Many of women's health issues have been a taboo subject for decades, if not centuries - and menstruation is no exception. People have been too embarrassed or even too disgusted to talk about this perfectly natural bodily function, even though around half of the world's population will undergo it at some point. Where's the sense of that? Opening the dialogue around periods won't just remove the ridiculous shame that surrounds them - it'll also help to educate a lot of girls and women too. Not talking about a subject means your questions about it simply aren't answered, and when those questions relate to your body, that's not a great situation to be in.
So, in honor of being more open about periods, we're here to talk about tampons and sanitary pads. While there are many female hygiene products on the market - menstrual cups for example - tampons and pads are the most prominent. We're not here to tell you which to use: that should be down to the individual only. However, we are here to explore why some women have chosen tampons over towels. If you're a pad kinda gal, that's totally fine - this is your chance to see how, and why, the other half lives! Here are the pros of tampons and the cons of pads that cause many women to live that tampon-using life. What's your menstrual product of choice, and why does it work for you? Make sure to let us know!
16 Tampons Don't Give You That Awkward Feeling That Pads Do
While having your period is a totally natural bodily process, it can be a bit uncomfortable at times. For example, every time you use the bathroom, you get a visual reminder that you're once again expelling your womb's lining. It's not great to pull down your pants and see a crimson sanitary towel staring back at you. Plus, when you're going about your daily activities, you don't want to experience that "damp" feeling that an in-use towel can create.
While these aspects of menstruation might not bother every woman, some of us don't want to have to deal with the messiness that pads can create.
If you're in the "I want to see as little blood as possible" camp, tampons might be the solution for you. As the leading tampon manufacturer Tampax notes, they absorb all of that moisture before it even leaves your body, making it way less visible.
15 Tampons Are Generally Odorless
Generally speaking, nothing that comes out of your intimate area should smell unbearably bad. As the NHS notes, if a discharge of any kind - including periods - begins to smell noticeably more foul than usual, you should probably go and get a doctor to check for an infection. However, don't freak out if your period has a slight metallic odor. That's totally normal!
But where do pads and tampons come into this? Well, a lot of women worry that menstrual products collect and amplify your period's scent, making it more obvious to others. This is totally false. The NHS advises that as long as you change your tampon frequently - which you should be doing anyway, to prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome - they won't cause your menstrual odor to get any worse. Plus, you should avoid pads that actively mask the smell, as they can cause unwanted intimate dryness.
14 While Tampons Can Still Make A Mess, It's Pretty Rare
Now, tampons aren't a totally infallible menstrual product. If your flow gets unexpectedly heavier, things can get messy. However, the NHS states that if you've taken care to choose the right size and absorption level of product to fit your needs, you should be pretty safe while using a tampon. They won't move anywhere and should protect your underwear from blotting or staining.
However, there's something important to note about tampons and mess avoidance.
To stop any unwanted leaking, you may be tempted to buy the most absorptive tampon on the market, even if your flow is a comparatively light one. This may seem sensible at the time, but it could actively harm your body. Health Canada notes that using tampons that are too absorbent for your needs can cause dryness and even internal ulcers. Ouch! Don't risk it: use the lightest possible tampon that you can get away with.
13 You Can Barely Tell A Tampon Is There
As a general rule, tampons are designed to be as comfortable to use as possible. Often, you can barely tell they're inside you at all! The Center for Young Women's Health makes clear that if you feel uncomfortable in any way following a tampon's insertion, it's been inserted incorrectly and you should re-attempt the process - with a new tampon, of course!
There is one important caveat to note here. Sometimes, a tampon can feel so comfortable that you actually forget it's there - and forget to remove it on time.
The British National Health Service website notes that leaving a tampon in for too long can make it more difficult to eventually remove, and could also lead to the potentially fatal Toxic Shock Syndrome. So, embrace the fact that tampons are near-impossible to feel during use, but don't forget about them totally!
12 Tampons Give You More Freedom When Aunt Flo Calls
Now, time for a disclaimer: if you want to spend your time of the month doing approximately nothing, that's totally fine. Some women find periods to be so painful that doing anything active is off the table. If that's you, we sympathize, and we're not saying wearing a tampon will fix all that. However, it is true that tampons allow for more physical freedom than pads. Because they stay totally inside your body rather than being stuck to your underwear, they get in the way a LOT less.
