The first time I got my period, I was at my friend’s bat mitzvah party.
My stomach cramped all night, and when I finally headed to the bathroom to investigate, I pulled down my panties to discover that Cora Stern wasn’t the only one who’d become a woman that day. I’ve been getting my monthly negative pregnancy test from Mother Nature ever since. And honestly, it hasn’t gotten any simpler. Of the two mainstream options for dealing with menstruation, one leaves me feeling like I’ve pissed myself and the other involves shoving a glorified cat toy up my vagina.
I’m not the only Wildcat fed up with pads and tampons. Alternative menstrual products are having a renaissance, and more and more students at Northwestern are staunching the crimson tide in unconventional ways. Sharon Wang, a Weinberg sophomore and the events chair for Sexual Health and Assault Peer Education (SHAPE), recently gave a presentation to the group on some lesser-known menstrual products, including menstrual cups, sponges, reusable pads and “period underwear” such as THINX. Wang was inspired to make the presentation after SHAPE’s faculty advisor heard her extolling the virtues of the DivaCup, a popular menstrual cup sold at retailers like Whole Foods, before a meeting and suggested she prepare a more formal talk.
Wang speculates that students might not explore their options because they aren’t taught to think outside the box when it comes to menstruation.
“Part of it is probably just that when you start your period you go to your mom and the simplest, most readily available thing are pads and tampons,” she says.
Wang started using the DivaCup regularly her first year at Northwestern after her older sister introduced her to the product. Besides the fact that it eliminates the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection that can develop when someone waits too long to change a tampon, and that it promotes a “healthy vaginal environment,” Wang says she likes the DivaCup because it’s easy to use. According to the company’s website, it is safe to wear the menstrual cup for up to 12 hours before cleaning it, and the cup is reusable for up to a year.
“It’s just so convenient, you can wear it for as long as you want,” she says. “So many times I’ll just forget that I’m even on my period. It just helps your period not inhibit your life.”
Wang’s presentation inspired Phoebe Fox, a Communication sophomore and SHAPE member, to purchase THINX’s period panties. Fox has quickly become enamored with the underwear.
“I feel like I could be a spokesperson for them,” Fox says. “I love them so much, I’ve been telling so many people.”
Fox had always “detested using pads and tampons,” and was thrilled with how effective her THINX were at keeping her dry and comfortable throughout her cycle.
“I’d check them because I was scared they would leak, but they didn’t,” she says. She even slept in them overnight by mistake on the heaviest day of her period, but was still leak-free when she woke up the next day.
She also likes how eco-friendly they are, especially when compared to pads and tampons. Fox plans to purchase more pairs of the panties, which she describes as “lacy and cute,” as soon as possible.
Others use intrauterine devices (IUDs) to deal with menstrual drama. IUDs are contraceptives inserted directly into the uterus that prevent pregnancy until the device is removed.
Jess Zeidman*, a Communication sophomore, struggled with intestinal problems every time she menstruated, causing her incapacitating pain for days at a time.
“It would obliterate me,” Zeidman says.
Though IUDs are used primarily for birth control, Zeidman’s mother, a gynecologist, recommended a hormonal IUD to alleviate Jess’s symptoms. Zeidman got the small plastic implant in August of 2014, and hasn’t had a period since.
Northwestern students might be experimenting with different ways to deal with the blood that gushes from their nether regions every four-or-so weeks, but campus health services haven’t quite caught up. According to Lisa Currie, Northwestern’s director of health promotion and wellness, Searle Health Center does not offer any literature or education about alternative menstrual products, primarily due to lack of demand. It also does not offer on-site IUD insertion, only prescriptions for the procedure.
“If there was interest, it’s definitely something we could pursue,” Currie says.
Until then, students can learn more easily about ways to ditch the Kotex from friends or online sources than they can from the University itself.
Everyone I talked to stressed that these methods might not be good for those who aren’t totally comfortable with their anatomy. Fox described wringing the blood out of her underwear in vivid detail, and Wang mentioned that “sticking things inside yourself can get messy and weird,” when using a menstrual cup. But lucky for me, I’m not squeamish, which is why I’ll be heading down to Whole Foods before my next period to pick up a DivaCup of my own. I’m probably never going to look forward to my period, but at the very least I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and try something new.