Heather Corinna replies:
I am going on a graduation-required 28 day backpacking trip. It is likely that this will happen to fall around my period. What is the best way to work with your period when backpacking? Pads are out of the question, as they are not so great for letting your pelvic area "breathe" during exercise. Tampons...meh. I don't really want to have to carry the new ones in with me (extra weight), or the used ones out with me, like you have to do with all garbage. I thought a menstrual cup would be good, as it can be worn for a long time and there is no garbage involved--however, cleaning the cup might be complicated because polluting is a no-no out in the elements. Maybe I could use wipes of some sort? Are there wipes that don't have body-upsetting chemicals? It would be nice to not have to deal with this for just one month--are there any sorts of short term forms of menstrual suppressors that I could use just one time without huge side effects?
The people in charge of the whole thing don't seem very educated about other options, and simply reassure all of the girls that they can use tampons and carry around all the garbage.
I'd say you have a few good options.
Menstrual suppression isn't really a one-shot deal like you're thinking unless you are already using a hormonal method of contraception you can suppress with, like the birth control pill or the Nuvaring (in which case what you do is take pill packs or rings back-to-back, skipping the placebo period). Certainly, you could start one of those methods if you like, but it sounds like that's not really what you had in mind. Even then, though, it doesn't always work and people can still wind up with a withdrawal bleed or some spotting anyway, especially if they're new to suppression.
I always like to make clear to people that we still have only limited study on suppression, and have little to none on how it might effect young people, in particular. To my knowledge, no studies at all have yet been done on how it might impact those still in puberty, and there are sound causes for concern around that, particularly with breast health. For an array of thought and facts on this, you can check out this link here at Scarleteen, this information from the National Women's Health Network, and this information from the Centre for Menstrual Cycle Research.
Whatever you choose to do around that, I'd say your best bet is to be prepared for some flow no matter what, since it'd suck to find yourself having some and not having the way you want to deal with it available.
The first option I'd suggest is a menstrual cup. Rinsing or dumping a cup isn't polluting anything (though you just want to watch how close to your campsites you dump it in terms of attracting animals). When backpacking, people rinse their mouths and spit it out somewhere, and also urinate and empty their bowels. The idea that menstrual flow is more of a "pollutant" than feces or urine, for those who have it, is about sexism, not facts. It might help to also remember that out in the wilderness, there's blood and mucus from animals pretty much everywhere, even though you don't always see it. So, no matter what you choose, I'd set aside worries that your menstrual flow is a problem when it comes to pollution: it's not.
Whatever your plan is for washing your camping dishes, you can employ the same thing to rinse out a Divacup, Moon cup or Keeper. Just pick an earth-friendly soap, like a gentle, organic castille, and you're all good. Dr. Bronner's soap is a great thing to have when camping for a bunch of purposes, and if you are in need of entertainment, there's always the incredibly bizarre text printed all over it to read out loud around a campfire. You can also just use water, all by itself, to clean it. In terms of wipes, I just recently discovered these awesome Wisi-Wipes. They're teeny-tiny pellets that, when wet, open into wipes with nothing added to them: no chemicals, no detergents. So, you could use those with only water or, again, add any kind of gentle cleanser in order to clean out your cup. They'd probably come in handy for a bunch of things when backpacking, not just for managing a period.
In the case that you can't find a cup in time or are someone who finds they aren't comfortable or easy for you, another choice is to use sea sponges, which I used to use when camping all the time before menstrual cups came around. You can find those at natural foods or beauty stores. You just moisten them a tiny bit, insert into your vagina like a tampon, and then squeeze and rinse them out a few times a day. They also weigh nothing, so having a few in your pack would be no big.
Another option is washable menstrual pads. They breathe worlds better than disposable pads and don't tend to move around as much because they're not as thick and/or held in place by adhesives. You can wash those just like you'll be washing your other clothing. Lunapanties and the liners that work with them are another great option, and they're rad for hiking. I'll be honest and disclose that I personally think Lunapanties are not just the best thing since sliced bread, I think they're better than sliced bread. (I mean, it's not like bread needs to be sliced for us to eat it, so what's the big whoop about it, anyway?) A way to have a pad that doesn't move all over the place, that doesn't create mountains of waste, that saves us bucks over the years and that feels soft and cozy and a lot like nothing at all is pretty major.