Let's take swimming, for example. The NHS advises that a tampon is the best way forward if you want to go for a dip while on your period, simply because it holds everything inside you. Plus, you really don't want your pad to get totally soaked. Not only could that cause unwanted leakage, it would also feel pretty gross!
11 The Environmental Risks Of Tampons Are Being Reduced
For many years, one of the major downsides of tampons was their questionable environmental footprint. As the Guardian reported back in 2015, the majority of tampons are manufactured from a non-biodegradable material that's manufactured to feel like cotton. When you consider that a woman will use on average 11,000 tampons in her lifetime (according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics), that's a lot of waste.
But fear not - the feminine hygiene industry has heard people's concerns, and more environmentally friendly tampons are currently on the market! As YouBeauty.com reports, there are at least five companies in the U.S. alone that are offering these more "ethical" tampons. Generally, they're manufactured from pure, organic cotton. Not only does this make them degradable, it reduces the number of harmful chemicals that make their way into your "lady parts." It's a win-win situation!
10 It's Easier To Be Discrete With A Tampon
Now, let's get one thing clear: periods are nothing to be ashamed of. We women shouldn't have to hide the fact that they exist. It's hardly a secret, after all, and it's a totally natural process! If you want the world to know that Mother Nature is calling, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, different women have different perspectives on this issue, and some would prefer to keep their period private.
If you're a member of the "more discreet" camp of women, tampons could be an excellent option for you.
In general, they're a lot smaller than pads, making them easier to conceal. If you need to walk across your office to reach the bathroom and don't want Kevin from Finance to know Aunt Flo is calling, you can just slip a hidden tampon in your pocket and be on your way. Simple!
9 Applicators Have Made Tampons Easier To Insert
If you've never used a tampon before, the idea of inserting it may seem a bit daunting. The thing is, stressing out about tampon insertion makes it more difficult to achieve! The Center for Young Women's Health emphasizes that panicking could make your intimate muscles tense up, causing pain when the tampon is inside you. While being worried about using tampons is a natural feeling that many women have, the whole process is constantly being made easier thanks to new, user-friendly products being released.
Easy-to-use applicator tampons are now widely available that make the insertion experience quicker and more straightforward. As the NHS notes, all tampons come with instructions that prevent pain and discomfort if you follow them correctly. The first time might well be scary, but using tampons really does get easier with time. Then again, they may not be for you - and that's fine as well!
8 Pads May Not Cause TSS, But Can Leave Women At Risk Of Infection
One of the major downsides of tampons is their link to Toxic Shock Syndrome. The NHS describes this dangerous infection as a "rare but life-threatening condition" that is more likely to develop if you leave a tampon in for too long. Pads, in contrast, have no link at all to TSS: since they don't sit inside your body, there's less chance of the harmful bacteria getting far enough inside you to cause any damage.
However, that doesn't mean pads are totally safe to use.
Menstrual product manufacturer Genial Day notes that pads can be the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections and thrush, especially if you don't change them frequently enough. Even if your pad isn't totally saturated after three or four hours, it's a good idea to change it that frequently for health and hygiene reasons.
7 Pads Are A Lot More Visible Than Tampons
As pads often have to cover a larger area than tampons, they tend to be bulkier and less discrete products. As we've already said, periods aren't anything to be ashamed of, and you shouldn't have to hide the fact that they exist. However, different women have different levels of comfort when it comes to sharing information about their menstrual cycle.
If you don't want the world to know when it's your time of the months, some pads may not be the best option for you. As Bustle notes, the outlines of pads designed for heavy flow are often visible through clothing. Again, there's nothing wrong with that: it's not exactly like the existence of periods is a secret! However, if this sounds like something that would make you feel uncomfortable, it may be better to opt for a more discrete tampon.
6 That Pad Crinkling Feeling Is The Worst
If there's one period horror story that almost every woman has experienced at some point, it's the uncomfortable mid-use pad crinkle. Since pads are adhesive on the bottom, it's easy for them to get caught on your trousers, a skirt, or even the side of your leg. This, in turn, could make the pad come loose from your underwear... Or could create the dreaded crinkling effect.
Good look avoiding leakage if your pad has crinkled up all by itself. Also, good luck avoiding scratching, friction, and general discomfort in your intimate area.
