Menstrual sponge? What’s that?
With sustainability on the rise, people are getting more conscious about the environment and how much waste is being contributed by them. One of the biggest waste generators are disposable menstrual products and so, sustainable period options like the menstrual sponge have seen a rise in the past few years.
A menstrual sponge is what it sounds like - a sea sponge, which is an aquatic organism made up of a component called spongin. These creatures attach themselves to surfaces underwater to filter seawater continuously and support their organic function. Sometimes, the menstrual sponges are manufactured with synthetic sponges instead of the real deal.
The thing about sea sponges is that they are extremely absorbent, and expand as they retain liquid inside. In this case, companies market them as alternatives to tampons, where you can insert a sea sponge inside, take it out at proper intervals to rinse and re-use. It is claimed that a menstrual sponge is reusable for six to twelve years.
How do period sponges even work?
In functioning, sea sponges work more like tampons and may or may not come with a string. The squishy material is pushed inside your vagina, where it absorbs the menstrual blood. When it’s removal time, you pull it out and drain the blood before you reinsert it. The synthetic ones are likely to be more durable and are probably shaped better.
Pros and cons of using a menstrual sponge
Like most other things, sea sponges have both pros and cons when it comes to using them and you may want to consider both before opting for a menstrual sponge.
- Sustainable - Most sponges can be reused for up to 6 months, with some extending to 12 months. So, these are sustainable and eco-friendly period care options that you can consider looking into.
- No added chemicals - With natural sea sponges, there are no added chemicals, fragrances or other irritants that can potentially harm you.
- Soft and comfortable - Since they are soft, spongy materials, they should be comfortable for your body and insertion and removal is likely not going to be painful.
- Messy - Since sea sponges are not exactly designed like tampons, and you have to reach into your vagina considerably to take them out, it can get bloody. Plus, when you squeeze the sponge to wring out the blood, there is no way to save yourself from the unfathomable mess
- Extra care - Since the sponges are not exactly easy to clean and maintain, they are quite high maintenance and can lead to possible infections.
- Not very sturdy - With use, it’s possible for the menstrual sponges to break apart as you’re pulling them out during removal.
Absorbency - Absorbency level can be hard to figure out in most cases and you have to do some trial and error to see how they perform during heavy flow.
Are they safe to use?
Ideally, a thorough cleaning should make the sea sponges safe to use, but it really has to be thoroughly cleaned. This can be quite tricky because even when you wring it out properly, residual blood may still be left inside (picture foundation stuck to beauty blenders).
The old blood is capable of altering the vagina’s pH balance and leading to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections. So, unless you are rigorously cleaning the sponges clean (which is quite difficult), they can prove to be unsafe in certain situations.
And, what about toxic shock syndrome?
Like tampons, it is possible for sea sponges to cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS), even though it is quite rare. If you notice any of the symptoms like high fever, nausea, rashes, dizziness or seizures, you should be prepared for a hospital visit immediately.
So, how do you go about using one?
Period sponges can be tricky or easy, depending on your experience and level of comfort with invasive period products. But, the following is how it usually works no matter what type of sponge you are using.
- Make sure that before anything else, you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Use a little water or water-based lube on the sponge to make it moist and usable.
- After you wet the sponge, squeeze it out to remove any excess liquid, so that you’re left with a slightly moist sponge.
- Get into a comfortable position like squatting, sitting on the toilet or standing with one leg up on the seat.
- Spreading your labia apart, insert the sponge into your vagina like a tampon and that’s it!
- Again, make sure to wash your hands before attempting removal.
- Squatting (or choosing whatever position you’re comfortable with) in the bathroom, insert two fingers inside your vagina and find the sponge.
- If you can’t reach it, try pushing with your vaginal muscles a little and see if it comes down. You shouldn’t push too hard or all the time, since you may end up making your pelvic floor weak. So, be careful with this one or consult a gynaecologist for more information.
- Grab the base of the sponge and pinch it as hard as you can and as high up as you can before attempting to pull. This will minimise the chances of breakage.
- Pull out the sponge from your vagina and then move on to cleaning it before reinsertion.
It is always recommended to not keep the sponge in for more than 8 hours in any case. However, to be safest, consider removal and reinsertion every 3 to 4 hours.
How do you keep a menstrual sponge clean?
There is a lot of conflicting information out there on how to clean a menstrual sponge, but here’s a guide that’s usually followed:
- Before beginning the cleaning process, check the sponge for any sand or sea debris that may be stuck to it. If you see any, pick it out with a tweezer or nose plier after washing the instrument.
- Wet the sponge in warm water and soak it or boil it for at least several minutes.
- You can use slight vinegar, tea tree oil or hydrogen peroxide to clean it further. But, be careful since this may end up disrupting your vaginal pH in many cases.
- Wring it out and rinse it thoroughly till it’s almost back to its original shape.
- Leave it out to dry in a safe and clean place and put it away for your next use in a clean, dry place.
Other sustainable alternatives to look into
The sea sponge may or may not seem like a great option to you if you’re considering a sustainable period product that’s easy and comfortable to use. You may look into the following options and see if they work for you instead of menstrual sponges:
- Menstrual cups - This is one of the best sustainable period options that are also incredibly comfortable and safe to use. What’s more? They’re super easy to clean with dedicated cleansers in the market like the Carmesi Menstrual Cup Wash! If you’re looking for a great menstrual cup option, try the Carmesi Menstrual Cup. It’s incredibly soft and easy to use, and will last you up to 10 years!
- Menstrual discs - These are disc-shaped period products that can be inserted into the vagina and left for as long as menstrual cups. They function more or less the same as cups but vary in their shape. Also, you can have sex with a menstrual disc inside, which is not possible with a cup.
- Period underwear - If you don’t mind washing and reusing your period wear, you should truly look into period underwear. They look and feel like regular underwear, and are designed to be worn overnight for a comfortable and leak-proof sleeping experience. You can try the disposable ones too. Check out the Carmesi Disposable Overnight Underwear!