If you're not washing anything, you can just put the washables you used (same goes with spongers, if you like) into a freezer bag and wash them when you get back home.
It's a pity that no one in charge of your trip has filled all of the folks who might menstruate while going about all their options. So, how about you use the information I just gave you here not just for yourself, but to make a nice little one-pager email or handout so everyone else can benefit, too?
I have a few questions about first periods. I am a very young teen, and my mom was only a year or so older than me when she got her first. I have little buds. I have discharge and lately it has been yellowish and liquid getting soaked in my undies. I want my first period sooooo bad and I know that everyone says that you won't want it, and I know I won't want it in the future but I really want it now. Is there any way, even if they are just rumours or myths, to make it come faster or much sooner? I also don't want to wear tampons, PERIOD!!! Even with swimming, I never want to touch a tampon. I know people say it doesn't hurt, but it just DOES OK? I heard that if you go swimming with your period that it will temporarily stop while your in the water (or at least become very light and wash away in the water) and then when you get out, it may or may not flow out soon after you get out. Is this true? If not, then is there any way to go swimming with it other than an internal product? Maybe some food to make it come out sooner or stay in longer? Please, I do NOT want to stick something up my vagina.
I'm not going to be one of those people who tells you that you don't or won't want your period, now or later: you want what you want, and even when periods are uncomfortable sometimes, heck, even when they're painful, they're meaningful to plenty of people for a bunch of different reasons. What it has meant or hasn't to me may not ever be the same as your experiences or those of anyone else.
I do want to make sure you know, though, that if why they're meaningful to you is about ideas around maturity or gender -- like the idea of womanhood -- that I don't think having a period or not having one is a good benchmark of either of those things. Some women haven't ever had menstrual periods and won't ever have them, while others stopped getting them, temporarily or permanently: just like that doesn't mean those women aren't "real" women, the same goes for women who haven't started menstruating. How mature someone is or isn't is more about our minds and our emotional and interpersonal maturity and behavior than about our bodies. There are a lot of people seriously lacking in maturity who already had their first period, after all. You may know some of them from American politics.
If your bummer-ness about this is about not being like everyone else, I'd say it's a good idea to try and let some of that go, too. I know that it can be rough to feel like the odd girl out with anything, but there are so many ways we're the same AND different as friends and others around us: we're never going to be just like everyone else, and I'm of the mind that that's a good thing. Conformity is seriously overrated, and if you can let go of a lot of issues with that, you'll not only feel better, but you can help other people feel better about the ways they're different, too.
It's common for people's first periods to happen sometime around the same time other people in their family got their first periods. That's not always how it is, but more times than not, we'll have first periods around the same time as people before us in our gene pool have. So, if your Mom (if she's your birth mother) or other women in your family got theirs when they were older than you, it's totally possible you may get yours around that same time, too.
There's nothing you can do to make periods start sooner than they're going to. There may be myths or rumors about that, but not only do I not know what they are, if that's all they are, they're not going to be of any use to you (or me) because they're not facts. I mean, I could tell you I heard the earth was flat, and that wouldn't change the fact that it's not. There's also no food you can eat or avoid to make a first period come sooner or to stave off periods once you start having them. Periods are about a different system of the body than the digestive system, even if periods can impact that system -- like causing bowel upset around them -- or if what we eat can do things like make cramps a little better or worse.
One thing you can just make sure of is that you're taking care of your general health and body well, getting enough sleep and also eating enough food. Being underweight can keep people from starting periods because menstruating involves having a certain healthy percentage of body fat.
That said, given your age and where it sounds like you're at with puberty, I don't see any cause for concern about not having your period yet. It sounds like you're still just starting puberty. If you find that in your late teens, or when you've gone through many other stages of puberty (like seeing more changes to your vulva, more breast development than budding, some major growth with your height and weight), you still aren't having periods, then you want to go ahead and check in with a doctor just to make sure everything's cool with your health. But until then -- and even then, as sometimes nothing is wrong at all, people are just slower to get there -- I'd not sweat this or put too much mental energy into it.
