Menstruation can be troublesome at times.
Luckily, there are various sanitary products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups that are in the market to aid us during such times. Smell wise, there is a higher likelihood for a more pungent scent during that period of the month, mainly due to the increased blood flow, and disruption of the internal pH of the vaginal environment.
Hence, the choice of the type of feminine product used to manage the blood flow during this period plays an important part in maintaining the health of our vaginas, which can also ultimately affect the way we smell!
The average age to start menopause for a woman is around 51 years old. With the average age of girls starting menstruation around 12 years old, a typical woman experiences roughly 39 years of monthly menses.
This equates to about 468 sessions of the menstrual cycle, lesser if there are more pregnancies. Most women bleed between 3 to 5 days, while shorter periods like 2 days and longer time like 7 days is still considered normal. Regardless, this means that the average woman can spend about 5 years in her lifetime experiencing menstruation flow.
There are 3 commonly used types of sanitary products – pads, tampons and menstrual cups. I have used all three products separately at different points of my life and find that all the products have pros and cons when in consideration of different categories such as material safety, disruption to vaginal environment, smell, convenience, etc.
Below is a compiled list of the advantages and disadvantages I could think of for these 3 products.
- Noticed no smell when changed regularly (every 4 hours).
- Tampons can be very absorbent, and can dry out the vagina, especially during light flow. This disrupts the internal environment which can give rise to potential health issues such as infections.
- Can potentially cause abrasions when removed, especially when tampon gets stuck to the walls of the vagina during light flow (because it is so absorbent)
- Because of the convenience and fit (when inserted properly), some women forget about their tampons and leave it beyond recommended change times. This can lead to smell, even a rotten smell, if left forgotten for days!
- When we do remember to change it regularly, some fiber of the tampon can potentially get left behind, which can be a catalyst for more infection opportunities!
- A more scary consequence for tampons used beyond recommended periods is Toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially fatal illness caused by bacterial infection.
- Materials used to make tampons can be a source of concern. Tampons are usually made of cotton and rayon for absorbency reasons. Many cotton farmers used copious amounts of pesticides to make sure that their crop flourish. Then in order to make these raw materials white and clean, they usually bleach it with chlorine. On the other hand, rayon can contain dioxin, which is carcinogenic. Now, imagine all these being placed in direct contact to the walls within your vagina. Remember that the vaginal environment is made up of mainly vascular muscles, which means that it can easily absorb components that it is exposed to. If we try to eat healthily with foods with reduced/no pesticides and avoid carcinogens, why are we exposing our bodies to potential risks?
- Starts to smell if left on too long; also can potentially cause infection because of the moist, humid environment
- High leak potential due to design and wear – not only embarrassing but also pungent! I remember having to wear white skirts as part of school uniforms, and red and brown spots on the back of those whities at least once a year due to leaks from overflow. White skirts for school going children/teens should be outlawed!
- The material lining can be uncomfortable, and can potential cause abrasions, especially around the folds of skin between groin and inner thigh.
- The same issues with material safety as tampons. Despite not being within the vagina, the direct contact to the opening of the vagina can still cause leaching of the chemicals into the body. There have also been anecdotal reports of allergies to the materials used.
- That being said, pads are probably still a better option as compared to tampons and cups when experiencing an infection down there. A more environmentally friendly option of pads are reusable cloth pads.
- No smell with a snug fit, also have longer periods (8 hours) between change
- Does not disrupt internal environment because it does not dry out the vaginal wall as what it does is to collect the fluids, not absorb them.
- Fits just like tampon, only safer?
- Choice of material matters – most menstrual cups on the market are made with soft medical grade silicone, and some are made from latex. There are people who are allergic to latex so be careful!
- If placed improperly resulting in a poor seal between cup and vaginal wall, leaks can still occur.
- May not be suitable if there is an ongoing infection down there because it is still an external object.
- No appropriate to use after birth
- It does take some getting used to insert the cup at the start, but when placed properly, you should not feel anything. A few practices and we are good to go. However, I find that the menstrual cup tends to shift when there is a need to poop, so it is probably a good idea to remove it prior to that. The good thing is that this shift can help reduce the possibility of forgetting to change the cup.
My personal preference remains the menstrual cup, because of its convenience, friendliness to environment (both external and internal) and is really useful in cupping the smell (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun there). Oh, while we are at it, here’s another one – “Once you go cup, you never go pad!”
Regardless of your choice of sanitary product, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of practicing good hygiene in handling them. Always wash hands properly before and after usage, choose better materials for your products, and if using menstrual cup, make sure it is washed and sanitized properly every time.