Buyables

VICE Staffers Tested All the Newest Period Products for Stuff that Matters

Here’s how period panties, menstrual cups, and other next-gen products work for leaks, cramps, and period sex.
February 10, 2020, 5:56pm
Menstrual cup, disc and underwear
Collage by Lia Kantrowitz

With so many companies advertising new period products that claim to be healthier, more accessible, or more sustainable, there are now lots of options available for people who menstruate.

But wrapping our heads around so many options—period panties, menstrual cups, menstrual discs, sea sponges, literal period rags—can be a little overwhelming, so several VICE staffers decided to test and review them.

While one cycle isn’t enough to determine whether these products are actually better for your long-term health, or for the environment, than traditional pads and tampons, the VICE testers could at least give their honest opinions on things that matter day-to-day: pricing, leak management, comfort, and period sex. We’ve compiled their feedback as a guide to help you decide which solution might be worth trying.

Menstrual Disc

Reviewer: Darlene Demorizi a.k.a. Dee Nasty
Heaviness of periods (scale of 1-5): 5

“I just couldn’t get into the sex because I had the disc in the back of my mind...and cervix.”

The plastic ring “looks a lot like a Livestrong band,” and is placed at the base of the cervix to catch blood, Demorizi said. “The packaging states that one [disc] is enough for 12 hours, but I believe that’s only for people with light periods. I had to use three on my second day,” she said.

Demorizi said the ring is easy to insert, but “you have to be super comfortable with getting all up in your pu$$y.” And “the first time I inserted the Softdisc, I placed it incorrectly so I did leak and it was uncomfortable. I could literally feel the plastic ring...it was slipping out. Once I watched the tutorial on their website and inserted it correctly, I didn’t leak anymore.”

While testing, she said her cramps didn’t feel as extreme. “I didn’t need as many painkillers as I would usually take during the first two days.”

“I couldn’t really get into it because I knew that the disc was in there,” she said of sex while using the disc. “I was worried my bf’s dick would poke the disc, take it out of place, and a scene from ‘The Shining’ would take place on my white sheets. It didn’t happen,” she said. “He said he didn’t feel it while having sex, so it works!”

Where to buy: Widely available
Price: $11 for 14 discs (enough for one cycle)

Sea Sponge

Reviewer: Sara David
Heaviness of periods (scale of 1-5): 5

“I have been known to bleed through a tampon and pad...I have a tilted uterus and my periods have become more intense with age, so tampons/anything requiring insertion have been uncomfortable.”

The good news about the sea sponge? No leakage. But there are other reasons why this solution is a mess.

You have to soak it, cut the sponges down to customize the size to your body, and when the time comes to remove it, it’s a mess, David said. You have to “SQUEEZE THE BLOOD OUT WITH YOUR OWN HANDS like a regular sponge if you ever want to use it again.”

David said this was “absolutely uncomfortable every step of the way. I nearly gave up trying to use it because it took four attempts to even get the sponge inside of me—and that was after I cut it down to about half its size!” The discomfort was so strong that period sex was out of the question. “I couldn’t even imagine being touched after,” she said. “Absolutely never again.”

Reusable sea sponges are more environmentally friendly than disposable products, but too much of a hassle, David said. “I’d be thrilled to find a comfortable, more environmentally friendly go-to, I just don’t know if the inconveniences are worth it. For the convenience of drugstore tampons and pads, I’ve so far been willing to find other ways to reduce my carbon footprint,” she said.

Where to buy: Amazon
Price: $28, but each is supposed to last 3-6 months

Period Panties

Reviewer: Sally Burtnick
Heaviness of periods (scale of 1-5): 1

Because of intense cramps and pain using tampons, “I find the easiest way for me to deal with my period is externally which, up until now, meant pads,” Burtnick said. “Pads suck...but they’re the path of least resistance.”

For this test, Burtnick tried Thinx period panties and found they did the job, across the board. “No leaks of which to speak!” she said. She tried a thong, the classic cheeky, and sport styles, and said they held up well. “I wasn’t paranoid at all.” As for comfort, they were “sturdier than classic panties,” she said, but she tried the cheeky version with a spandex dress and saw no pantylines.

As for period sex with period panties? The only thing that will stand in your way is an unwilling (or unavailable) partner. “My boyfriend is working far away right now, but I can imagine this would be the best option for period sex. You just slide off your underwear, like you would anyway,” she said. “They’re super absorbent, so there’s no spills or anything, and then you just have to worry about what’s coming out while you’re gettin’ down.”

Where to buy: Directly from Thinx; also available at Nordstrom
Price: $32 but you need multiple to cover your whole period ($192 if you use 6)

Period Rag

“With any reusable product it is going to be a bummer to travel with the dirties, and this product doesn’t really give you a solution to that.”

“The most pressing issue with reusable products like this is: where do you put the dirty ones?” Burtnick said. “GladRags suggests you carry around a ziplock bag to put them in, but the idea of having your soiled rags in your purse is a bit of a bummer, and what if you sleep at a partner’s house?”

“Granted, Tampons and pads have to be tucked away in a trash can. And if you date men, they almost never have a trash can in their bathrooms, because they still don’t really understand what’s up with periods,” she said. “In which case, just leave that dude’s house … just run.”

Burtnick said the rags are machine washable, but if you don’t have a washing machine at home like many apartment dwellers, be ready for hand-washing. “They actually dry fairly quickly—only a day of hanging up over my shower,” she said. That might not be ideal for people with roommates, however.

As far as function, “they’re surprisingly steadfast at staying where they ought to be,” she said, and “my blood never seeped through to the other side of the pad...so it stands to say that they probably won’t leak.” That said, “I don’t think it would work for ladies with heavier periods who find themselves having to change their pads three times a day,” she added.

The biggest benefit of period rags? No waste. “You don’t have to purchase them more than once every like five years, and during those five years you’re not creating a mountain of menstrual waste.”

Where to buy: Online retailers
Price: $15 per pad, but you’ll want to buy multiple to switch out (they hang dry in a day)

Menstrual Cup

Reviewer: Loretta Chao
Heaviness of periods (scale of 1-5): 5

“Don’t listen to people with light periods who claim you can leave it in for a whole day. It's a lie.”

Having a singular, reusable product for your the duration of your period sounds great in theory. Traveling with the cup is way easier than traveling with a whole box of tampons, “but what [cup makers] don’t tell you is, you also need to carry an empty water bottle around for public restrooms to rinse the cups and your hands when a sink is out of reach.”

The cup is messier than disposable products. “I couldn’t figure out a way to insert and remove it without getting my hands bloody,” Chao said. “So the process has been: go in the bathroom, wash my hands, take it out, empty and clean it, re-insert, then wash my hands again. This is not a fun process in a public restroom.”

There is a learning curve that comes with using a cup. Demorizi, who also tried the cup, said she learned the hard way that removal should probably be done in the shower. “Since it’s a rubbery product, it kind of stretched out...and some blood splashed on my face, which was disgusting,” she said.

“At first you don’t know how long to keep it in, or what it feels like when it’s about to leak, but then you get used to it and it does work,” Chao said, adding that she watched multiple videos on Youtube and each one gave different advice about whether to place it higher, lower, or at an angle.

“Everyone’s body is different so there isn’t a right answer. What I am sure of though, is that if you have heavy periods, there’s no way you can make it through an entire day without emptying the cup,” she said. “The first few cycles you use it, you will be paranoid AF—actually, I’m not sure if the paranoia would ever go away. So don’t try it for the first time if you’re going to be in public all day.”

Where to buy: Online retailers
Price: Starting around $20, needs replacement every few years

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.