Women are having more periods than ever before in history. While factors like back-to-back pregnancies, shorter lifespans, and less nutrition-packed diets kept our ancestors from menstruating as often, today’s modern woman will have an average of 500 periods in her lifetime.
Pads and tampons are some of the most popular ways we handle our periods. But if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on the nearly 10,000 feminine hygiene products you might end up using between puberty and menopause, you’ll want to get the most bang for your buck.
While it’s unclear whether tampons or pads are more popular, about 98% of women in the US use a combination of both. So which is better; tampons or pads? And what other options are out there for those of us who would like to shake up our period routine?
Menstrual pads, also known as sanitary pads, sanitary napkins and maxi pads, have been around for a long time in one form or another and are still hugely popular today. They’re available in a range of lengths and absorbing capabilities that can cover light spotting to heavy overnight flow.
Pads are often used as a backup for tampons. They’re more practical in some situations: they don’t leak, there’s no risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS) when using them, and they can handle the unmonitored flow of our periods while we’re busy sleeping.
The downsides are mostly an issue of discomfort. They can make noises when you move, they limit what physical activities you can take part in during your period, and you usually have to stick to full-coverage underwear while using them.
Tampons have been around for millennia in one form or another, but didn’t become popular in modern Western culture until the 1930s.
If you’re new to tampons, you might not know that they come in different absorbencies; you’ll have to try them out a few times to get an idea of which absorbency is best for each part of your period.
They are favored mostly because of the greater physical freedom they allow. You can swim and exercise while using a tampon, and you’ll hardly feel it at all.
The most common downside of tampons is that they can leak, leading to stains and embarrassing situations. They’re also so comfortable that they can be easy to forget about. If they’re left in place longer than the recommended four to eight hours, they can lead to a rare but often deadly condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Pads vs. Tampons – Pros and Cons
Pros of Tampons:
- Tampons are small and discrete
- No wet feeling when wearing them
- You move freely
- You can’t feel them
Pros of Pads:
- It’s less likely to leak.
- Easier to use since it doesn’t have to be inserted
- No risk of toxic shock syndrome
- Provide the best overnight protection against leaks
Cons of Tampons:
- You can forget you’re wearing them
- They can cause TSS
- Can take time to find the right absorbency
- Can be uncomfortable to insert and remove
Cons of Pads:
- Can make crinkling sounds when you move
- Can show under your clothes due to bulkiness
- More restricted with activities; definitely no swimming when wearing a pad!
- Have to wear full coverage underwear with them
Are Tampons Better than Pads?
This is a bit of a trick question. It all really depends on your lifestyle and what you’re more comfortable with. As I mentioned earlier, many women use some combination of the two or choose one product over another depending on the time of day, the flow of their period, and what activities they want to take part in.
Tampons are great ways to discretely handle your period while being more active. Pads are more comfortable and can be worn for longer but may feel bulky and unsubtle.
Choosing between the two and when to use each (or combine them) can take some experience. But if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, there are also many other affordable and reusable options that can help you conquer your period!
Any Alternatives to Tampons and Pads?
1. Menstrual Cups
Menstrual cups might seem to be new, but in fact, they’ve been around for as long as tampons; they just haven’t been as widely used. You can find disposable and reusable menstrual cups. The reusable cups are bell-shaped and are made from silicone or latex. Instead of absorbing menstrual fluid like tampons do, menstrual cups collect the fluid for later disposal.
Menstrual cups don’t pose a risk of TSS and can be safely worn for up to 12 hours, providing the advantage of convenience. Cups don’t contain bleaches or chemicals that could cause allergic reactions or sensitivity. You can even wear some menstrual cups during sex to avoid making a mess during your period, but keep in mind no menstrual cup will protect against pregnancy or STDs. The downsides to menstrual cups are that they take some time to learn how to insert and remove, and the reusable ones need to be cleaned.
2. Cloth Pads
Reusable cloth menstrual pads are another option available to women.
Benefits of Cloth Pads:
- They breathe better than plastic-backed disposable products
- They can last for several years
- Good for the environment. They keep thousands of disposable products out of landfills.
The downsides to cloth pads are that you’ll need to take the time to wash them, and the initial startup cost of buying a set of cloth pads can be too expensive for some people.
3. Period Panties
Period panties are commonplace in Asian countries, and they’re starting to catch on world wide. These are panties that are specially designed to be leakproof or absorbent or both. Most are meant to be worn as a backup to a tampon, cup or pad, but some menstrual underwear, like Thinx, can be worn in place of a pad or tampon.
There’s really no winner out of all the choices we have available to us, and many women simply continue to use what their mothers recommended to them when they were teens. However, with items we’ll be using every month for many years to come, it’s worth taking the time to give some thought to what would work best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is it bad to wear a tampon and a pad at the same time?
Not at all! In fact, as mentioned above, up to 98% of menstruating women use some combination of tampons and pads for their periods. Tampons are great to use when active. Pads are perfect for helping manage your flow overnight while sleeping. And using pantyliners or pads alongside your tampon can help prevent leaks that can lead to stained underwear or awkward accidents.
Do periods end faster with pads?
Some medical professionals claim that you can have a shorter period by wearing a pad rather than a tampon. They speculate that this is because tampons block the flow of your period – think of a dam that blocks a stream and only lets a bit of water pass at a time. By removing this “dam,” your menses exits your body at a more natural pace. This may mean a heavier flow, but it can also shorten your period.
Do tampons hurt?
For the most part, tampons are not painful. But some new users might experience a bit of discomfort or pain when first inserting a tampon. It’s good to note that there are many different types of tampons and applicators. Some tampons have no applicators at all, while others come with cardboard or plastic applicators. I’ve found that plastic is the most comfortable to use, but it’s also the most harmful to our environment. If you struggle inserting your first tampon, experiment with different applicators to see which one works best for you.
Can a 12-year-old wear a tampon?
Again, this is entirely up to the user and what she is comfortable with. Many young women may be unfamiliar with their periods, bodies, and feminine products. They can feel intimidated before using a tampon for the first time. Some young women also worry about damaging their hymen – a symbol of virginity in some cultures – when using tampons. But it’s good to know that this is highly unlikely. So, in the end, it’s really about whichever option is most comfortable physically and mentally for a young woman.