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Sea Sponge Tampons – a review

I am coming to the end of my fifth day wearing a sea sponge tampon and I am humming the theme tune to Spongebob Squarepants as I write up perhaps one of the oddest products I have ever reviewed.

Sea sponge tampons are a reusable, eco friendly alternative to regular disposable tampons and I was sent the Natural Intimacy Caribbean Silk Intimate Sponges to try by Stress No More.  Made from natural sea sponge which is non-toxic and completely bio-degradable, I like to think of these as mermaid tampons.  Seriously, I think this is what Ariel uses on her time of the month…

sea sponge tampons

I have used a mooncup for years and so I’m already a convert to the reusable options when it comes to menstruation, but I have to say, the sea sponge was a bit weird even for me.  I think it is so ingrained into us that our only options are tampons or sanitary towels (i.e. the items that are taxed and make a lot of money for the government!) that any other option is seen as alternative or hippyish.

So, according to the Stress No More website, the sea sponge is “harvested by divers straight from the Caribbean ocean, with the utmost respect for marine resources. Sea sponge lives on the ocean floor, it’s not coral or a plant; it is in fact an animal that has no brain or central nervous system.”

Wait, what?? Oh, now I feel a bit more icky that I have an animal up my flue.

“This renewable natural resource has the powerful ability to re-grow parts of the sponge that has been broken off by water currents, the divers cut them at the base so the sponge remains intact, ensuring that the sponge still has the ability to re-grow and reproduce over and over again.”

“No one ever really talks about the damage that traditional, disposable sanitary products have on our bodies and the environment. Tampons and sanitary pads are pumped with fragrances, dioxins and are usually made with non-organic cotton or rayon.”

Not to mention the waste that goes into landfill and into the sewage system, so the sea sponge really is a renewable and eco-friendly option.  I recently tried the Tampax Pearl tampons and I couldn’t believe the amount of packaging and waste produced, each tampon applicator is made of plastic that goes into landfill because I couldn’t bring myself to put it in our plastic recycling pile.

The box arrived and had two sea sponges inside, there was minimal instructions, it just said to wash or sterilise before use but little else.  To be honest, the packaging and instructions are pretty odd.  There is no mention of menstruation, periods, blood or anything about my vag-j-j.

“Intimate sponges” they call them, “smooth and delicate”, “natural, absorbent and easy to clean, for internal or external use”.

I had to go to check the site to make sure I had the right product!  This kind of annoyed me, if I am using an alternative menstrual product, let’s be proud of it and shout it from the rooftops! SPONGEBOB IS GOING TO BE MY TAMPON!!!!!!! (Well, he does live in Bikini Bottom)

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And so to the website directions.

“When washing and soaking your sponge, be sure to use natural soap that is chemical free; this will make sure that your sea sponges stay clean and are always safe to use. Using soaps that have fragrances and chemicals can cause you irritation when in use.

Soak your sea sponge on a cup of warm water between 5 – 10 minutes with either of the recommended:

  • 1 tbsp of vinegar
  • 2 – 3 drops of tea tree oil

After the soak, rinse thoroughly and squish out any water that is left inside.

Please do not:

  • Boil the sea sponges – this can toughen and shrink them
  • Soak your sea sponge any longer than the advised time – excessive soaking can make the sponge deteriorate
  • Avoid using any harsh chemicals or soaps! This will be bad for your body and your sponge”

So after soaking and washing out, I used the sea sponge for the first time, once washed it becomes very, very soft and pliable and so I dried it out by squeezing it, rolled it into a cigar shape and pushed it in.  I was a bit concerned it would feel dry and horrible going in, but really it was quite smooth and easy.

Once in, I couldn’t feel it AT ALL.  Nothing.

The sponges are quite big, but once rolled and squished, they mould to whatever shape you put them in and so it stays quite compact in the vagina.  The site says you can trim it down, but I didn’t need to as, like I said, you roll it and squish it small anyway.

sea sponge tampon

So my mermaid tampon was in and if I’m honest, I didn’t trust it.  I headed to bed with a towel to lay on incase of leaks and feeling pretty nervous.  But I had no leaks at all, it was brilliant!