Of course, crinkling doesn't - or shouldn't - occur every time you use a pad. Plus, it's a fairly minor disadvantage compared to, say, a tampon's Toxic Shock Syndrome risk. Still... It's just so freaking annoying. A sanitary towel can't do its job if it's turned into an origami piece while still in your pants.
5 Generally, Pads Are More Uncomfortable Than Tampons
Crinkling isn't the only pad issue that can cause serious discomfort. In general, these products cause a lot more annoyance than tampons mainly because they're used externally rather than internally. As we established earlier, once a tampon is in, you can barely tell it's there. However, it's very hard to ignore the fact you're essentially wearing a small nappy.
Period!, an online magazine that solely discusses the menstrual cycle, highlights a number of ways in which pads can cause major irritation in your intimate area. Chafing is a huge problem, for one: winged liners, in particular, are so bulky that scratchy plastic can't help but make contact with your skin. Then there's "pad rash", an actual condition where the skin becomes irritated by products it could once tolerate. If pads cause you too many skin problems, maybe opt for a tampon instead.
4 Pads Definitely Limit Your Underwear Choices
Pads need to be attached to your underwear in order to be effective: we all know that. Unfortunately, this means that their use can seriously limit your undergarment choices during your time of the month. As Bustle notes, anything remotely lacy or dainty is out of the question. Your period pants need to be both large and made of a material that pads will actually stick to.
If they're the wrong size, the wrong fit, or even made of the wrong stuff, you can say hello to slippage, leakage, and a generally uncomfortable time.
Not only is this annoying for cosmetic reasons, it's often a bit of a financial drain. Am I the only one who's got a store of designated "period pants" that I had to buy when my usual lot proved inadequate? High-quality underwear costs money, man! Just another annoying aspect of being a person who menstruates.
3 Pads Aren't The Greatest When You Get That Sudden Extra Flow
Anyone who's ever had a period knows that there are some moments that lead to an intensely heavier flow than usual. Sneezing is a major culprit, as menstrual product manufacturer Kotex notes. Then there's the dreaded moment where you stand up after a long period of sitting or lying down, and gravity does its thing. It goes from total calm to Niagara Falls down there in a split second.
While pads are generally pretty absorbent, some of them simply aren't robust enough to deal with sudden changes in flow - especially if they're already pretty soiled. In contrast, the force of an unexpected period surge probably isn't going to cause a tampon to pop out. Sure, you might need to change it sooner than planned, but it'll keep all of that extra moisture inside until you can reach a bathroom.
2 There's A Risk That Pads Contain Harmful Chemicals
Not to scare you or anything, but some of the chemicals that go into non-organic pads are pretty worrying. According to The Huffington Post, pads get their white coloring thanks to the use of chlorine bleaching - the side effect of which is the creation of chemicals called dioxins.
The World Health Organization classes dioxins as "persistent environmental pollutants" which can weaken your immune system, cause developmental damage, and even increase your risk of developing cancer.
All of that is potentially in a pad - or even a tampon - that you place right in your most sensitive area. It's not all bad news: organic pads and tampons are generally dioxin-free, and "safer" options like menstrual cups are becoming more widely used. But still... it's worrying stuff! All we wanted was to have comfortable, mess-free periods, without any risk to our health... Is that too much to ask?!
1 Pads Create More Waste Than Tampons
To be honest, this drawback of pads is kinda just common sense. As we've established, pads are, in general, much bigger and bulkier than tampons. That means that more materials were used to create them, and consequently, more materials will go to waste once you've disposed of them. While we've already noted that both tampons and pads have issues regarding biodegradability, pads actively create higher volumes of waste due to their larger size.
While all of this material going to landfills would be bad enough, pads have a habit of cropping up in concerning and damaging places. According to the Women's Environmental Network, a nationwide clean of the United Kingdom's beaches in 2010 found an average of 23 sanitary pads per kilometer. Yep, really. If you are going to use pads, at least dispose of them in the correct way!
References: Young Women's Health; NHS; NHS Live Well; You Beauty; The Guardian; Safe Cosmetics; Tampax; Health Canada; Genial Day; Bustle; Period!; Kotex; The Huffington Post; World Health Organization; Women's Environmental Network