Whenever you do start getting periods, you get to manage your flow however you want to: if you don't want to use tampons, or anything else where you insert something into your vagina, you don't have to. Mind, tampons shouldn't hurt. It sounds like you've tried to use one already despite not having periods yet, and if that hurt, chances are it's because your vagina was dry, which makes a big difference. Being scared or nervous, or just trying to jab it in there wrong can also be a cause of pain. You will also probably find that as the years go by, you'll feel a little more comfortable with the idea of things being in your vagina, but it's also okay if your feelings don't change. If you don't want to use tampons, you don't have to. There's no one right or wrong way to take care of menstrual flow: it's all about our personal preferences and what options are available to us.
Being in the water doesn't mean menstrual flow stops: the flow starts in your uterus inside your body, an area water can't get to or change, even though sometimes water temperature may effect it somewhat. But some people find that when they're very active and/or in cool water, flow does get lighter or takes a break. Others don't experience that, or don't always.
But you can still go swimming when you have your period if you don't want to use internal products like tampons. Get yourself a pair of board shorts. Then you can just use a pad -- disposable or washable, your choice -- and affix it to your swimsuit bottoms, then put the shorts over them. Washable pads are the better choice for this, since they attach with snaps, not sticky-tape which swimming tends to wash away, and they also don't puff up and get as heavy when they get wet as disposable pads do.
If you want to look into washables, you can look from them online from companies like Lunapads or Glad Rags. Etsy has a bunch of sellers who make and sell them, too, and lots of natural foods stores and even some pharmacies carry them. If you sew, you can even make them yourself.
But my best advice is not to worry too much about all of this right now. You're not there yet, and that's okay. If you're feeling like something you're missing in not being there yet is a benchmark around growing up, I'd ask a parent or other family member about that: maybe you can have some kind of Bat Mitzvah -- literal or symbolic, if that's not part of your culture or family traditions -- some celebration, ritual or activity that gives you the feeling of moving forward that'll scratch that itch and recognize that you're growing up in a lot of ways, not just with your uterus. Whenever you do start your periods, I'm sure you'll find a way of managing your period that works for you. There's just no sense in worrying about things we don't have to!
One more from acceberbackwards:
I've been thinking of switching to cloth pads. I'm 15 years old. My only issue with this is that fact that my dad does the laundry. I'm actually pretty sure he wouldn't mind so much, but I'm generally not comfortable talking to my dad about menstruation, and I assume he would have to wash them in an extra load, which would make him have to work more, etc. In any case, I was wondering; how does one wash laundry in the sink? This skill seems like one that would come in handy in a myriad of situations, including this one.
It sure does! It's one that you'll probably use at least a few times once you move out on your own and find yourself a quarter or two short of whatever the laundry available to you requires, which happens more frequently than any of us would like or usually plan for. I feel a bit silly advising someone on how to do the laundry, but what the heck, sometimes these skillsets overlap, and knowing how to wash your own stuff with or without a washing machine is a pretty essential life skill.
What you just want to do is go ahead and rinse your pads out first, then fill up the sink with warm or hot water, adding a little laundry soap. Then you just plop 'em in there, let them soak a little more, then wash them by squeezing them a bunch of times while they're immersed in the soapy water. You can also rub them together to clean them and help get stains out. (If you really want to get old-school about it, you can find yourself a washboard at a flea market and have a way to help wash your stuff by hand and have a rhythm instrument for nights when nothing good is on TV.) Then you unplug the sink and drain it, and you can rinse your pads either under running water, or conserve water by filling up the sink again with clean water and soaking them one more time to rinse them that way. Then you drain again, squeeze them out, and hang them to dry somewhere. One thing you can do to do that with pads is to move the clips from a few skirt hangers unto one hanger so you can dry a bunch at once in one place.
That said, if you soak your pads before putting them in the wash, then your Dad won't actually have to run an extra load. That can also be helpful even if you wash them yourself. If you can find one of those little wastebaskets with a cover on it and a hard plastic insert, you can easily soak pads overnight out of sight, which makes getting them clean when you do wash them a lot easier.
I know you said you're uncomfortable talking about it with him, but chances are he knows you menstruate, and it's probably a bigger deal in silence than it would be if you just broke that silence. Dads can actually be pretty great about this stuff, and will often go out of their way to make sure it's an issue treated with sensitivity. I've had more than one Dad over the years write me to make sure they handled menstruation with a daughter as best as they could.
Of course, one last option is that you offer to help your Dad with the laundry, which is always the gift that keeps on giving for anyone who does laundry for a household.