Since I’ve had so much surgery in that area, I can no longer use a moon cup as I can feel it inside and it is quite uncomfortable and so I have been back to using tampons and towels, I mention both because I usually leak with a tampon only.  This makes periods a pretty crappy time for me, I have a very heavy flow and spend one week a month waddling round, buckles and braces, with a tampon and a big pad feeling like Carrie.

This also costs a lot of money.  I go through around 5-6 tampons a day with 5-6 pads too, equally around £6 or £7 a month.  Is it breaking the bank? No, but it does gall me to be spending money on something that  makes me feel crap.  So I decided to try the alternatives.

The Caribbean Silk Sponges are £9.95 + £3.95 delivery, they are said to last at least 3-6 months and you get two in a pack, therefore my annual menstrual costs would go from around £84 a year to just £13.90 saving me over £70 a year!

Anyway, there were no leaks on night one, and in fact, I haven’t had one leak for my whole period.  It was extremely comfortable, I genuinely couldn’t feel a thing, so much so that I forgot I had it in a couple of times, it went a good 8 hours overnight without me having to get up.

This could be a coincidence, but my usually terrible period pains were almost non-existent this month.  Could it be that my body wasn’t having to react to having big wads of cotton inside me? Who knows?

Back to actual usage, so it was easy to insert, super comfortable to wear and then it comes to removal.  I had read a review that said it could be really tricky, some people use a piece of dental floss tied around it to remove but that it could tear the sponge in half.  There is no getting around this, you have to be comfortable with your body and your blood to use the sea sponge.

I found it really quick and easy to remove, it is a little weird as the wet sponge does feel like flesh inside so it takes a second to figure out which bit is which, but once I caught feel of it, I bared down slightly and just pulled it out.  Very simple and clean, yes you get your fingers slightly bloody, but barely worse than grabbing a bloody tampon string or disposing of a pad filled with blood and certainly no different to removing a moon cup.

I think it is the next bit that will get people.  You have to squeeze out and rinse the sponge under the tap before reinserting it.  Yes, you do get some blood on your hand but it is under running water and so it isn’t anywhere near as bad as you would think.  Also because it is fresh blood, it has very little smell, I would say it is unnoticeable, unlike a sanitary towel where the blood is old and has been sat in the pad, the sea sponge felt very clean.

mermaid leggings sea sponge tampons

You wouldn’t be able to change it like this in a normal public toilet, a sink and running water is absolutely necessary, but you do get two and they come in a little sealed baggie, so you could take one out, put it in the sealed bag and then use the other and deal with it at home.  I work from home and so this hasn’t been an issue.  I also find they don’t need changing often and so you could go a good few hours without needing to change.

People find reusable menstrual products a bit gross, they say that they don’t want to have to be touching they blood, but I just find this argument so weird!  Sanitary towels sit in your pants filled with your blood, you then have to take them out, wrap them up and put them in a bin.  Tampons need removing and inserting.  You have to wash your vagina during your periods, so reusable products aren’t any more faff than the usual two, we have just been taught that tampons and pads are the norm.

If more options were taught in schools to our children, then future generations would know they had a choice in their menstruation.  My friend Chella Quint runs a project called Period Positive, I strongly recommend you go take a look at her site and learn more about the way we teach society that periods are dirty, embarrassing and a taboo subject.

My verdict? I have to say, I am really surprised! I thought I would give it a go and perhaps it could be a back up plan for if I really can’t get on with my moon cup or when I just can’t bare the tampons and pads any more.  But it has been a really eye opener! No leaks, no discomfort, no waste (they are biodegradable and can be put in the compost at the end of their life), sea sponge tampons are a real and genuine option for women who want a choice when it comes to the products they use during shark week.

If your current menstrual products aren’t working for you, then give it a go, you might just be surprised by the results.

Now, whoooooooooooo lives in a pineapple under the sea?!!!

To buy your own sea sponges, head over to Stress No More.  I haven’t been paid for this review but I was sent the products free of charge, I don’t earn anything from affiliate links here either, I just genuinely liked the mermaid tampons (fingers crossed someone rebrands these with the name and a mermaid splashing up on the rocks with a red sea behind her…)

 

Sam x

 

Bloody hell! Why don't we talk more about periods?

