Inspired by my friend Lindsey over at LindseyBikes I thought I would go ahead and delve into this topic while I’m stuck in the middle of it. There will be a lot of bodily fluid/anatomy discussion in this post because thats what real life with a period is. Even if you don’t have a period it’s probably worth learning about so you know what the period-having people in your life are dealing with.
When I was growing up and learning about period products there was plenty of focus on how to handle periods and swimming but not much discussion about periods and other sports, like biking. For a long time I dealt with the need to be active while on my period with tampons (which I think is what period product manufacturers expect us to use for any sports), though I always hated dealing with the string and they never seemed to fit me well. On the bike they worked OK but I always had to wear some kind of backup pad and those would chafe and move around and it was never a great experience. I pretty much never used pads by themselves because it required thicker and larger pads than just backing up the tampon and they were thus even more prone to the problems with shifting, bunching, and chafing.
When I started trying to have children and learned a bit more about my body (go read Taking Charge of Your Fertility, even if you aren’t trying to have a kid, seriously!) I learned that my trouble with tampons is because I have a very low cervix, so there literally isn’t space for the tampon beneath it (those diagrams in the tampon instructions were always baffling to me because they didn’t seem remotely drawn to scale, turns out for me they aren’t). So I tried menstrual cups. Many of them. Everyone seemed to rave about them but as with tampons none seemed to be designed to work with my low cervix. I tried 5 or so different kinds and had given up and sworn off wasting any more money on them when a friend introduced me to the FemmyCycle. The design was very different from most other cups and they specifically offered a low cervix version. I went ahead and tried it out and it works great! Now I finally had a cup I could use and rarely needed more than a pantyliner for a backup. Awesome! But my problems with pads + biking weren’t really solved, just avoided for a little while.
It turns out that periods aren’t the only time vaginal bleeding happens. Yay! During my pregnancies I had several different complications that led to bleeding (during one pregnancy I bled or spotted for 10 weeks straight). On top of that I’ve also experienced several miscarriages, which come with lots of bleeding as well. And once you deliver a baby you also bleed for quite a long while afterwards. For all of these situations using internal solutions like tampons and cups is not recommended because of the risk of bacteria entering the uterus. Which left me back with pads.
I’ve tried an awful lot of pads in my lifetime and none of them are perfect. Most varieties of disposable pads chafe for me. On or off the bike but it’s worse on the bike. I can usually handle at most a couple of days before I’m completely miserable. I tried cloth pads but I had trouble with them bunching up and I didn’t like that the ones I had stained really badly and didn’t hold up on my heavier days. On the bike cloth pads are problematic because the snaps that most brands use get pushed into sensitive areas by the bike seat. Eventually I discovered the same pads Lindsey did, Always Infinity, which use a substance they call “Flex-foam” to absorb blood. They are winners in a lot of ways. They’re soft and don’t get nearly as sweaty when I’m active as most pads do. They don’t make noise or bunch up in ways that make me feel like I’m wearing a diaper. And I’ve had fewer leaking issues with them than other types of pads. But on the bike I still end up frustrated, especially on lighter days when most of the pad is dry. That’s because they shred into tiny foam pieces on the bike (or sometimes just on days where I’m walking a lot). Which then makes a mess when I pull my pants down. As far as disposable options go I think these are still the best but I’d love to see some with a stronger liner because I think that would reduce the issues I encounter with them not holding up to heavy activity and biking.
The most recent thing I’ve tried is Thinx period panties. I was reluctant to get these. Each pair costs as much as my cup and I need multiples to get through a period with them, vs only needing one cup to last for years. But having been reminded of the snap issue with cloth pads (and realizing cloth pads aren’t particularly cheap either) I decided to go ahead and get a few pairs when they had a sale around Memorial Day. I settled on the high capacity styles and bought 2 sets of the boyshorts and 1 pair of the hiphuggers. They arrived just after I finished my period in May (though I quickly found they could be useful for other things, like putting a pair on after sex so I don’t have to worry about leakage). When we took a trip to Florida in late June just in time for me to be bleeding again I was grateful to have the backup for my cup while on flights across the country. During the trip I used the Thinx as backup for my cup and for spotting. I also ended up using the hiphuggers as a bathing suit bottom (which worked nicely and I found pretty flattering). I wasn’t really able to try them on a bike though.
This time around we’re back in Seattle and I’m on the bike. I’ve been using just the Thinx for a few days and so far the results are pretty good. I still hate the feeling that comes with bleeding onto a pad or similar product and I doubt anything will change that. I don’t like that I have to pull them back on after going to the bathroom, still with a bunch of blood on them (though I’d likely be doing the same with a pad most of those times). The boyshorts in particular do feel a little like a diaper due to the thickness of the absorbent section. But they’ve done their job. They smell less than pads when worn for the same length of time. They don’t irritate me on the bike or shred into a million pieces. I haven’t had any leaks even though I’ve been spending nearly 20 miles a day biking during days with fairly heavy flow. There’s no bunching or riding up and no snaps to deal with. I typically take them in the shower to rinse them at the end of the day before putting them in the wash and prefer that to trying to rinse them out in the sink. I was worried that with the hot weather I would have problems with the breathability of them but it has been less of an issue than with pads. With a heavier flow than mine (my period has chilled out a lot since I was a teenager) I think these would be more annoying to use by themselves. Changing them while out and about is more difficult and annoying than with disposable pads (though not much worse than with cloth pads). And with a really heavy flow you’d definitely need to be prepared to do that. They’re still more pleasant to wear than pads though, especially while biking. I wouldn’t want to use less absorbent styles for anything but spotting, personally, and I would recommend the boyshort over the hiphugger for your heaviest days despite them both having the same rating for absorbency. This is because the boyshort has better overflow coverage than the hiphugger. The tradeoff is that it doesn’t blend in under clothing quite as well. Ultimately it all depends on your flow and tolerance for leaks.
So what do I think is best for dealing with biking + vaginal bleeding? My cup is still by far my first choice, most likely with a pair of Thinx on heavy days as backup. Second choice would be the Thinx by themselves. The Always Infinity pads come in third. Any other pad choice would be a distant fourth and tampons would trail behind that. The cup and Thinx are also great because they reduce the waste I produce. And depending how long they last they can also save you money, though the initial outlay for them can be a problem, especially for the Thinx where you really need at least 3-5 depending on your flow. Cloth pads have a similar benefit but if you’re going that route for biking I would look into making your own or having someone make them for you with velcro instead of snaps.
What have you had success with for period management while biking?