Choices Aplenty: Choosing Period Products

Several years ago, a friend’s 10-year-old daughter came for a sleepover, carrying two bags. In one bag she’d packed lots of supplies for her period/cycle bleed—and she wanted to talk about all of them! That evening, we explored the large stash of pads and tampons—we unwrapped, examined and compared them—you know just a typical sleepover/show-and-tell session!

Here’s an overview of the most current and common period/cycle bleed management options:

Period Underwear. Period underwear come in many different styles and patterns, from a longer boxer-style short to the cheeky styles that will suit all identities, activity levels and body shapes. While they look like regular underwear, they have a thicker gusset lining between the legs. The top layer of fabric allows the fluid to pass through to the middle layer that absorbs the fluid while the tightly woven bottom/outside layer prevents the fluid from leaking through. Some styles are thicker and can be worn for up to 8 hours which works overnight or for the length of a school day.

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The thinner styles can be worn on days with less fluid flow or when a person is awaiting a period/cycle bleed. The thinner styles can be helpful for young people who aren’t yet sure when their period/bleed will begin and feel anxious about being prepared. To clean them after a single use, simply rinse them and follow the machine wash and dry instructions. Some brands even make bathing suits, bike shorts and leggings with leak proof gussets for more active user options. Typically, a user will need to have 2–3 pairs of underwear in rotation to ensure they have an extra pair or two to use during wash times.

Re-usable Pads. Re-usable pads follow the same idea as period underwear, the major difference being that they are shaped like a pad and they usually use a snap to secure the pad to the gusset of regular underwear. They come in different sizes, colours, patterns and shapes from a light liner to overnight coverage. They are rinsed and washed as per instructions following use. They are typically changed every 4–6 hours so likely users will have to carry two with them for an entire day’s coverage. With both the underwear and reusable pads, it’s a good idea to carry a plastic pouch for used pads/underwear, another set of underwear or pads and maybe some leggings in case there’s need for back up!

Menstrual Cups. Menstrual cups or discs are worn inside the body in the vagina and rather than absorbing the fluid like a tampon, the fluid is collected by the cup or the disc and it’s either emptied, rinsed and re-inserted if it’s re-usable or discarded if it’s single use only. Most cups and discs are re-usable although there are a few brands of discs which are single use. Cups and discs are usually made of medical grade silicone and both require the user to be familiar and comfortable enough with their own bodies to insert and remove them with clean hands.

Cups typically sit very high in the vagina and create a suction to the cervix while discs sit a bit lower and have a seal but not suction. Some brands have different sizes for different sized/shaped bodies and/or heavier fluid flow days, while others use a universal-sized approach. Cups/discs usually only need to be emptied 2–4 times per day depending on the amount of the fluid flow and can also be easily worn during activities that involve water like swimming. Users who like to hike and camp or are planning extended travel often appreciate the ease and freedom of a re-usable cup or disc. At the end of a cycle, the re-usable cup or disk is washed and stored according to the instructions until next use. Reusable cups and discs usually need to be replaced after two years of use.

All of these products are becoming more accessible, affordable and popular. Beyond the obvious benefits of convenience and privacy, many users feel that these products are more environmentally and financially sustainable. Like anything health related, if you or your youth have interest in trying a new method, gather accurate information from reputable sources and choose a product that feels like a good physical and lifestyle match.

These new options will go a long way to support our young people through their period/cycle bleed with increased comfort, privacy and autonomy while reducing stigma and shame and leaving the outdated menstrual contraptions in the past!

Jennifer Gibson
Jennifer Gibson
Jennifer Gibson, MA, is also known as “The Sex Lady”— officially now for 15 years in Greater Victoria!—to the thousands of amazing youth and adults she is lucky to educate and learn with through her job as the Coordinator of Community Education at Island Sexual Health. She’s passionate about making sexuality education as positive, fun and non-cringe-able as possible.