Managing menstrual flow can be challenging for teens. Thankfully, there are several period products to choose from. Deciding which product (or products) to use is an individual decision. Many people use more than one type of product depending on their menstrual flow, what type of activities they plan to do, what type of clothing they are wearing, cultural concerns, cost, or environmental/sustainability concerns. Understanding the available options will help you choose the product (or products) that are best for your body and lifestyle.
Most people are familiar with pads – they are the most commonly used menstrual hygiene product. Pads are worn in your underwear (they have an adhesive side that sticks to the inside of your underwear) and are made of absorbent fibers that collect menstrual blood. Some pads have wings (or sides) that wrap around the edges of underwear to prevent blood from running over onto your underwear or clothing. While there are various levels of absorbency (how much blood they collect), ideally, pads should be changed every 3-4 hours. Most pads are disposable, but there are reusable cotton pads – these are rinsed, washed, and dried. This may be a more sustainable option.
Tampons are the second most used period product. Tampons are made from absorbent materials and are placed into the vagina to collect menstrual blood as it exits the cervix (bottom of the uterus). The absorbent material may be inside an applicator (plastic or cardboard tube) that is used to push the tampon into the vagina or may simply consistent of the absorbent material. There is a string attached to the absorbent material – this is used to remove the tampon from the vagina.
Inserting a tampon into the vagina can take a little practice and patience. When you first start using tampons, it’s easiest to use the slimmest size tampon with a plastic applicator – this will help the tampon slide easily into the vagina. Commonly people squat, sit wide legged on the toilet, or stand with one leg propped up when inserting a tampon. Whichever position works best for you is fine! It might take a little practice to find the position that’s easiest for you. If you are really struggling with inserting or removing a tampon, reach out to your reproductive healthcare provider.
Tampon users should be aware of the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare (approximately 1 in 100,000), but potentially life-threatening complication that occurs from an overgrowth of bacteria. Symptoms include fever, low blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea, rash that looks like a sunburn, confusion, muscle aches, redness of eyes/mouth/throat, seizures, headaches. You should seek immediate medical attention if you develop these symptoms. It’s ideal to use tampons with the minimal absorbency needed to control menstrual flow – and remember to change your tampon every 4-8 hours.
Tampons are a convenient option when swimming or doing some athletic activities. Some people use tampons alone, others use tampons with a menstrual pad. Using a tampon does not affect your virginity. Also, there is no minimal age for using tampons – if you are having a period and comfortable with inserting and removing tampons – they are fine to use!
Menstrual cups are a convenient and reusable option – they are made from silicone and are inserted into the vagina. The cup makes a seal with the vaginal walls and collects menstrual blood. When users remove the cup from the vagina, they empty the menstrual blood into the toilet, wash the cup, and can re-insert into the vagina. The cup can be left in the vagina for 12 hours. Many users like this option because it is cost effective and sustainable. Menstrual cups should be boiled once per month to keep them clean and safe for use.
Menstrual discs are similar to a menstrual cup because they collect menstrual blood, rather than absorbing it. They are made of medical-grade polymers. However, they are disposable, one-time use products and sit in a different location to collect the blood. The disc is placed into the vagina and pushed up to the vaginal fornix (area located at the end of the vaginal canal, surrounding your cervix). The vaginal muscles and pubic bone help hold the disc in place (compared to the menstrual cup which sits in the vaginal canal). The discs can be safely worn for 12 hours, creating less waste than tampons and making them attractive to some users.
Period-proof underwear come in different sizes and styles – they are made of multiple layers of material that wick fluid away from your skin and keep it from leaking onto your clothing. The underwear is rinsed, washed, and hung to dry. Typically, period-proof underwear lasts for 2 years if cared for properly.
Besides being a sustainable option, period-proof underwear may be an attractive option because it can be combined with other menstrual products to give users additional protection from leaks. This can be anxiety relieving for many people with heavy flow. Also, some menstruators with sensory concerns find period-proof underwear more attractive and tolerable than pads. Finding the style that provides the right fit and absorbency for you may take a little trial and error.
Finding the right period product takes time and may change throughout your life as your lifestyle needs vary. Remember, if you are concerned about the volume of your menstrual flow, let your reproductive healthcare provider know; there are hormonal options for managing menses. Periods are natural; by understanding which period products are best for you and your lifestyle, periods won’t rule your life!