Menstrual Products

Throughout history females have used a variety of different methods to handle menstruation. We have listed the most popular techniques below.

Menstrual Pads/Sanitary Napkins


Menstrual pads have been around for a long time and they have constantly been changing in material and shape. Prior to World War I, most females made homemade versions of sanitary napkins out of various different materials, such as cotton, cloth or rags. During World War I, French nurses discovered that in comparison to cotton, cellulose bandages were better at absorbing blood. A few years later, Kotex became the first company to mass-produce disposable pads. Because it is easy to use and dispose, the menstrual pad is a great resource for young girls who have just started menarche.

The following is a guide on how to correctly use a pad:
Being Girl – How to Use a Pad



    Although tampons are sometimes seen as modern products, they have been around for centuries. Ancient Egyptians are considered the inventors of the disposable tampon, which was originally fashioned out of papyrus. The ancient Greeks and Romans also had their version of the tampon.The Greeks used wood wrapped in lint and the Romans used wool. American physician Dr. Earle Haas patented the modern tampon in 1931. Gertrude Tendrich, who founded the Tampax brand, bought the patent and tampons hit the market in 1933. Today, tampons are easily purchased in many countries at local stores and are often seen as a more manageable alternative to pads. The invention of disposable tampons and pads was revolutionary for females. It allowed them to carry on with their daily lives without their monthly cycle interfering with their duties.                                                                            

Using Tampons

    There has been some controversy over the safety of the use of tampons. Toxic Shock Syndrome has been linked to the usage of tampons. However, tampons are approved and regulated by the FDA. Each box sold in the United States provides information and instructions on how to reduce ones risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Using tampons correctly can severely reduce this risk. 

    When using tampons it is important to change them frequently, around every 4-6 hours. Do not leave a tampon inside for more than 8 hours. Every female's menstrual cycle is unique. By paying attention to your personal menstrual cycle you will become more aware of how heavy your flow is and how frequently you need to change your tampon. It is important to choose a tampon size that absorbs no more than you need. If you notice that the tampons you are using do not “fill up,” switch to a smaller size. The smaller the tampon size the lower the chance of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Tampons range from junior absorbency to ultra absorbency. Near the end of your cycle when the flow decreases, you may also want to switch to a smaller tampon size. Tampons come with and without applicators. It is highly important to wash your hands before inserting or removing a tampon, especially if you are using one that does not come with an applicator. Many females use panty liners along with tampons to reduce the chance of leaking. Relaxing the vaginal muscles upon insertion will help you insert the tampon with greater ease. Using a hand mirror upon first insertion can also assist in this process.

The following is a link to detailed instructions on putting in a tampon: – Tampon Insertion


Alternative Menstrual Products

Reusable Pads and Tampons

    Despite the convenience that the invention of the reusable pad and tampon has afforded many females, some feel that it is not worth the waste and environmental impact which is caused by the disposable materials. Similarly, not everyone can afford to continuously purchase reusable pads and in some places around the world people do not have access to stores that sell them. Some females who do not choose disposable pads or tampons opt to use cloth menstrual pads or reusable tampons. Another alternative is the sea sponge, which lasts up to six months and is inserted into the vagina similarly to a tampon. Although there is a tradeoff of time and convenience, cloth menstrual pads can save on money and environmental degradation. 

The following website provides a more thorough variety of different alternatives to the usual disposable menstrual products:

Ecomenses -  Reusable Menstrual Products 

The Menstrual Cup

    Another alternative to pads and tampons is the menstrual cup. Although menstrual cups have been around since at least the 1800s, they were not patented until the 1930s by a woman named Leona Chalmers. By the 1960s they fell out of use. Recently however, there has been a resurgence in the use of menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are inserted into the vagina where they collect blood and can remain up to 12 hours before needing to be removed. They are primarily made of silicone or rubber and can last up to 10 years (depending on the brand). The average cost of one menstrual cup is around $30 and save an estimated cost of $150 to $200 a year (according to one menstrual cup company, DivaCup). They generally come in two sizes, one for females who have not yet given childbirth and one for females who have.

    Females who want to try using a menstrual cup generally need to be comfortable with their bodies and their bodily fluids, since they will be encountering them intimately. There are many benefits to the menstrual cup apart from cost. The average menstrual cup holds from around 15 to 30 ml of fluid, which is generally enough to last a full 12 hours. Depending on where a female is in her cycle, it might need to be removed and emptied more often. Since they are placed within the vagina like a tampon, they can be more comfortable than a menstrual pad. Menstrual cups also have no known connection to Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Using Menstrual Cups:

    When inserting a menstrual cup it is very important to wash your hands as well as the cup. Although some menstrual cup companies sell their own washes for the cup, they can also be washed with regular soap. Just remember to rinse the soap off completely to reduce chances of yeast infections. The way to insert the cup into the vagina is to fold it. There are various ways to do this, one of which is the “C-fold,” shown below. Before inserting the cup relax your pelvic floor muscles completely. Tensing them up can make insertion difficult. Many females have found that their pelvic floor muscles are the most relaxed after urinating, and choose to remove their menstrual cup then. When you insert the cup into your vagina, twist it in a circle to make sure that it has completely opened.



    In order to remove the cup, there is a stem at the base which you can reach with your fingers. Make sure to once again relax your vaginal muscles to avoid pain. Pinching the top of the cup as you remove it can similarly help reduce pain by reducing the suction which keeps the cup inside. After removing the cup, empty it in the sink, shower or toilet. Many companies recommend boiling the cup in hot water between periods to keep it sanitary. Some females notice a small amount of blood come out when they are using a menstrual cup and opt to use panty liners simultaneously. This blood does not mean the menstrual cup is leaking; it is usually the result of a small amount of blood being trapped between the menstrual cup and the vaginal canal upon insertion. Do not panic if your first experience using a menstrual cup is not perfect. For many females it takes a few cycles to get their technique down correctly. 

The following website provides detailed instruction on how to insert and remove a menstrual cup:

WikiHow: How to Use a Menstrual Cup

The Pill

    Some females suffer from more adverse effects during their menstrual cycle than others. Many of these females turn to oral contraceptives to deal with different side effects or other difficult attributes of their periods, such as acne, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), heavy bleeding or irregular cycles. Oral Contraceptives use hormones to reduce these side-effects, and there are some brands that even reduce the frequency of periods or eliminate them altogether. One example is the birth control pill Seasonique. More details on this birth control pill can be found by visiting our webpage via the above link.

Another example is Lybrel which eliminatea periods altogether. The following article highlights an assortment of different oral contraceptives with a variety of different functions:

Web MD – The New No-Period, No-PMS Birth Control Pills

This method is not for everyone. Oral contraceptives can cost from up to $30 a month and have varying hormonal side effects. However, for females whose periods impede on their day-to-day life, this can be a beneficial option. Additionally, many health insurance companies cover birth control in their plans. For females living in the United States where cost or privacy is an issue, those who have access to a local Planned Parenthood are most likely eligible for affordable birth control.



Last Updated 12 February 2013.

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