Sea sponges used instead of tampons significantly eased inflammation-based period pain for me (that is, not cramping).
W A R N I N G: Graphic lady-parts talk follows!
Please, Lord, don’t let me accidentally post this on my writing client’s WordPress account, or 5,000 muscle car owners in Texas will get a nasty shock.
In addition to the Niagarrhagia I documented last year, I’ve also been plagued by steadily increasing pain during my periods that started to get distracting a few years ago. It originally started a decade ago, but once I switched to organic tampons it went away for several years.
This isn’t the usual cramping pain, but a something-has-gone-very-wrong inflammation kind of pain. And of course a series of exams and fancy-ass tests with beeping, blinking machines revealed nothing.
For a while the pain would start several days into the period. Then it started at the beginning. Then it got to the point where just thinking about my period made my teeth grind. Another weird development was this spasm thing where I’d have a strong urge to bear down hard with the muscles traditionally used to expel progeny (or belly dance), as if my body was attempting to get rid of the tampon.
Finally it got so dreadful I started looking at tampon alternatives. (Pads are not even remotely an option). The first I found was the Diva menstrual cup, but it seemed too difficult to insert and remove. So I started with a sea sponge — natural sponges from Australia and Thailand (I think) that you can size with scissors. The company that sells most of them calls them sea pearls.
I was intrigued by accounts of women whose heavy periods became much lighter and shorter after several months on the sponge. Some believe that the chemicals used in commercial tampons and pads, designed to make them more absorbent, actually go overboard and start drawing too much fluid from your body.
The difference in comfort was noticeable immediately. It was a huge relief. I actually couldn’t feel it at all. The spasms stopped, too. The sponges are much more absorbent than tampons, depending on how you size them. No odor attaches to the sponge after it’s rinsed; it just smells like a wet sponge.
Other changes I noticed over the next months:
- The last two days of the cycle became much, much lighter.
- Horrifically heavy days went down from 2.5 days (and 2 nights) to 1.25 days, but those hours are still pretty heavy.
- Clots disappeared, but then reappeared a few months later. Not sure what that’s about.
- The weird odor that started a few years ago appeared later and later in the cycle, then stopped altogether.
- The lack of accumulated trash in the waste bin is a nice change.
Here are the drawbacks:
- For me they don’t last as long as advertised — three to six months — but it may be because when I disinfect them in hydrogen peroxide I tend to wander off and leave them soaking for too long.
- I have yet to change a sponge in public, and I’m not looking forward to it. You sure as heck don’t want to be rinsing that thing in public, so a spare is needed and the used one goes in a plastic bag. (Preferably a firmly-sealed opaque one, to minimize the potential for traumatizing innocent civilians should you end up tripping and tossing your handbag’s contents all over the floor. I worry about these things.) The logistics of all this in an office bathroom freaks me out — keeping your hands and clothes clean during the switch, etc.
- Figuring out the right size takes some doing. It took me five months of experimenting to get two sizes to work for different flow levels. The instructions that indicate how to shape them were not helpful.
- Rinsing the sponge when your sink isn’t smack-dab next to your toilet might be tricky.
- And then there’s the noise factor. I don’t understand why this happens — maybe because the thing is full of holes, and when you cough you become a sort of twisted wind instrument? The only time that happened with a tampon was with much-too-small tampons on very heavy days, when sneezing or during a, uh, sudden flood. It doesn’t happen all the time, and even less when I switched to a larger size, but it only takes one incident during a business presentation and you’ve got PTSD for the rest of your life.
- Fishing around in your coochie for errant feminine products can induce grunting and swearing, which might have negative effects on your reputation at work.
At this time I’m inclined to say that whatever causes the heavy flow and inflammation is still unidentified, but the sponge lessens the irritation a great deal.
Update 8-28-15: It appears now that these symptoms are due to long-term mold exposure. So far, three months after moving out of my water-damaged apartment building, the inflammation and pain are much improved. Because I’ve been taking vitamin K at the same time, which has controlled the bleeding in the past, I can’t say for sure what effect mold avoidance has had on the flow level, but mold toxin experts say that menstrual “flooding,” as they call it, is a frequently reported symptom of mold poisoning.
Side note: The Period Store carries all sorts of traditional and alternative feminine products that you can arrange to have mailed to you on a regular schedule. I don’t know if there are other similar services out there and I have no experience with this one whatsoever — I just saw a post about it elsewhere (one of the owners has a hairstyling blog) and checked it out. They carry two brands of menstrual cup and two brands of sea sponge, plus washable cloth napkins and even something from FRANCE! Ohmigosh. Each monthly package also comes with chocolate.