One afternoon when I was in fourth grade, the girls were whisked away in secret to watch a video about periods, pads, and tampons. That’s about where my public education on menstruation began and ended—a secret discussion that boys couldn’t be privy to. And it was, from that moment forward, ingrained in us that it is somehow embarrassing to get your period.
It isn’t, of course, and some of us at WIRED talked at length about our period flows and habits, and tested new menstrual products to find the best budget- and eco-friendly alternative methods. It can be scary to try something new, but it’s actually a perfect time to switch things up, since the Covid-19 pandemic has created a homebound reality for a lot of us. If you’re working or taking classes from home, you won’t have to worry about being uncomfortable or potentially leaking in public until you’ve got a system down.
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Period underwear absorbs blood without feeling damp. It’s a great place to start. Most period underwear is not cheap, but you can save money in the long run by not having to stock up on so many tampons or pads. Start out with a pair or two; eventually you can get enough to last your whole cycle.
They mostly feel just like any other pair of underwear. Even when I used the heaviest protection, I didn’t feel like I was wearing thick underwear or pull-up diapers (or even a pad for that matter). It also doesn’t look like you’ve got extra padding on under your clothes.
I tried multiple styles of underwear from Bambody and Modibodi through several periods and am not going back.
Bambody costs about about $10 to $15 a pair, and I particularly liked the Absorbent Hipsters, which holds up to two tampons worth of fluid. Bambody underwear comes in two options: absorbent for heavy days and leak-proof for light days.
Modibodi is pricy at $20 to $30+ a pair, but it does have more styles and colors to choose from. The Classic Boyshorts are my favorite for lounging at home. Modibodi also has more absorbency levels: heavy-overnight (about three to four tampons worth), moderate-heavy (two to three tampons), and light-moderate (two tampons).
Menstrual cups are polarizing, but they’re worth trying. Tampons and pads require frequent changing and are not great for the environment—they’re made to be thrown away after a few hours, after all. A menstrual cup is a reusable, long-lasting silicone cup that holds blood and prevents leaks; you buy it once and it should last several years, at least. There’s a learning curve, so try it out on days that you’ll be home.
First, you’ll need to fold the menstrual cup (there’s many different ways to do this) and insert it into your vagina—feel around to make sure it completely unfolds so it can creates a seal. When you’re ready to take it out, pinch the base of the cup slightly to break the seal—don’t worry, if you’re wearing the right cup and it’s inserted properly, it shouldn’t feel like it’s being ripped out. I hardly felt it. Depending on your flow, most menstrual cups can stay in for 12 hours so you can go a whole work day without having to empty it.
The MeLuna Cup is a great choice. It comes in several sizes, firmness levels, and even colors. See the company’s tips on finding the right fit. If you’re dedicated to switching to a menstrual cup, you may have to try a few before you find your perfect one. Bambody menstrual cups are also great.
Long before disposable products like Kotex were available, people simply bled into their clothes, or used homemade flannel cloths if bleeding was particularly heavy. Women often stuffed used rags into their pants to be washed and reused later. Hence the phrase “being on the rag.”
Nowadays, reusable pads are well-made and … kind of cute! Admittedly, they’re a less convenient option if you have to go to an office and find a way to store used pads through the workday. But if you currently work at home (like me), they’re convenient, affordable, and readily available.
The pads are made from a variety of materials. Fleece is absorbent, and newer companies are exploring the use of alternative fabrics like hemp, bamboo, or material infused with activated charcoal to reduce smells. If your skin is easily irritated, or you’re just starting to experiment, we recommend starting out with 100-percent unbleached cotton.
For storage, we recommend getting a small sealed bin of some sort where you can soak them in cold water and wash them at the end of the day.
Period subscription services are not the huge money savers I thought they’d be—you can absolutely spend less on more products if you shop around. But they can offer convenience, peace of mind, and customizability.
There’s nothing as devastating as starting your period and reaching under the sink only to find an empty box. With a subscription, you don’t have to worry about adding products to your store list and making sure you stock up before that time of the month. And as long as the pandemic is raging, anything that helps keep me away from the masses is a plus.
I use tampons more than pads, and tend to opt for multipacks so I can get regular and super absorbency levels. But I end up wasting a lot of them, since I rarely use light tampons. A subscription will help you customize your box to exactly what you need.
Athena Club costs $8 for 18 tampons in whatever combination of absorbencies you need. For the same price you can get 12 pads in regular, super, or a combination of the two. If you use liners, they have them too.
Lola costs $10 for 18 tampons in whatever size variations you need. The price drops a bit if you pay for more than one month at a time. You can also get 12 pads with wings for $9 or opt for cardboard applicators or no applicators for a few bucks less—the latter is not as strange to use as it sounds.
I recommend being conservative and subscribing to just the packs of products you use the most. For example, I wouldn’t use its Lola Period Essentials Kit which comes with tampons, liners, and wipes because I rarely use liners over pads and only use a wipe when I feel I really need to clean up after a tampon change. (Wipes can potentially throw off vaginal pH and create problems, but they can be helpful for cleaning up outside your vagina.)
Rose War Panty Power costs $25 and is a great subscription if you want to indulge yourself or a loved one in a monthly gift—something we should all get for dealing with periods. It’s more expensive than the other boxes because you’re not just getting pads or tampons (you’ll get 15 of those), you also get two pairs of underwear (they’re cute too!), and three to five gifts, such as beauty product samples and snacks. At sign up, you’ll take a brief survey to customize what type of period products, underwear, and gifts you prefer.
Birth control can help shorten periods and reduce some of the monthly symptoms. If you take a daily birth control pill, you know it’s important to take it on time everyday—missing pills could throw your cycle off, cause spotting, and lower your protection against pregnancy. I have an alarm set on my phone, but there are times when I’ll turn it off and forget about it until hours later. The Emme smart birth control case pairs with an app sends a few push notification reminders so I don’t forget.
It does more than remind you to take a pill, though; the app helps you keep track of your period, symptoms, and libido levels, which can help you determine if the pill you’re on is right for you. If you miss a pill, the app will give you recommendations on what to do. This case is expensive at $99, but it’s a welcome change in my routine that has kept me on track. It’s also quite pretty.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding vaginas and how they are “supposed” to look and smell. So much so that there are tons of products marketed as vaginal washes to balance your pH and make you smell like roses and sugar, spice, and everything nice. But vaginas are self-cleaning and don’t need specific washes. It’s one thing to occasionally use a wet wipe to clean up any menstrual blood or discharge from sex that’s on your skin—not in your actual vagina—but using wipes every day intended to mask odors, or using anything that’s marketed as a wash for your vagina, could throw off your pH rather than balance it, and could lead to actual problems like yeast infections. If you are considering one of these specialty washes because you feel like something isn’t normal for you, you may want to consult with your doctor.
WIRED reviewer Medea Giordano coordinated and led testing on this piece. Senior reviewer Adrienne So also tested and contributed.
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Menstruation, Sanitary napkin, Feminine hygiene, Menstrual cup
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