unbearably painful or irregular period?
If you suffer from a period that is extremely irregular, painful, or heavy, check out our period problems basic to learn more and take action!
Period slang and stigma:
Every word you use matters. This is especially true when talking about a taboo topic like menstruation. Most of the time we find ourselves using anything but the actual words “period” or “menstruation” to talk about a period. A study found there are over 5000 slang words for a period. Seems pretty silly when we have perfectly good, descriptive words to describe a normal and healthy bodily process.
Language and euphemisms are one of the greatest tools used to silence us, and to shame us. That shame inhibits half of the population from being comfortable in their own bodies, it can affect school and work attendance and participation, it keeps people from talking about it – and when we don’t talk about it, we don’t know that people are living without access to these basic products, we don’t know that there has been minimal research on various aspects of menstruation, and there has been little period innovation since the pad and tampon were invented. Fun fact? Tampons were invented by a man. I’m guessing he probably didn’t know the best way to handle them.
Let’s even look past names like “Aunt Flow” and “shark week,” What is the actual name for tampons and pads and other products we see used in the industry, the actual name we see on packaging and hanging above that forbidden aisle in the grocery store? Feminine hygiene products. Sounds pretty evasive to us. Women use a lot of products to remain hygienic. It’s pretty unclear. (See problems with this outlined above.) Hygiene implies dirty. Dirty things cause shame. Menstruation can be messy, but it’s not dirty. Further than that? It’s not inclusive. Those that identify as “feminine” and females aren’t the only people who menstruate.
So it’s not only women who get periods?
Trans men and those that do not identify within the binary gender structure also menstruate. Menstruation can trigger feelings of dysphoria in these humans. The least we can do is change our language to ensure they are recognized and welcome in the world of menstruation.
Is this all a bit confusing? Check out another one of our basics on gender. Check out Aunt Flow’s interview with menstruators that identify across the gender spectrum, and more on why we’re ditching the term “feminine hygiene.”
So quit shoving your tampon up your sleeve on the way to the bathroom. If someone can’t handle the sight of a wrapped tampon. They have some changing to do, not you.
Periods are a fact of life, so there is no need to feel shame or embarrassment! Find the product that is right for you, and #ownit!