Tennis player Heather Watson has sparked a debate on menstruation recently when she explained in a post match interview that her performance wasn’t up to her normal standard because she was on her period.  Though she actually said “I think it’s just one of these things that I have, girl things.”

Girl things, Aunt Flo, monthlies, having the painters in, the crimson wave, falling to the communists and the one that I hate the most, on the blob!  There are so many sayings for menstruation and I wonder why we don’t feel comfortable using the M word.

The media are all talking about periods this week, my friend Chella Quint runs a project called Period Positive and was on Radio 4’s Womans Hour talking about menstruation.  She is a menstruation education researcher and her project encourages open dialogue without shame, she has some really interesting and entertaining views on tradition menstrual product advertising.  You can listen again here

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I think it is brilliant that we are talking about something that women deal with every month but it’s actually surprised me in seeing these articles and hearing the radio show as it pointed out to me that it isn’t the norm.  We don’t usually talk about periods in mainstream media, something that is totally normal sign of a healthy body.  Why are we so embarrassed?

My daughter is almost 12 and so our ‘period talks’ started a couple of years ago.  We are a very open home and always aim to talk honestly and without embarrassment about anything the kids need to know.  And so we have talked about cycles and ovulation, uterus’ and vaginas, but also how it feels to have a period, the concerns she has (she worries that she will start and look down to be covered in blood) and the options she has in menstrual protection. (Tampons, sanitary towels, moon cups).  I also speak to the boys about it and my husband talks to all the kids as much as he can.

I found it interesting to discover that professional sportswomen track their menstruation cycle as much as they do their water intake, their training and muscle/fat ratio in regards to their performance.  They even email the coaches the first day of their cycles so everyone is in the loop!  It makes sense, it isn’t about excuses, it is about accepting that this part of female physiology has an effect on our lives, and not necessarily negative effects, some studies show that people are more creative during ovulation.

I love Chella‘s work, take the time to go look through her brilliant projects, she brings the subjects of periods (as well as feminism, science, comedy) to the forefront with funny, innovative and clever projects.  I have learnt so much from her (including this week the discussion that not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate identify as women, something I have just never thought about before).  I have talked about her before and it is awesome to hear her in the mainstream press! Woop!

When I think back to my menstrual education, I think it was rather limited.  I don’t remember my mum ever having a conversation with me about it, and though I lived in a house with her and two much older sisters, we didn’t talk about it at all.  We had a talk at our Catholic Primary school delivered with much embarrassment and I was too afraid to put my hand up and ask an questions.  We just came away with the little blue tampon holder that I used to keep in my bag at secondary school because it gave the silent idea that I had ‘started’.

I was about 14 when I did start my periods, quite late compared to most of my friends and I remember coming home and going to the loo, when I looked at the tissue I saw blood.  I called my mum at work and said “ermmm there’s blood when I have been to the toilet”, she asked if it was from my bum (?!!!) which is quite ironic considering that in years to come the answer would have been yes!  I told her that it wasn’t and that I had started my periods.  She muttered something about bringing pads home and I told her I already had supplies and was fine.  We never mentioned it again.

stains menstruation periods chella quint

I can see me going the other way with my daughter, I might throw her a ridiculously over the top ‘Welcome to Womanhood’ or ‘first moon’ party, with streamers and cake… Not really, but I will definitely continue to talk to her about her body, her feelings and the changes she is going through both physically and emotionally as I want her to know that she can talk about these things without any embarrassment or shame.

Shame is something that Chella talks about in her work, Stains, how advertisers use shame and embarrassment as a tool to sell sanitary products to women.  Playing on a fear of women leaking through to their clothes, marketers have pushed their products on us by making the idea of a leak the most humiliating experience anyone could ever have.  Then there is the blue liquid… and the roller blading.

Advertising does seem to be getting a little better, with more adverts aimed at younger women and better language and comedy being used.  I loved this advert… The smiles, the positivity, “the red badge of courage” – just brilliant!

