Some women think sticking makeup sponges in their vaginas during sex is the solution to a potentially messy problem, but an expert on vaginal health is warning them against the practice.
Dr. Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN who often blogs about the bizarre objects women are encouraged to put inside their vaginas, recently criticized a Lifehacker article advising women who are menstruating to use foam makeup sponges instead of tampons if they’re planning on having sex. The piece in question claims that one or two of the cheap cosmetic applicators will keep the sheets “mess-free” during that time of the month.
“Just insert one (or two, if you’re attempting day-one period sex) up to your cervix and you should be good for a couple of hours,” the article reads.
However, Gunter points out that the FDA classifies tampons as Class II medical devices, and the feminine hygiene products must go through rigorous testing before they make it onto drugstore shelves. There’s a reason for this: Certain materials can increase a woman’s chance of developing toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal condition caused by bacteria. However, the FDA regulations weren’t as strict in the ’70s, and a new type of tampon filled with polyester foam — the same material many makeup sponges are made of — was temporarily produced and sold. According to Gunter, the result was that “the incidence of menstrual toxic shock syndrome (mTSS) skyrocketed.”
Why, exactly, the tampons caused more cases of toxic shock syndrome is uncertain, but it’s been hypothesized that bacteria adhere to the polyester foam they were made out of. Dr. Jen Gunter also points out that the soft material is filled with tiny holes that trap air inside, and “oxygen is a co-factor in development of mTSS.” On her Twitter page, the doctor shared a video demonstrating just how much air can get trapped inside a makeup sponge.
Air bubbles released by make up sponges, tampons do not have this much trapped air!!! And yes I have a beaker set at home pic.twitter.com/fjoRfbdcRk— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) July 30, 2017
According to Revelist, using sponges during sex is a common practice in the sex industry, but one porn star said that she uses boiled sea sponges instead of foam sponges if she has to film a vaginal sex scene while she’s on her period. Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, Goop, also published a Q&A with a doctor who claimed that it’s safe to use sea sponges instead of tampons, but Gunter disagrees. She points to studies that have found that sea sponges contain dirt, bacteria, yeast, mold, and other materials that women definitely do want inside their vaginas.
As the New York Times reports, Dr. Jen Gunter is a harsh critic of many of the posts about vaginal health on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, including one encouraging women to stick jade eggs inside their vaginas to make sex more enjoyable. Paltrow likes to recommend “natural” products and treatments, so it’s unlikely that she’d be on board with the polyester sponge period sex “hack.”
Lifehacker did consult with its own expert about using foam sponges during sex, and her stance on the issue is that “makeup applicators and sea sponges aren’t particularly better or worse than a tampon.” However, she says that there is a better item to use for period sex that has FDA approval to be inserted inside the vagina: a diaphragm. According to Dr. Lanalee Sam of Elite Ob/Gyn, the contraceptive device “holds everything back.”
Even if a woman successfully uses a makeup sponge or sea sponge to have mess-free period sex without contracting a deadly infection, she could still end up taking a trip to the doctor. As one Your Friend’s House writer found out, a sponge can get stuck so far up inside the vagina that it takes a trip to the gynecologist to remove it.
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