What to Do With Menstrual Flow

By OBOS Anatomy & Menstruation Contributors | April 1, 2014

Across time and cultures, a variety of products have been used for absorbing or catching menstrual flow. The choice most often comes down to comfort, availability, convenience and price. You might find the perfect match right away, or try different options in the search for a better fit.

Commercial tampons or pads (also called sanitary napkins) absorb blood and are readily available. Here are some common questions about tampons:

Will a tampon get lost inside me?

No, absolutely not. The vagina is a closed space, and the opening of the cervix is far too small for the tampon to get inside. It is true, though, that a tampon can be forgotten and may slip into a vaginal fold, becoming difficult to find and remove. This can result in a strong odor and brown discharge after a few days. If you have trouble finding the string, you can squat down and reach the tampon with your fingers. DocGurley.com has some funny (and informative) posts about the “The Lost Tampon,” including this video.

Will tampons make me sick?

No. You may have heard that tampons cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a serious but rare condition caused by bacteria. Keeping tampons in longer than eight hours can increase the risk of TSS. If used according to the directions on the package and changed regularly, though, tampons are safe.

If I use a tampon, does that affect my virginity?

Again, no. Tampon use may be one of the factors that play a role in the disintegration of your hymen, but whether you have a visible hymen says nothing about whether you have had sex.

Other Options

For varied reasons — including comfort, a preference for reusable products, and worries about chemical residues — you may opt for modified or alternative products, such as all-cotton (sometimes organic) chlorine-free tampons, chlorine-free disposable pads, washable cloth pads, and devices that collect rather than absorb the menstrual fluid.

All-cotton and all-organic cotton, chlorine-free tampons are often sold in health food stores and online, and increasingly at drug and grocery stores. Also, you can make your own cloth pads. Some DIY sites offer very economical alternatives.

Natural sea sponges work like tampons, and they are relatively inexpensive and reusable; just be sure to follow cleaning directions for before and between uses. (Here’s a good review of the process involved with using the Sea Pearls menstrual sponge.)

Other products collect rather than absorb menstrual fluid. The Keeper, the DivaCup, and the Mooncup are three examples of reusable menstrual cups — elongated cups made of rubber or medical-grade silicone that are inserted internally. They can be worn up to 12 hours and kept in during swimming and other physical activities, but you’ll need to remove them before intercourse or other insertive sex. You can also use a diaphragm or a cervical cap in the same way as a cup.

The Softcup comes in both disposable and reusable versions. Shaped differently, it is inserted higher than the other menstrual cups, over the cervix, so it’s possible to keep in during sex.