Swimming when menstruating—without tampons?
I have to take swimming as a requirement. How do I deal with my menstrual period during that time? The department only allows six absences per term. I do not use tampons.
— New Student
Dear New Student,
This is a common and valid concern experienced by many individuals who menstruate. A number of individuals with menstrual cycles choose not to use tampons for a variety of reasons. So, it's likely that other students have had similar concerns in regard to the swimming requirement. Fortunately, there are a couple of options such as menstrual cups or period-proof swimwear that may be available to you if Aunt Flo shows up when it's time for a swim. Using an alternative method that prevents menstrual leaking while you're in the water or discussing with your instructor how you can satisfy the requirement in a different way are just a few. Read on for more information about these options.
Tampons, though sometimes considered more convenient, are certainly not the end-all-be-all of menstrual management. An alternative to pads and tampons, that can be used while swimming is a menstrual cup, which serves as a re-usable "menstrual receptacle." They work by inserting it into the vagina and collecting any discharge in the cup. Menstrual cups are often available over the counter and can range in price. However, even if you splurge for a more expensive one, you often end up saving money in the long run since it’s reusable for between one to two years. Bonus: it's also a great environmentally friendly option since it produces less waste!
Another option is period-proof swimwear. This is swimwear that has been designed with either built-in absorption material or holders to keep sanitary pads in place. Depending on how heavy your flow is, you might not need any other backup methods. They can also be used to absorb urine or sweat. In recent years, period swimwear has improved significantly in terms of both functionality and style. A quick internet search for "period swimwear" will likely give you some options to explore.
If menstrual cups or period swimwear aren't possibilities for you, you might have a conversation with your swim instructor to work out a compromise. For example, you might suggest attending class to learn the strokes on the edge of the pool and not be marked absent. Another option could be to make up the sessions at another time when you don't have your period. This issue could have come up previously and your instructor might be familiar with the different options available. If you're still wary about talking with them about this issue, perhaps you could email them as a first step towards addressing your concerns. After opening up the conversation, you may be able to set up a meeting in-person to work out the details.
When it comes to menstrual cycles, every person is different. The decision to stay on land during your period or try out a new method really comes down to your personal preference. Enjoy your swimming pur(suits), New Student!
Originally published Apr 27, 1995
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