There is so much I want to say about disability and menstruation. So much that I could never fit it into a single post. I have noticed that there is very little written about disability and menstruation generally and what little there is is most often not written by disabled people. As a result a lot of it is about control and often menstrual cessation in order to make the menstruating person more convenient for a care giver. This sometimes goes so far as sterilization of the disabled person.
The dearth of material on disability and menstruation from the disabled perspective likely has a number of influences that include the fact that menstruation is still unfortunately a taboo subject generally that people are embarrassed to talk about. Add to that the very idea of disability and sexuality is also still (somehow) widely denied. Which is, I suspect why so many nondisabled people feel so comfortable talking about period cessation as a reasonable solution to disabled people who have periods.
This focus on just stopping the whole business of menstruation is frustrating because it primarily marks the disabled body and its natural functions as too inconvenient. It also means that for those of us who do menstruate that we are left with disability specific information on how to deal with our periods.
It is the latter issue that I’m going to deal with now because the first issue while so important is just to big for me to handle right now.
I am going to talk about disability and the accessibility of alternative menstrual products.
Unfortunately, I am just one person with just one kind of disabled body and so nothing I say will have universal application. This is one of the reasons why we really need more disabled people to share their stories and experiences. If you have a different experience please share it in the comments or write your own blog post about it and share that in the comments.
Hopefully in spite of this I will have something useful to say or spark a conversation to get more voices heard because I really feel that it is essential to demystify and destigmatize not only menstruation and particularly disabled people menstruating.
For context (to see if what I say will translate well for you) I have left side hemiplegic cerebral palsy and am autistic. So most of what I have experience with is dealing with menstruation literally single handedly and the sensory aspects it entails.
I started menstruating when I was 11 and have primarily used pads as my go to menstrual product. I found tampons difficult and uncomfortable for pretty much my entire childhood and teen years. I only started using them rarely when I was well into my twenties.
I have never found pads to be particularly comfortable and couldn’t manage to deal with anything other than the thinnest option. I’m still not a fan of tampons. I find the uncomfortable but sheer pragmatism has forced me to use them occasionally. I am always hyper aware of them the entire time that I do.
In the last decade or so alternatives to the standard and and tampon methods of dealing with menstruation have become more mainstream (though they have definitely existed longer than that).
Alternative period products are generally washable and reusable and are considered to be both more environmentally friendly and more cost effective.
The oldest alternative period product is probably the menstrual cup
Image description: a comparison of 12 kinds of menstrual cups including variations from the following brands; Juju cup, Diva Cup, Lunette cup, MCUK, Sckoon, Femmycycle, Lily cup (produced by Intimina), and Me Luna (pic credit from Vitals can be found here)
I was told by a menstrual cup user that I would be unable to use menstrual cups because insertion requires two hands (they were referring to the portion of insertion that requires the menstrual cup to be folded small enough for insertion into the vaginal canal). I believed them for years.
A menstrual cup usually costs around $40CDN and can be used for a year or more before requiring replacement (see specific brands for life span as they differ from product to product).
Yet a curiosity ultimately led me to buy a Diva cup last year anyway. I can report that they can in fact be used one handed. They can be folded by bracing the cup against something (like your leg or other arm) and then inserted as per the basic instructions.
I can also report that I find the menstrual cup to be far more comfortable than tampons. I can’t even feel it when it’s inserted. If I can feel it, it’s a good indication that I haven’t done it correctly and should reinsert.
Intimina, the company that manufactures the Lily cup and Lily cup compact recently put out this infographic about the benefits of menstrual cup use
Unfortunately the graphic is so involved it defies an accurate image description. When I brought up this accessibility concern with the company via twitter, they created a more screen reader friendly version of the information which can be found here.
In addition to my Diva Cup, I also have a Lily Cup compact which folds up into a more convenient size to be carried in a pocket or purse (for when I don’t start my period in the comfort of my own home).
As you might have noticed there are a lot of different menstrual cups which might seem overwhelming but this selection is useful because it means that there are options not only in the sizes and lengths of cups available but also in the materials used (which is good to know for people with latex allergies). A more comprehensive guide to the options available a buying the right one for you can be found here.
The other product that I want to talk about is period panties. The kind that have absorbency built right in and are designed to replace pads or at the very least panty liners.
The brand that I have experience with is Thinx. The least accessible thing about these period panties is the cost which ranges from $24-$38USD (damn the abysmal exchange rate) per pair so they are a significant initial investment. I however, love them. They are significantly more comfortable than pads and easier to put on as there is no finicking with packaging or sticky tabs that are as likely to stick to itself as it is to your underwear. Thinx are underwear and are put on and removed like underwear. There are no extra pieces or steps.
The company is careful to not guarantee that you can replace pads with their product. I have however found them to be quite absorbent. I have slept in their boyshort which is advertised for light days on a medium flow day without leaks and woke up still feeling comfortable.
Image description: a white woman stands in Thinx boyshorts underwear and a tank top.
I also appreciate that the boyshorts are gender neutral and Trans inclusive recognizing that it is not just women who have periods.
Image description: a man stands in Thinx boyshorts in profile. He has a tattoo that says happiness on his side. both images taken from the Thinx website here.
The most onerous thing about period panties is rinsing them out before washing them which does require some hand control. I get around this by putting them on the floor of the shower and pressing the blood out with my feet as I wash my hair and then hanging them to dry until I do laundry.
I only use the boyshort and sport styles and like them both. I also have a couple pairs of the hiphugger style but I only used them once. I find the lace uncomfortable and it gave me a rash (so beware of this if you have sensitive skin). It’s unfortunate because the hiphugger style is the most absorbent. I wish they would make an equally absorbent model without the lace.
If you are interested in trying Thinx you can get $10 off by clicking this link.*
Padkix is another brand that makes period panties but I have not tried them.
Since I started using Thinx and menstrual cups, I have given up using pads and tampons entirely and my periods are more comfortable and less eventful as a result.
I usually start using Thinx a couple days before my period is supposed to start to avoid unexpected public leaks (which are a thing I no longer worry about). I then use Thinx in conjunction with a menstrual cup.
I know that menstrual cups will likely not be widely accessible but I wanted to include them to confirm that they can be used one handed. I think period panties have the potential to be potentially useful to more people if only they weren’t so initially cost prohibitive. Particularly for people who find that pads set off sensory overload.
I hope that people find this helpful. I would also like to ask again that people whose needs differ from mine please share their own experiences either in the comments or in their own blog posts.
*This is not a sponsored post. The discount code is available to share for anyone who has previously bought Thinx. I do however get an equal discount for everyone who takes advantage of it.