A series of pink waterfalls cascade down a mountain.
A series of pink waterfalls cascade down a mountain.
(Illustration by MRhea using Leonardo.Ai.)

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.

Read more: Six months using a sea sponge tampon alternative

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.

Let me document the pain for you

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.

Improvements noticed after starting

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.

Drawbacks to the sea sponge

  • 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.

Moldy housing and workplace a factor

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: period subscription boxes!

When I first wrote this, The Period Store was new thing (I think) and carried all sorts of traditional and alternative feminine products that you could arrange to have mailed to you on a regular schedule. I had no experience with that type of service but it seemed like a major improvement over the anemic drugstore options. Now there’s all kinds of subscription services! They’ll even include chocolate!

Publish and update info

This post was first published on April 12, 2013 and updated in August 2015 and August 2023.

16 thoughts on “Six months using a sea sponge tampon alternative”

  1. Thank you for sharing. I realize this post is probably in the archives by now, but was one of the top search engine results. Therefore, someone else is sure to land here soon like I did and I think this might be helpful:

    About the dreadful issue of changing/rinsing the sponge while out in public. Very few of us have the luxury to not be outside our homes for at least 8 hours at a time, so it’s a very legitimate concern! Have you or any of your readers tried carrying a water bottle with you in your purse and rinsing it that way? I am going to give that a try at work this week. 🙂

    • No one has mentioned that yet. Let us know how it works. Maybe a bottle with a long spout like marathon runners and hockey players use, to control splashing?

    • I’ve found that the easiest way to deal with my period in public is to find a “unisex” restroom or handicapped stall with a sink where I can tend to my personal hygiene in peace. If you seriously cannot find a real bathroom then just press the sponge to purge out the excess fluid and reinsert… then use the water bottle to wash up. Trying to wash out the sponge uses way more water.

      On a more serious note, I really feel that schools and workplaces especially but all public places need to be more sensitive to the privacy of all genders. Private restrooms with wash facilities as well as publicly accessible sanitary products in additional toilet paper should become the norm. It is 2017 and in 1st-world countries, no self-respecting human being should have to relieve themselves in a hole.

  2. YOUR BLOG DESTROYS ME!!! In such a good, good way. Every article. I think we’re like long lost twins. I especially like the description of the sound factor related to sponge use. I never used my ladyparts as a musical instrument before (well, ok, there was that ONE time at a slumber party in high school where my girlfriends and I got tipsy and challenged each other to a queef-off but you didn’t really want to know about that…)
    At any rate… I started off with jade pearl’s sponges but then discovered that since I have to trim the sponges down *anyway* I might as well go and buy a giant bath grade sea sponge from the health food store for a fraction of the price and just cut my own. This way I can make them to suit myself and it works just as well. And I second your discovery that the sponges seem to really calm the cramping. I’ve only been at this for about 4 cycles, so I am still learning. Thanks for your blog and the recommendation for methionine. I am ready to try it, especially after reading about it a while back when researching Pyroluria.

    • LMAO… Never occurred to me to make my own sponges. I gotta try that. BTW another thing I’ve tried for inflammation is the herb Boswellin, which has helped other inflammation symptoms a lot — puffy face and rotator cuff pain — although I have to use more than the label dosage.

  3. I am on my second cycle of trying the sea sponges. There are lots of things I really love about them, such as you can just rinse them while in the shower, super comfortable, no chafing string, no irritation from that super absorbency. What I dislike so far is the public change issue, heavy day over night which equals leaking for me, and just the outright odor of menstrual blood when rinsing on heavy days. I just had the idea to try the plastic bag for work thing, because let’s face it, it’s going to be full while you’re at work. And yes sometimes trying to remove them is pure irritation, especially when you know your bathroom will look like a homicide if you’re not right on top of the toilet. So they are definitely worth a try, and will take some adjustment. I’m still learning for sure. I get mine from a woman in California, Holy Sponge is the shop on Etsy. She also sells them as “denser porosity” for heavier days rather than just larger.

  4. Oh my gosh, I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Tears, real tears!! streaming down my face. Thanks for the info – never heard of this tampon alternative, but now I feel like I could make a much better decision. 🙂

  5. Hi there,

    Have you ever considered visiting an ostheopath? My ostheo flipped my pelvis, did some acupuncture and in two months my menstrual cramps & PMS (both nightmarish) disappeared. Apparently, giving birth tilted my pelvis etc…
    I am on the cup but am fascinated by your spunges 🙂

  6. I use a Sckoon cup and am madly in love with it. I’ve just bought a Meluna, but haven’t gotten to try it yet. I’ve heard the Diva is one of the hardest cups on the market, so if you ever want to try cups again, look around and see what might work better for you. A softer cup or a different shape (longer/shorter, wider/narrower) may be just the thing. It may also be less messy to empty than changing the sponge, but I haven’t tried a sponge yet. (It’s my next experiment!)

    • Thank you for the info! Once the pain and inflammation eased up, I went back to store-bought tampons, but the pain is slowly returning. My local health food store carries three brands of cups now so I’ll start there.

  7. I found your information the most informative of all. I have been having lots of pain and suffering lately with my period, and the tampons I’ve been using. The sea sponges seem to be a better alternative to my problems. Normally a regular tampon when I take it out is only bloody on one side, exaggerating the inflammation on my vaginal wall. Sea sponges just maybe the answer for me! I will order some, and then I will let you know if it has helped me out in any way, shape, form,or fashion. Thanks for your input on this issue!!!

    • You’re welcome. If you haven’t already, you might check out the methionine post. I think that eventually helped the inflammation. A recent experiment with big doses of magnesium also seemed to help. Good luck!

  8. Hi, thank you for the helpful information. I am really considering trying out sponges. I’m trying to figure out what size to buy. Does a light sponge = a light tampon, regular sponge = regular tampon, etc? I’d really appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

    • The label sizes refer to physical size rather than absorbency. I suggest buying a combo package, because it takes some experimenting to find or shape (with scissors) the right size. Then you can make smaller and larger ones within your size range to deal with different flow levels. I would change the width around, not the length, so as not to lose that sucker in the depths. (Or you can tie dental floss at one end, as suggested on the Jade & Pearl instructions.)

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