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Alternatives to disposable tampons come to Mills

Halie Johnson

Sponges, polka dot cloths and cups-while these are not words commonly associated with a girl’s period, that might change now that the Mills College bookstore has agreed to stock reusable menstrual products.

With this new option, a question exists: What are reusable menstrual products?

According to senior Sara Jacobsen, who led the movement to put alternative feminine products in the bookstore, washable pads are strips of cotton or other organic materials that attach to a girl’s underwear by wings or snaps.

These pads come in a variety of colors and prints, such as the Red, Disco Dots and Crazy Cubes design options available from Lunapads.

“I look forward to getting my period because it’s an opportunity to use all my cute cloth pads!” Jacobsen said.

The Lunapad Web site says that cloth pads can be used all day, after which the blood should be washed out with warm water and mild detergent.

Junior Rebecca Clark, who has worn reusable menstrual products for 10 years, recommends that girls also use hydrogen peroxide to remove blood stains.

Another reusable feminine product is sea sponge tampons, which Pearl and Jade, a company that makes Sea Pearls tampons, describes on its Web site as sponges that are inserted into the vaginal opening and can be rinsed for reuse several times a day.

Clark said that sponge tampons are only good for light bleeders.
“They squeeze out liquid if they’re full, if you laugh [or if you] contract abdominal vaginal muscles,” Clark said.

Menstrual cups, small funnel-like cups that are inserted into the vagina, can hold one ounce of blood and can last up to 10 years, according to the Diva-Cup website.

The cups are sold in the United States by two brands: the Keeper, which is made of plastic, and the Diva-Cup, which is made out of medical silicon.

Though she said that menstrual cups empower women by “supporting women-owned businesses,” Jacobsen also said that proper insertion may take time to learn and that initial leaking and vaginal soreness is common.

Cynthia Turner, the Mills College health liaison with the Tang Center, also said that the size of menstrual cups may be uncomfortable for some girls, but that they are no more painful than inserting birth control devices like diaphragms or cervical caps.
Turner is concerned, however, about menstrual cup sanitation in communal dorm bathrooms where students may be tempted to wash/empty the cups in the sink.

While Turner suggests dumping blood in the toilet and Jacobson recommends boiling empty Diva-cups for sterilization, Turner believes that problems still might occur.

“If people leave tampons in the shower where people can step into it, I’d be worried about this,” Turner said, referencing a problem in Warren Olney Hall last year.

J. Omar Sanchez, the manager of the Mills College bookstore, said that he will contact eFollett, the company that stocks all college bookstores, in three to four weeks and request Sea Pearls, a brand of sea sponge tampons, and Perfect Pads washable pads.

“I would love the store on campus to sell these products because it fits really well with what I think Mills represents, which is strong, independent women [who] care for the environment and our bodies,” said sophomore Daniella Matthews-Trigg.

Sanchez added that if these two trial products sell well, he will consider purchasing more, as well as try menstrual cups and organic tampons and pads.

Jacobsen said that she does not care where students buy reusable feminine products, but she is using the college bookstore as a way to raise campus awareness.

“Just by seeing these alternative menstrual products at the bookstore, Mills women will start to educate themselves about [them],” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen recommended that women interested in reusable feminine products look for reviews at

The Mills College Health Fair will also include an information booth on alternative feminine products as well as a display of cloth pads and Diva-Cups on Oct. 4.