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You’ve probably already heard about reusable period products like cups and discs, but what about absorbing your flow with a sea sponge?
Yep, despite some controversy, menstrual sponges are making a comeback. But before you stick marine life up your vag, let’s dive into all the deets.
What TF is a menstrual sea sponge?
A period sponge is a real or synthetic sea sponge that functions like a stringless tampon. While super absorbent and sustainable, they’re not the safest period product on the market.
Most menstrual sponges are legit sea sponges — aka, the harvested section of an aquatic organism called spongin. Some companies also sell synthetic sponges with or without strings, which are basically like squishy, reusable tampons.
Sponges are kind of like period cups or discs, except they absorb period blood. There’s also no rim for you to grip and pull for removal.
“As you’re pulling, when it pops out, I can just imagine the blood,” says Dr. Teresa Hoffman, MD, a board-certified specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In other words, have soap and water ready.
When comparing natural and synthetic sponges, Hoffman says she thinks synthetic is likely to be more durable and have a more intentional shape. And since they don’t hail from Davy Jones’ Locker, factory-made sponges might also be cleaner.
- They’re reusable for up to 6 months, which is a win for your wallet and the planet.
- If they’re natural, there’s no fragrances or synthetic ingredients.
- They’re renewable, sustainable products.
- They *might* be pretty comfy. Once squeezed inside, the sponge should adjust to the shape of your body.
- They’re super messy.
- They require a lot of TLC for safe use and might lead to infections.
- They could break apart while you’re inserting or removing them (re: infections).
- Absorbency could be tough to figure out if your sponge isn’t factory-made.
Depends on who you ask.
Way back in the ’80s, the University of Iowa Laboratory examined 12 natural menstrual sponges and found that they still contained sand and bacteria, among other things (*screams* 😱). In the ’90s, the FDA stated menstrual sponges are “regarded as significant risk devices requiring premarket approval.”
Since then, some OB-GYNs have gone on record vehemently decrying period sponges, while others say they’re perfectly safe after washing.
Dr. Hoffman’s position is that if you clean your sponge thoroughly, there’s little risk. But that doesn’t mean she loves the idea.
“I would never use one personally unless it was a disposable sponge,” Hoffman says. “My concern is that if you’re not cleaning it well, you’re putting old blood in your vagina.”
This can change your vag’s precious pH balance. She explains that old blood can feed certain types of bacteria, leading to bacterial vaginosis. Introducing less-than-hygienic things into your vagina can also trigger a yeast infection.
The verdict? Unless you’re confident that you can deep-six *all* organic matter from the sponge — which, ironically, used to be organic matter — you should fish for a different period product.
🚨What about toxic shock syndrome?🚨
Yes, putting old blood or unsanitary things into your vagina can lead to infection. Like tampons, menstrual sponges could also lead to toxic shock syndrome (TSS). This is a super rare — but also super serious — complication typically caused by a bacterial infection.
To be on the safe side, get to a doctor ASAP if you suddenly experience these symptoms:
- high fever and chills
- unexplained nausea and vomiting
- dizziness or seizures
- a red, flat rash
We’re not saying we recommend you introduce Bikini Bottom life to your vagina. But if you’re curious, here’s how some folks make a period sponge work.
Inserting a menstrual sponge
Bona fide sea sponges vary in shape and size. But whether a sponge is au natural or synthetic, the steps you’d take to use it are the same:
- Wash your hands.
- Wet the sponge with water or a little water-based lube.
- Squeeze out any excess liquid.
- Get comfy. Sit on the toilet, stand with one leg up, or lower into a squat.
- Separate the folds of your labia and push the sponge into your vagina as if you’re inserting a tampon.
- Go do your thing for a few hours!
What about taking it out?
Remove your sponge in the shower or over a tile floor. There *will* be blood.
- Squat with your legs apart.
- Insert two fingers into your vagina.
- Bear down on your pelvic muscles like you’re going to the bathroom.
- As the sponge moves lower while you bear down, slide your fingers up its sides.
- Gently pinch the sponge (as high up as you can!).
- Pull it out. Voila!
So, how long can you wear a period sponge?
Though there’s no hard data on this, sponge sellers recommend no more than 8 hours (similar to tampons). Some also suggest removing your period sponge after 3 or 4 hours.
Cool, but what’s the cleaning protocol?
Sea sponge cleaning methods aren’t proven 10/10 effective and there’s some conflicting info. Based on a few companies’ suggestions, here’s a general cleaning guide:
- Before cleaning, thoroughly inspect the sponge for sand or sea debris.
- Use tweezers or needle-nose pliers to remove any dirt.
- Wet the sponge thoroughly in warm water.
- Soak or boil for several minutes.
- Add a spoonful of vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or few drops of tea tree oil and swish it around (optional).
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Hang to dry.
Since sponges can only be worn for a few hours and proper cleaning takes time, period sponge devotees usually have multiple sponges on hand.
Sea sponge tampons still seem… fishy
There’s no research on the best way to clean a period sponge. Most sellers recommend thorough sanitization with water and a gentle natural cleanser such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
To make things more confusing, some companies recommend boiling before use, while others say boiling compromises the sponge’s structure 🤷♀️.
Some folks just do a quick squeeze and rinse, but Hoffman and other OB-GYNs agree that’s not a great idea.
Wanna save the planet from discarded tampons and pads? We salute you! When used right, here are some sustainable period products that are safer alternatives to sea sponges:
- Menstrual cups. From the time-tested DivaCup to new nifty, slanted and collapsible cups, you’ve got options.
- Period discs. While traditionally a disposable option, reusable discs are hitting shelves.
- Period underwear. From thongs to briefs, period panties have come a long way.
Menstrual sponges are natural or synthetic sea sponges that some folks use just like a tampon. Though absorbent and sustainable, their safety is questionable.
According to some OB-GYNs, if you clean your sponge thoroughly before and after use, it *might* be safe to use. But that doesn’t mean they recommend them. There’s just not enough info out there to prove sea sponges are safe for use below deck.
“If a sponge was supposed to be in your vagina, it wouldn’t be at the bottom of the ocean,” concludes Hoffman. “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s meant to be in your body.”