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When I think about single-use items in my life there aren't many to report: I bring my own lunch in a stainless steel lunch box, I have a keep cup, I don't use straws, I don't buy balloons, etc, etc. But once a month I, like many other women, use single-use sanitary products.
We've written about the unseen issue of single-use menstruation products before. But here's a quick recap.
- The average menstruation span is roughly 40 years per person (11-51).
- On average a woman may use up to 20 tampons a cycle (240 tampons a year)... that's a total of 9,600 tampons in a menstrual lifecycle.
- 20 billion tampons and pads are being dumped into landfill each year.
- The polyethylene plastic in pads can take hundreds of years to decompose. In fact, conventional pads can contain the equivalent of about four plastic bags!
- The cotton used in tampon production is a thirsty crop.
- Tampons that are flushed down the toilet often cause plumbing issues, or issues at sewage treatment plants where they need to be fished out and sent to landfill
- The process of making and disposing of tampons and pads is polluting out waterways and animal habitats. It's an old stat but in 2009, The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup project collected 20,000 tampon applicators out of 4 million total pieces of reclaimed plastic waste. These plastic applicators, like other plastics, become smaller and are then eaten up the food chain.
Last year we investigated alternative menstrual options such as menstrual cups. We even gave them a road-test! The response was huge. Some women were singing their praise from the rooftops, others couldn't quite find the right fit, and for a few of you, the idea of coming face to face with a cup of your menstrual blood was all too real.
Image: Lunette cup available online at Biome.
If I'm being honest, I've probably held off from alternate menstrual options because there's a stigma around it. When it comes to periods, there is a culture of concealment that still pervades today. I was embarrassed by the idea that my partner would come home and I would be boiling my menstrual cup on the stove. In reality I'm sure he'd be fine with it, and if he wasn't then that's not the kind of person I'd want to be with. But the fact remains that the idea of a menstrual cup was the final frontier for me. I thought that I'd probably be a tampon girl for life. Until I discovered 'period undies'.
I had seen few articles floating around about THINX 'period' underwear and the reviews were continuously good. I decided that this could be my in.
What are they and how do they work?
THINX are underwear with wicking fabric built in that absorbs your menstrual blood. They can be used on their own, or in partnership with other menstrual products. As they say on the website, "no one knows your flow better than you, so you'll be the best judge of what works!".
They come in a few different styles, which have varied absorption levels. My goal was to see if I could go a whole cycle on THINX alone. So I got the "Hiphugger" for heavy days, the "sport" for medium, and the "cheeky" for light.
A quick note on sizing: I had read that they run a little small. Undies that are too tight are the worst so I opted for a size larger than I would normally wear and I was happy with the result.
I thought that they might be kind of bulky; this was one of my biggest concerns. Would I still be able to ride a horse on the beach then do cartwheels in my white cut-off shorts like the period advertisements of my youth had promised me?
But when they arrived I was surprised at home streamlined they are. They have that kind of shiny Spanx material and while they are obviously a little thicker than normal underwear they're cute, and feel super comfortable.
Do they work, though?
There's going to be some serious period talk here.
I started wearing these on my first day. It was a super light flow and I had no issue. Overnight things got a little more serious. When I woke up I was definitely at the absorption limit, but this also happen with a tampon – so no biggie – I just changed into a fresh pair.
There is some getting used to; when you wear a tampon you can't really feel the comings and goings of your menstrual blood, but when you wear THINX, you can (although for anyone who normally wears a pad this wouldn't be an issue). I spent the first half of the day paranoid that I was bleeding out and that the underwear wouldn't hold. Half way through the day I popped in a tampon to put my mind at ease.
Feeling slightly dejected, I decided that the next day I would just bring a spare pare of THINX with me to work. I bring tampons, so why not just use them in the same manner. This idea was a total winner. The first two days of my flow are always really heavy, so after I went to the gym in my lunch break I just put on a fresh pair on underwear and popped the used ones in a zip lock bag. Easy!
I did this for one more day and once I thought things had lightened up a bit, I just used one pair during the day and one at night.
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I absolutely love them and to be honest I think they'll be my main ammunition when it comes to menstruation from here on in. They're comfortable, and in the long run they'll be heaps more cost effective. They don't have the environmental impact of cotton tampons or pads and I feel kind of empowered and more in tune with my menstruation.
That last point was an interesting one for me. I've seen a few other women mentioning the same sort of thing and I thought, "who the hell wants want to be in tune with their period". But I found myself talking to my partner more openly about menstruation, we discussed the tampon tax, and the fact that many women that are homeless or in developing nations lack access to proper sanitary care.
The kicker here is that when you buy a pair of THINX underwear the company sends funds to their partner Afripads who teach women to sew and sell reusable cotton pads.
Q & A
How do you wash them?
THINX recommend that you rinse them off first before putting them in the wash. I rinsed mine out when I had a shower and put them in the wash straight after.
But really, do they work?
Yes! I love them. No leakage and super comfortable. I'm a total convert.
How many pairs should you get?
I got three and was washing and rotating them every day. I'm going to buy at least another two pairs because I found that once or twice they hadn't dried off before I went to use them the next day.
How much are they?
They range from $24-$38 and you get a discount if you buy multiple pairs.
Is it gross?
No really, sure you have to rinse them off but that's not really a big deal. And I'm all for breaking the taboo around women's periods; we bleed, so what!
Can they be used when you don't have your period?
Sure! They would be great for anyone who experiences light bladder leakage, or to wear a few days before you know that you'll get your period so that you don't ruin yet another pair or underwear.
Should I get some?
Is there an Australian-made alternative?
Modibodi is designed in Australia. One of their core pillars is to educate and empower women across the globe with positive body message, and images, knowledge and encouragement to love who they are! They make undergarments including maternity wear, active wear, and everyday underwear so that girls and women of all ages and seizes are protected from life's little mishaps including leaks, discharge and periods no matter what stage of life they are at!
What makes Modibodi so unique?
Their patented Modifier Technology works by moving moisture away from the skin, so you feel dry, through to an absorbent middle layer. A waterproof film prevents leaks onto your clothes, and it is stain resistant and antimicrobial to eliminate odour.