Once seen as a taboo subject, menstrual hygiene is now a multi-billion dollar industry with many products available giving women choices as to how they manage their personal menstrual hygiene.
It is essential to maintain strict hand-washing practices before and after changing sanitary products. Any bacteria on the hands and fingers prior to fitting a sanitary product can be transferred to the vaginal canal and cause infection. Likewise, any bacteria on the fingers following the changing of a product can be transferred to other items.
Many women feel uncomfortable and unclean during their menstrual cycle and may wish to bathe more often. There are no rights and wrongs for washing and bathing and each individual will adopt practices that are acceptable to them. It should be noted though, that there is no need to clean inside the vagina during your period as this can disturb the normal body flora and increases the risk of infection. It is fine to gently cleanse around the external labia of the vagina and pat dry.
There are many feminine wipes and fresheners available for use during the menstrual cycle, though they are usually unnecessary and are used as much for their reassuring qualities than any other. They should not be used inside of the vagina as they may cause irritation.
Many couples wonder about the safety of sexual intercourse during the menstrual cycle, and apart from being frowned upon by many cultures, facts state that there is no reason why sexual activity cannot take places as long as each individual is willing and are aware of the cleansing issues that may be required afterwards.
Types of Products Available
These are tubes of tightly packed cotton that are inserted into the vagina by either the fingers or with the use of an applicator. They are very discreet and once the correct technique of insertion has been established, they are extremely comfortable. They have the benefit of being wearable during any activities that the user wishes and are normally very reliable. The maximum time that they should be worn is eight hours, with the ideal duration between changing being four to six hours, or more frequently if necessary.
If you are likely to have a long sleep, it is not advised that they are worn overnight as the risks of developing toxic shock syndrome are higher. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a potentially life-threatening condition that can arise from the prolonged use of tampons.
It is recommended that the lowest absorbency is used for each individual’s period so as to lower the risk of TSS. It is perhaps advisable to alternate the use of tampons with sanitary towels. Tampons should be avoided in the presence of a vaginal infection as the tampon provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and can spread the infection further.
These are worn externally and are attached within the user’s underwear. They are less invasive than tampons, though can be more uncomfortable top the buttocks and upper thighs due to chaffing, especially in the summer months. They can be noticeable as pads designed for heavy flow tend to be bulky in some brands, so they are not ideal for use with some summer clothes.
Again these should be changed when needed and prolonged use should be avoided as they can develop noticeable odours. It is safest to use sanitary towels at night to avoid TSS.
Menstrual cups can be either disposable or reusable and are worn internally. They collect and retain the flow, and can be emptied, cleaned and reused.
They are the best option for protecting the environment and are very cost-effective. They are discreet and the disposable variety are reported to be extremely comfortable.
All women manage their hygiene needs individually. There are no ‘correct’ practices and many of the issues surrounding menstrual hygiene are dependent of finances and cultures.