When it comes to our periods, it sometimes feels like we’re just supposed to know everything. Like the menarche fairy is supposed to tap us on our head when we get our first period, instantly giving us a wealth of insider knowledge. Well, the truth is, there is no wave of a magic wand that makes you an expert on menstrual hygiene. This means you probably have a lot of questions about how to have a fresh, healthy period.
Even the most well-meaning of parents can forget to give us some key information about periods. But learning the basics of menstrual hygiene is important! It helps ensure that you are fully informed about the right way to stay healthy and avoid infection during menstruation.
Menstruation is a time of heightened risk of certain infections, including some sexually transmitted infections. This increased risk of infection occurs because the mucus that usually blocks your cervix opens during menstruation to allow blood to pass out of the body. This makes it possible for bacteria to travel up into your uterus and pelvic cavity. Changes in vaginal pH also make yeast infections more likely.
It is essential that everyone understands the best practices for period hygiene. So much of our menstruation gets wrapped up in shame and misinformation. Knowing menstrual hygiene basics will help you not only feel fresh and confident during your period, but you’ll also be keeping yourself healthy!
Before we get started, make sure to acquaint yourself with your key body parts like the vagina and vulva here.
The Basics of Menstrual Hygiene
Bathe or shower at least once a day to keep your body clean and avoid odor. We know that we need to wash our hands after going to the bathroom and changing menstrual protection or cleaning our vulva and vagina, but before is important too. Think about how many things you touch on your way to any given washroom!
And Wash the Right Way
Because your vulva and vagina are more sensitive than other parts of your body, they require a different kind of wash product. Always wash externally and never use normal body soap or body wash. Avoid douches or shampoo on your intimate area, which can upset your natural flora and acidity. Opt for a wash specially formulated for intimate use or just use your hand and warm water.
Wipe from Front to Back
You probably don’t think a lot about using toilet paper. But there is a right way and a wrong way! When you wipe from back to front you risk exposing your vagina to harmful anal bacteria that can cause infections such as urinary tract infections and yeast infections. Always wipe front to back and try to keep your vaginal and anal wiping separate.
Consider Your Wardrobe
Avoid clothing that is tight between your legs, or fabrics that don’t breathe. (Yes, we’re talking about synthetic yoga pants.) Wearing clothing close to your vulva can cause increased moisture and heat that can also irritate your skin. Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing to stay fresh and dry.
Change Pads and Tampons Often
Continual use of the same sanitary pad or tampon increases your risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Prolonged exposure to damp sanitary pads can also irritate your skin, which can eventually become broken and risk infection. If you’re avoiding changing your tampons or pads because they’re expensive, look in your community for free or discounted period products. Sometimes your school, doctor’s office, food banks, or other community organizations will help you get access to the products you need. We all get caught with no supplies sometimes, so no shame in asking for a little help!
Use the Right Tampon Absorbency
Always use the lowest absorbency tampon needed for your menstrual flow, and never use a tampon unless you have your period. Using super absorbency tampons on a light day increases your risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Use a Menstrual Cup
Consider switching to a menstrual cup! It collects your flow rather than absorbing it, so doesn’t cause dryness or irritation. Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are safe for your body and last for up to 10 years so are way better for your pocket and the environment. Find out more reasons to ditch those pads and tampons here!
Practice Safe Sex
During menstruation, you face an added risk of passing on or contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis B, through unprotected sex.
This heightened risk results from the higher concentrations of HIV and Hepatitis B found in blood, as opposed to the comparatively lower concentrations in other body fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions. Having your period doesn’t mean you have to stop having sex if you don’t want to. (Some people love orgasms as a natural-cramp reliever!)
If you are going to have partnered sex on your period, use a barrier method to protect yourself such as a condom. If you have sex with someone without a penis, make sure to read up on your STI risks here.
The Importance of Practicing Good Hygiene All Month Long
Many of the tips listed above can help promote great intimate hygiene all month long. Take the time to share this important guide with the people you care about most. Everyone deserves access to the information necessary for living a happy, healthy, and comfortable life.
Want to Make a Difference in Your Life AND Someone Else’s?
We’ve teamed up with Zonta France to help you do exactly that! Zonta is an amazing global organization of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. They work with the UN and Council of Europe to help bring a brighter future to women around the world. In their own words: “[We] envisions a world in which women’s rights are recognized as human rights and every woman is able to achieve her full potential.”
We love the work Zonta does because it aligns with so many of our own goals. We’re working with them to help make a difference—for every menstrual cup bought in France, we will donate a cup to Zonta Paris Port Royal Concorde so that they can help someone who could use more menstrual care.