Our bodies can do a lot of amazing things, and for people with uteruses, our periods are one of the most noticeable indications of that fact. Even so, though, periods aren’t always fun; in fact, they’re often the opposite of fun. The good news, though, is that there exist in this world a hefty number of products everyone who gets a period should know about — because they can go a long way towards making your monthly cycle less of a pain to deal with. (And for what it’s worth, I mean that both literally and figuratively.)
People have, of course, been coming up with creative ways to deal with their periods since the beginning of time — sometimes with more success than others. Burnt toads, it turns out, can’t actually make a heavy flow lighter (sorry, medieval period-havers); the paper tampons that might have been used in ancient Japan, meanwhile, may not have been super absorbent compared to a cotton tampon, but did at least help stem the flow a bit. Lemon balm and ginger tea, meanwhile, are said to have been among the remedies used by many people in various locations to assist in easing menstrual cramps.
These days, at least, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get your hands on supplies, treatments, and other items that make managing your period less annoying. The following products may not work for all period-havers, but everyone who menstruates should at least know about them; knowledge is power, after all, and knowing your options can go a long way towards making an often irritating time of the month a little more bearable.
1Menstrual Supply Subscription Services
The most common subscription services you’ll see are for straight-up supplies — they’ll regularly deliver tampons, pads, and other menstrual supplies right your door, ensuring that you’ll never be out of them when you need them. Many of these kinds of services are geared towards supplying organic or green alternatives to what you’ll typically find at your local pharmacy or grocery store (reminder: Tampon ingredients aren’t regulated by the FDA). Options include:
- Lola. Lola has been around for several years now; their subscriptions include tons of different options, from tampons with or without applicators to different types of pads, and you’ve got plenty of ways to customize your boxes to your needs.
- S. Rosa Organic. An Australian company that delivers worldwide, S. Rosa Organic focuses on tampons, rather than pads.
- Cora. Cora uses a one-for-one model that helps bring menstrual supplies to people in need for every box purchased.
2Menstrual Self-Care Subscription Services
There are also some delightful period subscription services that are more about self-care than supplies — and honestly, when you’re feeling really awful because of period-related symptoms, it can help to have something goofy show up at your door, just because. In a review of five such boxes for BuzzFeed, Lara Parker found The PMS Package and The Period Store to be the best; your mileage may vary depending on what you want out of your boxes, though. Other options include:
- ElleBox. One of ElleBox’s two options delivers tampons and pads; the other, however — the Comfort Box — includes tampons and pads, plus “two surprise goodies,” tea, and a snack.
- Bonjour Jolie. In addition to menstrual supplies and wipes, Bonjour Jolie’s boxes also include bath and body items, specialty teas and drinks, “artisan confections,” and “a hand curated gift.”
- Delightful Cycle. If you want something a little more customizable, Delightful Cycle might be for you. The Go With The Flow kit is “more than jut a tampon/chocolate subscription”;according to its Crate Joy page, “every month will feature a few luxury items that will pamper you, as we aim to be a gentle reminder to practice some much needed self-care.” After you subscribe, you’ll get an email that will help the company build the right box for you.
Designed either to handle your flow all on its own or operate as a backup for tampon or menstrual cup leaks, period underwear is honestly one of the greatest inventions to have come out of the past decade. THINX is probably the brand that’s most well-known (it’s particularly notable for its inclusive messaging); however, if you’re a little wary of the controversies in which the company has been embroiled, it’s far from the only brand out there. Try these:
- Dear Kate. Dear Kate has been part of the landscape for a number of years (it made waves for its inclusive lookbook featuring women in STEM and tech in 2014); I actually have a few pairs myself, and I love them — they’re incredibly comfortable.
- Lunapads. This company, which also makes reusable pads, has a line of well-received period underwear available in bikini, brief, hipster, and boxer styles.
- Other popular brands include Adira, Modibodi, and Anigan, among others. You’ve got options, is my point!
4Alternatives To Disposable Tampons And Pads
Not in love with traditional tampons or pads, but also not really into free bleeding? They’re far from the only options available when it comes to managing your flow. Here are a few alternatives:
- Menstrual cups. You’re probably already familiar with menstrual cups like the DivaCup. By now, it's a well-known alternative to tampons and pads; additionally, it’s a little more sustainable, to boot.
- Reusable cloth pads. Lunapads makes them, as does Gladrags. When you're done with them, soak them, machine wash them, and toss them in the dryer; when they're clean, use 'em again.
