Of course I clicked when this tweet from Glamour came across my timeline.


The article mentions the following four products: washable period underwear, washable pads, menstrual cups, and sea sponges.  The first three are great, but menstrual sponges are not.

This is what Glamour said about sponges:

Yup, you can stop your period before it exists the premises by putting a sponge up there. Menstrual sponges like those that Jade & Pearl and Jam Sponge offer actually look a lot like bath sponges, and they work the same way. The only disadvantage is that they may be a bit cumbersome and messy to get out. But they are good for the environment and your wallet, since you only have to change them every six to 12 months.

This is dangerous advice.

Sea sponges aren’t “like” bath sponges they ARE bath sponges. Some people promote them as “natural” alternatives to menstrual tampons, except they are untested and potentially very unsafe. Oh yeah, they are also filled with dirt.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, twelve “menstrual sponges” were tested at the University of Iowa in the 1980s and they and contained sand, grit, bacteria, and “various other materials.” Another batch was tested by the Baltimore district laboratory and in addition to the sand, grit and bacteria they also found yeast and mold. One sample contained Staphylococcus aureus (the bacteria that causes toxic shock syndrome). As the FDA notes there is least one case of toxic shock syndrome associated with the sea sponge and another possible one.

The grossness of a debris and “various other materials” containing vaginal sponge aside there are real potential safety concerns. Bits could break off and become a nidus for bacteria, the sponge itself could have harmful bacteria, sponges may change the vaginal ecosystem promoting the growth of good bacteria, the inability to clean them adequately between uses may reintroduce potentially harmful bacteria that was breeding in the wet sponge sat drying beside the sink, and the sponge may cause abrasions during insertion and/or removal.

Menstrual products, sea sponges included, are regarded by the FDA as “significant risk devices requiring premarket approval under Section 515.” Basically, you have to study any products that is new and prove it is safe.The concerns about sponges were so significant the FDA contacted the manufacturers of menstrual sponges to warn them of the risks and to require they stop marketing and selling the products. Some closed down, others relabeled their products for “cosmetic” use. By they way there weren’t just a few businesses selling sponges, the FDA visited forty-one businesses that packaged sponges as well as 500 retail establishments.

One of the companies suggested as a source of menstrual sponges by Glamour is Jade & Pearl who received a warning letter from the FDA in 2014 about marketing menstrual sponges (if you read the full letter you’ll see that Jade & Pearl actually had a whole list of FDA violations).

Screen shot 2016-05-18 at 6.32.01 AM


This is how Jade & Pearl advertises their sponges right now, but it’s pretty genius marketing toScreen shot 2016-05-18 at 6.09.32 AM get Glamour to  tell everyone that your product is potentially not just for cosmetic uses! See FDA, it’s “just a sponge.”

Sea sponges are potentially very unsafe.

Really, I can’t emphasize that enough. There are lots of very biologically plausible ways they could harm women and Glamour magazine should be ashamed for including them without the most basic of research. It makes you wonder if Google was just not working the day the piece was written or if it was sourced only from press releases.

I’m the expert and I say Women should not use sea sponges in their vagina. They are potentially very dangerous. They don’t even have the most basic of safety testing. Glamour should know better and I urge them to print a correction and remove the offending paragraph.



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  1. Pingback: 7 Small Steps to Reducing Your Impact on the Environment – Rosie Maya
  2. They tested 12 sponges in the 1980’s? Seriously? 1980’s???

    Could it be even REMOTELY possible that sponges have grown in popularity, and as a result, maybe, JUST maybe the competition has caused these sponge companies to adopt more stringent cleaning and sterilization methods?
    Yet another side effect of “evil” capitalism is the concept that in order to stay in business, a company has to continuously improve their product.

    1. In the United States it is required that menstrual products be shown to be safe. Why does that concept bother you? If they are safe as you claim (but provide no supporting data) safety studies would be easy to do. I mean if the people profiting from these really wanted to help women wouldn’t they jump at the chance to test?

      When a bad product is removed from the shelves for safety reasons the FDA doesn’t periodically track down sponges for Etsy to test them.

      Evil capitalism seems to apply more to the sponge sellers, I mean if you cared about women you’d prove your product was safe.