 

Menstrual education will only get better the more we all talk about it, answering questions honestly and without embarrassment.  Don’t rely on schools doing the talk for you!  Talking about periods should be an ongoing thing, it can’t be all taught in a one hour lesson in the school hall, we need to keep talking about the physical and emotional aspects of menstruation with our children, boys and girls.

There are some great books on the market that work well as both information for children and as a talking point for parents and kids together.  We have Lets Talk About Sex which is a great overview of puberty in general, and I just bought What’s Happening to my Body for girls, as we have the boys version and it was a helpful book.  There is so much great advice online too, but as a parent you should check it out before sharing with your kids.

I think as a society we need to be more open to talking about normal bodily functions, as you may know, my motto on this site is #stoppoobeingtaboo – I say this as the more easy it is for people to talk about poo, the better it is for issues around health, self esteem, mental health and isolation.  The same can be said for menstruation – the more comfortable we are in talking about our own bodies without using baby names or hushed voices, the better our health will be and the easier we will find it to pass on to the next generation.

Chella believes that menstruation education should be:

  • Free, unbranded, objective, and inclusive of reusables like menstrual cups and cloth pads
  • Consistent, accurate, up-to-date and peer-reviewed
  • Supported more comprehensively by the National Curriculum, particularly in Science and PSHE
  • Aimed at different age groups, starting before puberty, and revisited regularly
  • Inclusive of different genders, cultures, abilities and sexualities

I would add to that using the correct words for genitals.  People are definitely more comfortable in using the word ‘penis’ more than the word ‘vagina’ but it is really important to me that in our house we use the proper terms.  When I had my son at 19 I was so embarrassed when the midwife asked me during labour where the pain was, I replied “In my tutu”

TUTU people!!!!

Nowadays I am happy to say that I have no shame in talking about vaginas and because it is just something we do, all three of my kids do too.  We were in the car recently with the kids and a friends child and the conversation got onto vaginas (don’t ask, the topics my kids talk about are often surprising!), the friends child (who is male with a male brother) said something about babies coming out with wee.  My son told him that women have “two holes down there AND a bum hole!”  The lads mother found it all hilarious and when I was telling her about it in her kitchen, the lad came running down with a puberty book open at the vagina diagram and asked me to point out the holes!

It is a funny story, but how bloody great that our kids feel confident and safe enough to ask these questions and have these discussions out loud! As a woman who used the word tutu till my twenties, it is a whole new world! And I am loving it!

So let’s all make a stand and talk more about Aunt Flo, having the painters in, shark week or any of the other sayings for the good old period!

 

Sam x

Periods and IBD

I’m going to warn anyone who cringes and faints at the mention of “wimmins problems” to step away right now as this post probably isn’t for you…

Still here? Good. Let’s talk menstruation!

Now since my surgery to create a j pouch, things are, well, different down below.  I suppose it is to be expected, the new pouch is right up alongside my uterus and vagina and I was warned before the surgery that there could be changes in my vagina especially during the old sexy time.  But what I wasn’t expecting was the change in menstruation.  My periods are now particularly heavy and really painful, they are lessening in severity as the months pass but at first it was crippling, bent over, gripping the stomach, water bottle pain.  I am also finding that during my period, my pouch plays up.  I get a lot more diarrhoea and find myself going to the toilet a LOT.

periods and j pouches poo ibd menstruation

Annoyingly there is little information I can find about j pouches and menstruation, google brings up lots of personal accounts on blogs but little from the NHS or any other official websites.  It’s an odd thing really, you expect in this day and age that you can find out anything and everything online.  It got me thinking about how taboo menstruation is even in this day and age!

I have a friend called Chella Quint who is a menstruation education researcher and blogs, talks and writes about menstruation in her project #periodpositive  Her work shows just how little we like to talk about periods in general, about the historical use of shame and fear in advertising for sanitary products and how taboo a subject it is.

Chella also created the marvellously brilliant STAINS™, a spoof brand that explores blood stigma in menstruation product advertising. You can see the STAINS™ exhibition in the Bloodworks exhibition at Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin launching on 23 October. The STAINS™ section opens with a fashion show and mockumentary film, and the entire exhibition runs until the 25 January 2015.