- Sea sponges. Sea sponges for menstrual use have been gaining in popularity in recent years; they're inserted kind of like tampons and cleaned and disinfected afterwards for re-use. You can get them from places like Holy Sponge.
- The Flex disc. The Flex disc, which functions like a menstrual cup — that is, it's inserted and can hold menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours — but, rather than sitting in your vaginal canal, it’s positioned at your cervix. It also might help make period sex a little less messy, if messiness is a thing you’re not wild about.
5Menstrual Tracking Apps
First, a caveat: Research presented in May of 2017 found that current period tracking apps still leave a lot to be desired,particularly when it comes to gender inclusivity. Many of them tend to telegraph femininity by decking the screens out in butterflies, flowers, and the color pink, which (besides being kind of annoying to women who aren’t particularly into butterflies, flowers, and the color pink), can also be alienating to trans men and non-binary people who might be interested in using them. One participant in the study who identified as male noted that it was hard to “find a period tracker that didn’t misgender me,” or that wasn’t focused on pregnancy, “which I’m not interested in at all.” (The pregnancy focus can also be alienating for queer people; as Maggie Delano wrote at Medium in 2015, “As a queer woman not interested in having children, the fertility focus [of period tracking apps] makes me uncomfortable.”)
Also, the study results found that none of the apps they examined could be considered 100 percent reliable; they’re just not advanced enough. And that’s, uh, kind of a big deal.
With all that in mind, though, many people likely will still find menstrual tracking apps at least somewhat useful, and not just for fertility reasons; you can also, say, use it to track your PMS symptoms or remind yourself when to take your birth control (reminder: birth control is useful for many things in addition to preventing pregnancy — like, for example, easing endometriosis or treating PCOS). Some options:
- Clue. A popular app, Clue also seems to be one of the better gender-neutral picks available.
- Eve by Glow. According to Bust, Eve is “the least fertility-focused and least heteronormative” of eight apps tested by writer Meghan Sara.
- Spot On. Spot On is Planned Parenthood’s own tracker app.
- And, of course, there are plenty of other options out there. Refinery29 has some ideas, if you need more suggestions… and by “some,” I mean around 30. So... lots, really. Lots of ideas.
According to Everyday Health, herbal tea — specifically chamomile tea — can help your muscles relax, relieve cramps, and soothe you when you’re experiencing bad PMS or period symptoms. Think of it as part self-care and part remedy. Not a big chamomile fan? That’s OK; pretty much anything that’s not caffeinated is an OK pick. (According to some studies, drinking too much caffeine can causes your breasts to get tender; cutting it out, however, was shown to help alleviate the pain.) A few ideas of what to fill your cup with:
- Stash Teas. They’ve got a whole collection of differently-flavored chamomile blends.
- A chai alternative. In an effort to appease my desire for warm drinks at all hours of the day without overloading my system with caffeine at night, I’ve become quite fond of a Celestial Seasonings tea called Bengal Spice; it’s like chai, except it’s herbal. It is spicy and delicious and I love it, even without milk or sugar added to it.
- PMS Tea. I can’t speak to the efficacy of this one, but for what it’s worth, Traditional Medicinals actually has a tea they call “PMS Tea.” It claims to “ease frayed and frazzled nerves” and “help you feel a little more like you can go with the flow” when your cycle is throwing you off your game.
7This Wacky Cramp-Ending Gadget
This device, called Livia, describes itself as “the off switch for menstrual pain.” It’s about the size of your palm, and it’s got two stickers attached to it. All you have to do is stick those stickers on your body wherever it hurts and turn the device on. From there, it emits electrical pulses that apparently disrupt the neural signals that cause cramps.
But does it work? Apparently — but only to an extent. According to Dr. Jen Gunter, OB/GYN (who is perhaps best known for her commentary on Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP claims), it seems similar to a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit —something which does in fact help with pain management and can be effective for period pain. Three of BuzzFeed’s staffers gave it a try last May, and although they all noted that you can’t expect miracles from the thing, their period pain did seem to lessen when they wore the Livia device.
After a wildly successful IndieGoGo campaign that raised almost $2 million in 2016, the device was fully developed and finally received its FDA approval in June of 2017. You can order it directly through the Livia website. It’s not cheap — the basic Livia kit is currently $127, and that’s a sale price — but if you’ve got some spare cash and bad cramps, it might be worth a try.
Periods will likely never be painless, but they don't have to be quite as painful as we sometimes think of them as being. And it never hurts to have options!