  3. This reminds me of the Rely tampon that was found to increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome back in 1980. This tampon was so absorbent that it could last all day. This made the vagina an incubator containing a Petrie dish. Have we learned nothing from the past?
    This also reminds me of the contraceptive sponge, which carries the same risks.

  4. First of all, I so totally love your blog it isn’t even funny. Just wanted to tell you.

    Second of all, I’m coming out of lurkdom to say that I’ve been using cloth/washable menstrual pads for a few years now and will NEVER EVER go back to the disposable kind. Gosh, I just love the washable cloth pads sooooo much. It took me a while to find a brand that worked for me – I like Domino Pads for heavy days as they have NEVER leaked for me, which is saying a lot as I’ve had lots of babies and so leaking was a problem for me with store-bought pads – and I use other brands/types for lighter days – but once I found the brands I love, ohmygosh, like I said, I would never go back to store-bought disposables. Well, actually, when I’m traveling I still have to use store-bought, which just reminds me of how much I loathe them.

    Anyway, love your blog, loved your post, just wanted to put a quick plug out there for washable/cloth pads.

  5. Really interesting post, although I come down on the opposite side from you. I use sea sponges and find them very comfy, often much more so than a cup or rayon tampon. (Also I’m intrigued by the people who find them helpful for prolapse, although I don’t have that experience myself)

    I agree that the FDA is within its rights to ban their sale as tampons, but it’s unfortunate for someone like me who likes them. To my mind, the tests done in Baltimore in 1980 aren’t enough to write off sponges as a health risk. (Also, the Iowa tests were just 12 sponges, hardly conclusive). For one, it’s a long time ago, and it was a random sample of repackers and retailers who presumably had sponges of varying qualities. That there were sand, grit, bacteria (including Staphylococcus aureus), yeast, and mold in the sponges doesn’t horrify me in the way it does you. Sand, grit, and mold are quality control issues, so high quality sponges (like the ones I’ve bought) shouldn’t suffer from these problems. Although at the moment as it’s an unregulated industry, it’s hard to know what you’re buying.

    For yeast and bacteria, a sea sponge in its packaging is not what anyone should insert into their vagina. Anyone who buys a sponge should sanitise it before inserting, and periodically thereafter. Because the FDA has written sponges off, I have no idea what proper sanitising is, but as a best guess I use nearly-boiling water and sterilising tablets (sold for sterilising baby bottle nipples). I use the same tablets for my cups. Other people I’ve seen use hydrogen peroxide and denture tablets (and tea tree oil, but I don’t buy that at all). So I don’t believe that harmful bacteria is hidden in the sponge, or will breed while drying. I sanitise between cycles just like with my cups.

    I didn’t understand the clause about changing vaginal ecosystem. How would a sea sponge prevent the growth of good bacteria? Do you mean just by introducing bad bacteria?

    The other issue you raise, of pieces breaking off, is a problem that all absorbent materials have. Rayon tampons also leave fibres behind in the vagina. As long as I visually inspect my sea sponges, and see that they don’t have any loose parts, I believe that they won’t break apart inside me. Also I twist and bend my sponges to insert, so they have a smooth edge to them at the tip…hard to explain but twisted up they look more like a rayon tampon (smooth at the top and on the sides, bumpy at the base). A sponge is a lot softer than a rayon tampon or cup, so I’m not sure how it could cause abrasions during insertion and removal more than any other internal menstrual device.

    I agree that Jade & Pearl were way off in their claims, but I wish there was some honest way that the FDA could re-evaluate the risks of sponges instead of outright banning them. The current regime where sponge distributors claim that the sponges are for cosmetic use, and the FDA looks the other way, is just ridiculous. An honest assessment of the risks included on the packaging would be more helpful than lies.

    I’m not a doctor, and I like these products so I’m prejudiced to believe that they’re safe. But I did consult with my gynaecologist about using them, and she wasn’t too worried. Possibly I’m just deluded! Untested and potentially unsafe: yes. But actually unsafe…I’d say no.

  6. you only have to change them every six to 12 months

    I hope this means that you only have to buy a new one every few months, rather than keeping it in situ for months.

    Anyhow, sponges were used in the early days of abdominal surgery, to mop up blood and spills. Because they could never be properly cleaned or sterilised, they rapidly fell from favour.

  7. I was recently researching for an article I’m writing about the need to switch to organic cotton tampons, I would never recommend a sponge to anyone!

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