Pads, tampons or free bleeding: how to choose to manage your period
There are many different (and unconventional!) kinds of feminine hygiene products available, so here's a guide for you and your tween daughter to know what your options are when Aunt Flo comes for her monthly visit
If you grew up in Singapore then you may remember that some time around Primary 5, your form teacher quietly ushered all the girls to another classroom where a friendly lady from some feminine hygiene product company cheerfully greeted you and proceeded to share her knowledge about the menstrual cycle and what to expect.
You were then presented with some sort of goody bag with a pamphlet and a few products in preparation for that big day when you “turn into a woman”.
The feminine hygiene products given to you were most likely disposable sanitary pads and when the time came for Aunt Flo to pay you a visit, you probably reached for these handy pads and never looked back ever since.
But did you know that there are many other options available out there for you and your daughter to manage your periods? Some are eco-friendly, some can be DIY and some are even a little unconventional!
Commonly found in Singapore, disposable sanitary pads are absorbent pads with an underlying adhesive layer that you line your underwear with to absorb the menstrual blood and is disposed of then replaced throughout the day.
They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and the different special features may include:
These “wings” are extra flaps at the side of the pads with adhesives to help keep it in place and not bunch up in the middle as you go about your daily activities.
This feature is to help prevent any side leakage so you can have a peace of mind and not worry about staining your pants.
Blue absorption layer
This blue strip in the middle of the pad acts as an extra absorption layer for those with a heavy flow and need a bit more protection.
This pad is longer at the back and good for night-use when you are lying down or sleeping, as it will prevent any leakage.
Pros: Easy to find, convenient, many varieties to choose from.
Cons: Not good for the environment, added monthly cost, slightly uncomfortable to some, bulky in your underwear.
Reusable cloth pads
For those who want something a little more environmentally friendly, you may want to consider using reusable cloth pads, which can be ordered online, or you can even make it yourself!
Some women also opt for cloth pads as they are worried the disposable feminine hygiene products may contain odour neutralisers, artificial fragrances, artificial colours, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene and propylene glycol (PEG) – which are all harmful contaminants that have been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, vaginal dryness and even infertility.
Vans, an Artist who makes and uses her own DIY cloth pads explains that they’re actually comfortable to wear and quite easy to make as you can just find the templates online then cut it out on any fabric of your choice and start sewing.
“I think a lot of what stops people from trying alternatives (for feminine hygiene products) is the stigma behind periods and period blood – that it’s dirty etc, and it makes people hate their bodies and their periods.”
Pros: Better for the environment, economical, quite comfortable, comes in lovely prints and patterns.
Cons: If you’re outside, you need to bring along a “wet bag” to store your used pads and keep it in your purse the whole day; and you have to soak the used pads in cold water first before you can throw them in the wash with the rest of your laundry.
Although tampons can easily be found in Singapore, some women do not feel very comfortable using it.
Dyana B., a preschool teacher, recalls that right before she went on an overnight camp at Pulau Ubin during her secondary school days, she got her period, and not wanting to miss out on any fun in the water, she tried using tampons for the very first time.
“It was kind of difficult trying to figure out how to insert it and my mother kept trying to tell me instructions from the other side of the bathroom door – which was not very helpful because she’s never used tampons before either! I felt uncomfortable wearing it but didn’t want to miss swimming or sailing with all my friends.”
After a while, Dyana developed a fever, had a mild rash and felt lethargic so was brought to her family doctor who discovered that she was suffering from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
However not all women will get TSS when using tampons and it is recommended that you change your tampon every 4 – 8 hours, and no longer than that.
Pros: Discrete and no bulkiness in your underwear, can be used when swimming or in water.
Cons: Risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, a little costly, some find it difficult to use, hard to gauge whether you need to change it, not recommended to be used overnight.
You may not have heard of these odd-looking feminine hygiene product before, but it has actually been around for centuries and has slowly made a comeback in recent years by women seeking an alternative to the usual pads and tampons.
These soft and durable silicone cups are inserted into the vagina during menstruation to help collect menstrual blood, after which you can remove the cup, dispose of the fluids, wash and then reuse it.
There are some women who have also found an interesting way to make full use of the fluids collected and turn it into plant fertiliser for the garden!
Pros: Pretty comfortable, economical, reusable, better for the environment.
Cons: Inconvenience of having to properly sterilise the cup at the end of your period before storing it, and some may find it difficult to insert comfortably.
If you are sick of having to wear a clumpy pad, or shove foreign objects up your nether-regions every month, you might be happy to know that there are now period panties specifically designed to be absorbent, leak-resistant, and come in a variety of colours, patterns, styles and varying levels of absorbency for each woman’s needs.
How this magical underwear works is due to the many layers of leak-proof fabric which is washable and depending on the level of absorbency you select, can supposedly hold in up to two tampons’ worth of menstrual blood!
You might be worried that it will leak and leave an embarrassing stain on the MRT seat when you’re on the way home from work, but apparently they work pretty well and you won’t even feel any uncomfortable wetness throughout the day.
Pros: Looks and feels good, discrete, reusable, better for the environment.
Cons: Not easily available in Singapore, may come in limited sizes, and you have to soak them in cold water first before tossing them in the washing machine.
This controversial choice to abstain from using any feminine hygiene products and just literally let things flow is called “free bleeding” and has been in the spotlight as of late when bold campaigners in the UK held a protest against the Tampon Tax levy.
Although rumoured to be a recent elaborate anti-feminist hoax in 2014, this whole concept of free bleeding has actually been around for much longer, such as described by an author, Sarah, of a blog called All About My Vagina, back in 2004.
She writes, “I hadn’t thought much about ‘free bleeding’ because it seemed very obviously impractical to me to refrain from any kind of menstrual product and just bleed all over things during magic time. It seemed like a lot of laundry and public concern would ensue. I couldn’t think of any motivation to consider the idea, nor could I see any practical way to implement it even if I did decide it was a great plan.”
Free bleeding was even captured by a photographer in 2012 for a fashion spread which showed different women doing normal everyday activities, but with blood-stained underwear showing.
Pros: Saves you a lot of money every month, no risk of contact with harmful chemicals from using any feminine hygiene products, better for the environment.
Cons: Generally not widely accepted in our society (so be prepared for a lot of rude stares and negative remarks), stains your clothes and bedsheets (which we all know is a pain to wash out!) or pretty much everywhere that you sit on (it’s probably best to avoid white sofas).
Whether it’s pads, tampons, cups, special underwear or even free bleeding, it’s good to know that girls and women have so many different choices of feminine hygiene products now to try out and see which would work for us and make our lives a little easier when it’s that time of the month!