I’ve used oodles of menstrual products over the years: regular pads and tampons, reusable pads and tampons. My favorite is the Diva Cup, which I use whenever my period comes around. But during this month's cycle, I decided to experiment a little bit. I wanted to go where I’d never gone before. I was going to try out menstrual sponges. According to the Museum of Menstrual and Women’s Health, menstrual sponges have been used to absorb menstrual discharge for thousands of years, and are actually pictured in hieroglyphics dated 1550 BC. They were more common around the Aegean, which seems to produce the best period sponges there are. And when I say "sponge," I mean the skeleton of a formerly living siphonophore, one of the simplest life forms on earth, that siphons plankton out of the ocean water and absorbs liquids well. (In case you're curious, I know all of this because I'm married to a biologist.)
I found menstrual sponges on Etsy that were tested for "density, shape, and cleanliness." They are harvested from Greece, anti-bacterial, and do not contain harmful toxins. I was surprised to find out how you used a sponge because I figured they needed to dry in between uses, so you’d need about six of them. But I was wrong. Apparently, you moisten the sponge and squeeze the water out so it’s damp. Then you, for lack of a better word, shove it up there (I typically used two fingers in order to do so) near your cervix. After doing so, you go on your merry way, only with a sponge stuck up your vagina, which, if you did it right, you shouldn’t be able to feel.
I hoped these sponges would be good enough and comfortable enough to rival my Diva Cup, my go-to blood catcher. The sponges looked comfortable enough, and came in various absorbencies, which I liked because my period sort of takes over the house on day two and day three, so I need some serious protection. Allegedly, the sponges could give me that without bleeding through. That had me interested, and I was eager to give them a try.
I love when my period shows up without calling first, especially at night. The sponge was harder when dry than I thought it would be, but softened up when wet and wrung out. I sat on the toilet with my legs spread wide and it went in easily with two fingers. I had to use my thumb to push it up towards my cervix, where I felt comfortable it would absorb blood.
Then I put three in there, because I figured that if two was OK, so was three.
I don’t know if it’s the angle of the sponge, some weird sponge hormone, or the shape of it, but I started peeing inadvertently — a lot. I mean, I’ve had three kids. I sometimes pee when I laugh. But this was running-down-the-leg pee from hopping into bed. I ruined four pairs of underwear on the first night. Two of them were from coughing. This was not cool. I was going to have to wear a pad if it kept up. I'm pretty sure I squeezed the vast majority of the water out when I inserted the sponges, and I wasn't especially hydrated that day, so I'm not sure what caused all the extra pee.
I woke up in the morning and hadn’t bled through anything. And when I went to take the sponge out, I learned a valuable lesson: Do not drop trou, put one leg up on the toilet, and try to pull the sponge out, because it will spray blood all over everything. The sponge wasn’t even totally soaked, but it was pretty full. I rinsed it out, and even though I got blood in the sink (obviously), it was still easy enough to do and didn’t take long. I squeezed it out and then re-inserted: it was absorbing some vaginal fluid, but not as much as a conventional tampon, which kept it comfortable. I used two fingers to push it in and leaned forward and used one finger to push it higher. Then I cleaned up the bathroom.
Wearing the sponge was really comfortable: I didn't feel it. But I shouldn’t have told my husband about this, because he kept making jokes about “The gift of Neptune! Like the naiads of the sea use!” and then he sang the SpongeBob SquarePants song with lyrics I refuse to repeat. He kept this up during my entire period.
“Did you get it from the lake?” He leaned in. “It smells kind of weird.”
After several hours, I bled through, though the sponge wasn’t completely bloody. I don’t know how that works. So I put in two sponges, as per the instructions, for some intense period action. I bled through two sponges from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. So then I put three in there, because I figured that if two was OK, so was three. It took some serious effort to get that third up there (leaning forward, pushing with my thumb). And even though I couldn’t feel two sponges, three sort of made me feel like I had a very wide-set vagina.
No leaks! Score! Knowing how heavy I tend to be on this day of my period, I decided to wear all three sponges again all day. I also knew I had things to do and didn’t want to have to change sponges outside of the house. When I cleaned them, they often left lots of blood in the sink, and I had to get the clots off by hand, which is sort of gross. The sponges also left a red ring in the sink because the blood doesn’t drain right away.
