We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual and women's health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. Today's topic: the best alternative products for dealing with a heavy period flow.
Q: I have such a heavy flow that I can't even sleep with a super plus tampon without leaking. I’d like to know more about alternatives that might catch my flow better, so I don’t ruin my sheets monthly. I've heard about sea sponges and also Beppy sponges from Europe, but I've never known anyone to have tried them, and I’m sure there are other options out there I don’t even know about. I'm wondering if I can leave one of these in longer with better results.
A: Some people have heavy flow, and that’s just a fact. Not a whole lot you can do about it, except wear black panties, have black sheets (is that why so many tweens are goth?), and just hope whatever you’re using lasts the night ... right? WRONG! There are a bunch of lesser-known options that exist on the market to help you manage your flow, so when you’re riding that crimson wave you don’t have to worry about everyone being able to actually see it. Many of these options are also better for the environment, because you use them more than once — which is exciting for the earth mamas amongst us.
But before we get into the different options for folks who experience a heavy flow, it makes sense to know just how much fluid we’re talking about here: The average amount of menstrual fluid discharged from the body during a period is between 30 and 40 grams. If you’re a heavy flow-er, you’re probably losing more like 60 to 80 grams per cycle. Not like everyone’s just sitting around bleeding onto a scale so they actually know what this means, but you probably know from your experience as a person with a menstrual cycle kinda where you fall in this spectrum. And of course, this doesn’t all just spill out at once — menstruation generally lasts three to five days.
And one more important note: if you think you’re bleeding way more than you should be each month, you may be right. Menorrhagia is the technical term for heavy menstrual bleeding. If your period lasts more than seven days, you’re experiencing flow so heavy you’re going through more than six tampons or pads for more than one day, you become anemic, you are having really bad cramps, and/or your period blood is clotted, this may be what’s going on with you. Luckily, this can be treated by things like over-the-counter medications and hormonal birth control methods or other forms of hormonal treatments. If you think this sounds like you, talk to your doctor.
Now, onto the good stuff. You know about the usual options found in the oddly named feminine aisle (disposable pads and tampons) but did you know that these exist?!
Something you might not know: while most tampons are single-use disposable, you can also purchase washable ones. These are generally crocheted, knit, or sewn from cotton. You can buy these online (just gander around on Etsy, you'll see what I mean) or even learn to make your own from these patterns, which would definitely earn you the DIY award in your community. If made correctly, these are as absorbent as disposable tampons — especially if you fill them with super absorbent materials like bamboo or hemp. And you'll never be without a tampon (a heavy flow-er's nightmare), since you can just clean them off and reuse them.
There are also a number of reusable pads on the market, all with their own absorption and comfort levels depending on what material they're made of. Some are even backed with a waterproof material to make sure you really don't leak. You wash these between uses, which is better for the environment than throwing away all that plastic every month, and they are generally really pretty (because your pussy deserves a great view, always).
Some of us still like to rock our lacies when we're on the rag. Lucky for us, the brilliant humans over at Thinx have got us more than covered. They're revolutionizing panties for periods by not only making them stain resistant, but also making them absorbent enough to hold up to two tampons worth of menstrual fluid, depending on which ones you get. For those of us with heavy flow, these undies are saving our sheets!
For those Ariel fans out there, I present to you the sea sponge. Yes, this sponge comes from the sea (please exhaust all your pussy-smells-like-fish jokes at this time. I’ll wait). As you know from doing dishes, sponges are super absorbent, and are very soft when moist. The sea sponge or sponge tampon is really just a piece of sea sponge (dead! don’t freak out!) that’s been cut to the right shape and moistened, then put up your pussy.
The pros of this method are many. You can use it, take it out, rinse it, and pop it right back in. They last between six and twelve months, which is a long time. Many people find them way more comfortable to put in than a tampon or menstrual cup (which we’ll be discussing later). Most accounts say they are even more absorbent and less leaky than tampons — and if the one you get isn’t enough, you can rock two at a time. There are even accounts of people’s flows becoming lighter after a few months on the sponge, although I couldn’t find any scientific verification on this point. Even cooler? You can totally have sex while you’re wearing one.
As for the cons, you’re supposed to wash it out every three hours, which is pretty frequently. Also, they’re delicate, so you can rip them by accident, and they can deteriorate over time, which means they’ll leave itty bitty sponge parts in your parts.
If you’re intrigued by the concept of a sponge but are freaked by the fact that they were once alive or that you have to reuse them, don’t fear — Beppy sponges are here! These are single-use sponges a little larger than a golf ball that are made in a factory and are wrapped up like a tampon or pad (making them a not-so eco-friendly option). Some even come pre-lubricated to make them easier to put in. You can wear them for up to eight hours, so basically the same as a tampon, and then you ditch it in the same way. You can also have sex with a Beppy sponge in, and by all accounts, the penis inside you won’t notice.
If you’re experiencing significant flow, the menstrual cup may be your new best friend. That’s because it can hold 28 grams of menstrual fluid at a time — way more than even the most absorbent tampon. You’re supposed to get a new cup every year, although some websites claim that you can actually keep it for up to ten years if you take care of it right. Regardless, at around $30 apiece, you’re going to be saving yourself a ton of money using this option.
And the good news just keeps on coming: You only have to empty your cup every 12 hours! The cup provides a suction up there, which means no leakage. And you can have sex while wearing certain brands of menstrual cups. The one con about these is that they can be hard to get the hang of inserting. (Don't worry, we've got a guide for that too.) But once you do, it’s smooth sailing! Now all you have to do is figure out what to do with all the blood you’ve been collecting ...