Pads vs. tampons vs. menstrual discs… oh my!

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“When choosing the best product for your period, consider your comfort level with your own body, your lifestyle, and your flow.”

Choosing between tampons, pads, and menstrual discs

You know that there are plenty of products available to contain your monthly flow — but more options don’t equal happiness (if anything, it sometimes means the opposite).

With so many options and your day-to-day well-being at stake, it’s important to understand why you would choose each menstrual product. When choosing the best product (or combination of products) for your period, you want to consider:

  • Your comfort level with your body
  • Your lifestyle needs
  • Your overall menstrual flow

To help you out, we’ve put together a guide that will help you choose between the top three disposable period products: tampons vs pads vs discs.


MENSTRUAL PADS

Ease of use: ★★★★★

Change frequency: Every 4 hours

Sizes: Vary depending on flow

Activity level: Low 💪 __ __

Where do they go? Your underwear

What are menstrual pads?

Menstrual or sanitary pads (sometimes called “sanitary napkins” by middle-school health teachers) are the most common period product in the world, probably because they’re such low maintenance – you’re basically lining your underwear to be super absorbent. 

Most pads have an adhesive strip on one side to stick to your underwear so it doesn’t move around. Some pads also have wings that wrap around the bottom part of your underwear to keep it in place (watch out for a wayward pube getting caught!). The downside is that they are about as advanced as a diaper.

Pantyliners are another type of pad that’s designed for very light days or to be used as backup in case of leaks. Pantyliners, like pads, can be worn with other period products like tampons, menstrual cups, and discs. Other pad options that might be worth checking out are reusable pads and period underwear.

Pads are best if you…

✓ do not want something inside of your vagina

✓ use another product that goes inside the vagina and want extra protection

Pass if you…

✗ go swimming

✗ are active

✗ wear leotards or leggings

✗ don’t want to sit in wetness at any point of your day


TAMPONS

Ease of use: ★★★★✰

Change frequency: Every 4 hours

Sizes: Vary depending on flow

Activity level: Medium 💪 💪 

Where do they go? In your vaginal canal, near the entrance

What are tampons?

Tampons are made of absorbent cotton and are shaped like a narrow tube (about the size of a chapstick) with a cotton string attached. Tampons sit inside the vagina, near the lower third so the string hangs out past the labia to make removal easier.

As tampons absorb menstrual blood, the cotton expands like a sponge so, when you remove it, the shape will be different than it was when you first inserted it. Most tampons come with a cardboard or plastic applicator to make them easier to insert. Tampons tend to be more discreet than pads – but make sure to hold the string aside while you pee so you don’t have to deal with a urine and blood-soaked sponge.

There are organic tampons available. “Organic” meaning that the cotton used to make them is not sprayed with pesticides. However, organic or not, all tampons do increase the risk of contracting Toxic Shock Syndrome, so make sure you change regularly and use as directed.

Tampons are best if you…

✓ are not sensitive to organic materials

✓ don’t mind changing every couple of hours

✓ don’t often get yeast infections or BV

Pass if you…

✗ are uncomfortable having a product in your body

✗ are concerned about infections like TSS

✗ recently gave birth

✗ get frequent yeast infections or BV

✗ don’t have the ability to change the product every 4 hours


MENSTRUAL DISCS

Ease of use: ★★★★✰

Change frequency: Every 12 hours

Sizes: One size fits most

Activity level: High 💪 💪 💪

Where do they go? In the vagina, around the cervix

What are menstrual discs?

Menstrual discs are one of the newest period products on the market. There are a few brands out there, but Flex Discs are made from a medical-grade polymer that’s biologically inert – this means they won’t mess with your vagina’s natural flora or host toxic bacteria. 

Menstrual discs sit around the cervix (goodbye pee-string) in the widest part of the vaginal canal called the vaginal fornix.

Because of where it sits, the disc is not pressing on the vaginal walls, which makes it more comfortable for many menstruators than tampons. Since menstrual discs are body-safe, you can wear one for a full 12 hours.

Menstrual discs are inserted and removed by hand (there’s no applicator or string for removal). But unlike tampons, they glide in and out even on your lightest days. If you’re worried about touching menstrual blood, try taking your disc out in the shower so you can practice without worrying about mess.

Menstrual discs are best if you…

✓ want a product that you can wear for a full day

✓ are sensitive to tampons

✓ get frequent yeast infections or BV

✓ have a heavy flow or endometriosis

✓ are going swimming

want to have period sex without period blood getting in the way

Pass if you…

✗ are uncomfortable with having a product in your body

✗ are not comfortable touching your body