While tampon ads showing women wearing white frolicking in a field can be a little silly, they do have one thing right: you don’t have to change any of your day-to-day activities when you have your period, and that includes swimming. Swimming can be one of the best parts of summer, after all. You don’t have to let your period prevent you from learning how to surf or showing off your cute bikini.
According to the CDC, about 91 million people over 16 swim in oceans, lakes, or rivers each year in the United States. In fact, swimming is the fourth most popular recreational sport in the U.S., following walking, exercising with equipment, and camping. You can bet that a lot of those 91 million people were on their periods.
No matter if you’re swimming in an ocean or a pool, swimming on your period is normal, hygienic, and totally safe – including from sharks. So take some inspiration from this synchronized team that choreographed a water ballet inspired by periods and get in the water. Tampon-shaped pool float not required.
You might have heard that your period will stop in the water. There is some truth to this. It’s not magic, but physics. The water pressure will work against the force of gravity, counteracting your blood flow. But if you sneeze, cough, laugh, or even move around in certain ways, blood could still leak out – though it will be diluted by the water and won’t leave a bloody trail behind you. The second you get out of the water, your blood flow will go back to normal. This means you will likely want to wear some sort of menstrual product, unless you’re near the end of your period and your flow is very light.
Menstrual pads are designed to absorb your period blood. But they also absorb water. So wearing one while swimming won’t be comfortable. It might even feel like wearing a diaper. Luckily, you have other options.
Tampons are a great period product to wear while swimming. Simply insert one like you usually would, put on your swimsuit, and hop in the water. You can wear a tampon for four to eight hours, so if you’re spending all day at the beach, you might want to change your tampon once or twice. Just bring a few tampons with you and note where the bathrooms are when you arrive.
If you’ve never worn a tampon before, take a look at the instructions on the box, or look up a tutorial. If it’s difficult, try a few different positions, like putting one leg up on the edge of the bathtub or toilet, or sitting down with your knees apart.
Any brand of tampons works just fine for swimming. Some people find that tampons with plastic applicators are easier to insert. So if you’re new to tampons, you may want to try a brand with a plastic applicator. But really, any kind of tampon works well for swimming.
Another easy way to deal with your period while swimming is to wear a menstrual cup. If you haven’t used one before, a menstrual cup is a small, silicone cup that you can wear inside your vagina to collect period blood. When you remove your cup, you empty the blood into the toilet, wash your cup in the sink, and re-insert it. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to twelve hours – longer than a tampon – and they can be reused, so they’re environmentally-friendly.
If you use a tampon or cup, it’s unlikely that any blood will touch the water. But even if you don’t use any period products at all, not much blood will leave your body during the time you’re in the water. Most people lose between 4 and 12 teaspoons of blood during their entire period – and you’ll probably only be in the water for a few hours at most. The pool or ocean will dilute any blood that does leak, and swimming pools contain chlorine to prevent the spread of disease.
Good news: research has shown that swimming can actually help reduce period cramps! During aerobic exercises like swimming, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins act as natural painkillers and can help reduce your cramps.
Although this would make a great scary movie, there is zero evidence to suggest that sharks are particularly drawn to people who are menstruating. According to Popular Science, sharks can smell period blood, but they can also smell regular blood (think a kid with a scarped knee), urine, sweat, mucus, and any other bodily fluid that contains amino acids. And despite what Jaws would have you think, sharks don’t generally snack on humans – they prefer tastier treats like fish.