“STAINS™ is a removable stain you can wear on your clothing as you see fit; it’s a fashion statement that really says something. We like to call it Leak chic. Be part of this fashion moment by downloading or purchasing your own STAINS™ stain from www.stainstm.com and wearing it with pride. Display your photos using the #periodpositive hashtag and following @periodpositive

stains chella quint

 

 

But it seems when it comes to periods AND poo, it’s just a step too far…

After scouring the web, here is some information on IBD and periods.  As with everything on this site, it is my opinion and information gleaned from the Internet so please do see your own doctors if you are having issues.

“Many women with active IBD have irregular periods. When the disease goes into remission, regular periods sometimes return. No one knows for sure why. But inflammation does affect the hormones that cause periods. Nutritional problems may also interfere with the monthly cycle of women with IBD.

Some women with IBD tend to feel worse right before and during their menstrual periods than at other times. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, exhaustion and other symptoms are often more severe during these times.”

periods ibd jpouch ulcerative colitis menstruation

“The interaction between GI function and menstrual function is complex, and not completely understood. Prostaglandins are an important part of the inflammatory process in active IBD, and are associated with diarrhea and abdominal pain. Prostaglandins are also released by the body during menstruation, causing contraction of uterine muscle and resulting in the cramping pain of periods. By this mechanism, symptoms attributed to menstruation and IBD may overlap.”

And I’m afraid that’s your lot.  Not much is it; this was the best information I could find regarding menstruation and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Anything specifically to do with a j pouch was even more rare!  I am really surprised at the lack of information on periods and jpouches, especially as it seems it is a big problem for a lot of women.  On many of the IBD blogs out there, women are discussing menstrual and sexual problems.  Some of the symptoms talked about are:

Increased diarrhoea

Pelvic pain

Bum pain

Heavy Bleeding

A heaviness in the vagina and pouch

Cramping

Exhaustion

Sickness/Nausea

Some coping methods found around the web are:

Painkillers (a struggle really as ibuprofen is a no no for IBD-ers and codeine can make you constipated)

Heat pads

Bed rest

Mirena coil

Contraceptive pill

Exercise

I am shocked at the lack of easily available information on menstruation and also sexual problems associated with IBD surgeries.  I have found pages and pages of advice and care for men facing impotency issues following surgeries but anything to do with the vagina is shied away from and labeled as ‘intimacy issues’.  For we are but delicate flowers who can’t deal with talking about our own sexuality, no?

I’m not one to talk about my personal sex life on this blog, and the reason for this is that I have three kids who I know peek in from time to time.  I have an open and honest relationship with my children and we talk about sex and all the issues surrounding sex regularly.  But no one needs to read about their mother’s vagina do they!  What I will say is that I am dealing with problems post surgery and I want advice, information and resources to deal with it, yet turning to Dr Google is pretty useless! Where is all the gynae information?!

What we need is to have a more open dialogue regarding any bodily function that goes on within the underpant area.  I find it hilarious (read appalling) that we still have Page Three girls in a daily newspaper yet we can’t discuss the uterus without men gagging.  For the record, this idea that all men find periods gross is silly, yes, there are men whose ears are offended by the M word but to them I scream MENNNNSSSSTRRRRUUUUUAALLLLLL BLLLLLOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDD…  Most men in long term relationships have overcome the pubescent thoughts that it’s gross ‘girl stuff’ and recognise that it is a healthy part of the woman in their lives body.

So apologies if you found this page hoping for some answers, I’m afraid I can’t give those.  But I hope I have given you hope that you aren’t alone in dealing with this and I hope you will go speak to your doctor and get some answers of your own.  Finally I hope I have inspired you to start talking about traditionally personal and intimate issues that most women have at some point in their lives.  Please do take a good look through Chella’s work and share, it is damn fine stuff and helpful to us all.

If you have any experience, advice or links to information, it would be great if you could share them in the comments below.

Muchos Gracias!

Love Sam x

Adventures in Menstruating image courtesy of Chella Quint

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