Before heading out, I planned to put in two sponges while at home, then insert another one when I left the house. That would leave me with a triple-threat of sponge protection. But before I put them in, I apparently didn’t hide the leftover sponge well enough. I was wearing the two sponges while I put on my makeup, and that's when my 4 year old busted in the bathroom on me, completely by surprise.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s a sponge,” I said. “Don’t touch it.”
He touched it. “Did you get it from the lake?” He leaned in. “It smells kind of weird.”
“Oh my gosh, DO NOT TOUCH THE SPONGE!”
He scampered away, leaving me to deal with the regret and trauma of the experience alone.
Finally we headed out and I went to the park, then to the lake with my sons. I started to get that feeling at the lake, so I knew I had to change the sponges soon. Someone walked in the bathroom ahead of me. Don’t act like you’re doing anything weird, just washing bloody sponges in a sink, I told myself. Just act like you have every right to get your menstrual blood everywhere. I took them out, washed them off, shielding them with my body, went back into the bathroom stall, and reinserted. The lady had left. I never knew if she saw or not. But I do know there is no freaking way I’d do that in a more crowded bathroom, except maybe in the family restroom.
When I got home I only used two sponges for the rest of the day and am happy to report I had no bleed throughs. But using the sponges, even at this point, was still kind of weird. They don’t get all bloody, only parts of them do, but you can feel when they get heavy, so it’s clear the blood’s in there.
I very much prefer using a sponge on light days instead of my Diva Cup. The Diva Cup is very comfortable, but seems like overkill when you're only spotting enough for a light tampon, or when you're so far at the tail end of your period that you're just having brown vaginal discharge. I'd rather use a sponge then, which is comfortable and easier to clean,
I bled through all three sponges throughout the night. I have a serious uterus. I went back to two, since my heavy bleeding is usually at night, and then to wearing one, mostly to see how long it would take me to bleed through it. And I stayed in dark clothes for the moment. At this point, the sponges were starting to hurt more to put in as they absorbed more of my vaginal fluid.
Throughout the day, I used just two sponges for writing, cleaning, writing, writing, and more writing. I changed them every four hours or so, and it seemed to work great. The lower sponge would always have a bit of blood on it, so I was glad I used two of them. I put in one sponge around 5 p.m. It worked fine for the rest of the day and I changed it once with not much blood on it. However, when I went in to change to one, I found that the sponge I wasn’t using was on the floor. I didn’t think much of it, but then I realized it was the dog. The dog stole my sponge, and this was incredibly traumatizing for me because I know it was my 70-pound German Shepherd puppy. Help.
I used two sponges overnight and when I woke it was clear that I didn't need the second one. It was heavy with vaginal fluid though, which by now I'd realized that the sponge absorbs as well, which was why it felt dry inserting them as my cycle progressed.
Of course, I forgot the sitting-only rule I'd made for myself when it came to sponge removal and I put my leg up on toilet and pinched to take it out. Unsurprisingly, I got blood all over the floor. I used just one sponge all day on day five and it lasted about eight hours. I still had some blood, but not much by the end of the day. I also realized that it can be hard to get these sponges out if they’re too high up there. The higher they are, the higher you have to pinch.
On the final day of my period, there was very little, if any, blood remaining. But I realized that I very much prefer using a sponge on light days instead of my Diva Cup. The Diva Cup is very comfortable, but seems like overkill when you're only spotting enough for a light tampon, or when you're so far at the tail end of your period that you're just having brown vaginal discharge. I'd rather use a sponge then, which is comfortable and easier to clean, at least at home (I'm not dumping anything).
You have to be really comfortable with your vagina to use a sponge. You’re reaching up there, pushing things up there, pinching things up there, and generally up in there. You also have to be very comfortable with menstrual blood, and getting it (and clots) in your sink. I don’t mind that at home, but I really mind it when I’m out. I would've preferred to bring extra sponges and just put the bloody ones in a bag to take home, which I would have done if I hadn’t been wearing every sponge I had.
The sponges got progressively more uncomfortable to put in, I think, as my vagina got dryer and dryer. I had intermittent spells of involuntary peeing, which could have been due to the sponge’s positioning, but now that I’m not wearing one, they’ve gone away. This was the biggest drawback, and may keep me from using them again, though I plan to give them another chance on my next light days.
All in all, I liked them. Except for the peeing. That sucked. I like to be able to cough without urine running down my leg. But the sponges were comfy, stackable for your personal needs, and cheap, at $15 for three. I got them from TheNakeyCat on Etsy, and I’ll definitely be trying them again.