Are Tampons Better Than Pads? We Measured The Pros & Cons

I'm a tampon girl. I lead an active lifestyle and I'm easily annoyed, so the idea of a tiny thing that disappears into my innards and doesn't remind me of my period for at least two hours is a godsend. (Also, in the UK, where I live, tampons are taxed as a "luxury" item, and I do love to treat myself every month. Blech.) That said, I realize pads and tampons have different pros and cons attached to their use — because they serve different needs. In fact, a mix of the two can sometimes be the best way to simultaneously keep your clothes clean and your sanity intact during your period. 

There are several myths about both methods of menstrual protection that need to be put aside before we start. No, pads do not "smell" so much that your crush can automatically tell you're bleeding. And no, tampons don't take your virginity, either. There are already holes in the hymen of teen girls to let menstrual blood flow through them; a tampon's insertion won't clear the whole thing away like a cobweb. We really need to get better at talking about this stuff, guys.

You may already know whether tampons or pads are right for you, or you may have abandoned both options in favor of a menstrual cup by now. However, if you're feeling ambivalent about the whole tampons versus pads debate, then read on — because there are definitely pros and cons to both of these menstrual hygiene products

Tampon Advantage #1: Size

I'm not saying we need to be ashamed of our periods. In an ideal world, we'd be able to wander around casually mentioning our menses to everybody and not get even a blink in return. (Women bleeding = not that big a deal.) But if you are the sort of person who feels uncomfortable at the thought of your menstrual cycle being made public, then a tampon is pretty easy: they're generally so small that you can smuggle them to the bathroom with no problem. Even the applicator ones can be quietly shoved in a pocket.

Pad Advantage #1: Protection Against Stained Underwear

The idea of the pad is a pretty simple and ancient one, but the absorbent power of our current pads is such that they could probably blot an entire ink well. (Not really). For that reason, and because they often cover so much of the underwear they're stuck on, you're likely to avoid staining — particularly if you're the kind of person who forgets a tampon is in and then discovers a vampire party in your pants. (This doesn't hold true if you're moving around a lot, though; pads do require adjustment.) 

Tampon Advantage #2: No Wet Feeling

You may simply not like pulling down your underwear and being faced with the reality that your uterus is shedding it's lining. That's perfectly acceptable, particularly if you're squeamish about blood or feel somehow "unclean" with menstrual blood present in your underwear for long periods. A tampon is a good way to prevent that sensation. 

Pad Advantage #2: No Insertion Needed

Pads are excellent for people who just don't want to bother with painful insertion, potentially difficult removal, or the other physical problems of tampon use. (But there's one myth we need to bust: pads do not have an edge on tampons because of a lower risk of "getting stuck". It is very, very difficult for a tampon to get lost or stuck inside you, so don't believe the urban legends.) 

Tampon Advantage #3: Freedom Of Movement

I do not endorse the ridiculous tampon ads that show people in white pants jumping across fences and riding elegant horses — it's a period, not a vacation — but it's undeniable that using a tampon while you're being active has a certain advantage over using a pad. Swimming is much more fun when you can feel confident that you'll avoid leaking all over your bathing suit. Plus, tampons just offer more freedom of movement. 

Pad Advantage #3: No Toxic Shock Syndrome

Unlike tampons, pads aren't associated with toxic shock syndrome. They can, however, still put you at risk for other infections if not changed at a reasonable rate. You should change tampons every four to eight hours, and pads (unless they're overnight pads) should be changed every three to four hours. If you wait too long to change either of them, or forget to change your bloody underwear for a clean pair, you'll put yourself at risk for developing a UTI, a rash, or a vaginal infection

Tampon Advantage #4: You Can't Feel Them

This is the best part of using a tampon — you can literally forget it's soaking up your flow for you. Plus, removing them is as easy as tugging on their little, cotton string. If a tampon is inserted properly (i.e. pretty deep into the vagina) it should be completely sensation-less, which means you can go about your day with one less reminder that you're on your period. 

Pad Advantage #4: Safe For Overnight

The one colossal advantage that pads have over tampons is that you can safely use them for longer than you'd be able to safely use tampons — which means they're the best choice for sleeping. Tampons left in overnight are a bad and potentially infectious idea, while high-absorbency pads are considered far safer. Even the most tampon-friendly girl likely has a stash of night pads for those times when cramps force her to crawl into bed and stay there. 

Tampon Drawback #1: They're Easier To Forget About

Yeah, so that invisibility we talked about earlier? Kind of a terrifying thing if it makes you forget about your tampon altogether. The discreet nature of tampons means that you're more likely to lose track of how long they've been inside of you. In turn, this can lead to both accidental leakage and TSS. Not fun. 

Pad Drawback #1: Crinkles And Wrinkles

Look, pads aren't subtle. If you're changing one, people are likely going to know about it. Sometimes this can be extremely funny, (there's a famous viral story about a boy falsely believing a girl had "brought snacks" with her to the bathroom after he heard rustles coming from her stall) but if you value discretion, pads may not be for you. 

Tampon Drawback #2: Toxic Shock Syndrome

TSS is pretty rare nowadays, but it still warrants consideration. TSS is essentially a staph infection, and seems to occur most commonly when "super absorbent" tampons are used. We're not entirely sure why — perhaps the absorbency encourages the bacteria to collect around the tampon — but either way, it's safest to use the lowest absorbency tampon for your particular flow, and go see your doctor immediately if you start exhibiting any symptoms of TSS. 

Pad Drawback #2: Visibility

The possibility of a pad line showing through your pants shouldn't be an issue — because you shouldn't have to feel ashamed of your period — but you should know visible panty lines are nothing compared to visible pad lines. The possibility of a pad becoming visible will be a problem for you if you don't want anyone else knowing about your menstrual business. 

Tampon Drawback #3: Getting The Size Wrong 

Tampons, as all frequenters of the women's-hygiene aisle will know, do not come in one-size-fits-all. So figuring out what works for your particular flow and vagina can be an awkward and occasionally annoying experience. Some will fit perfectly but flood within an hour; others may look perfect but be resolutely too big. It's like Goldilocks and the Seven Tampon Sizes down there. 

Pad Drawback #3: Less Freedom For Activities

Pads are a bit less freeing than tampons, particularly in the swimming category. You also have to be slightly careful wearing pads while doing physical activity, because they may shift and leave you with scarlet underpants — even while promising full coverage. And trying to sticky-tape them to your butt, like a soccer-playing friend of mine tried to do in high school, will not work. 

Tampon Drawback #4: Potentially Uncomfortable Insertion

This is of particular concern if you're using a tampon applicator. The vagina is a delicate area of the body with sensitive internal tissue, and the idea of inserting foreign matter up there can be a tricky one — particularly if you don't have much practice. Sometimes insertion can be painful, and if you put the tampon in at the wrong angle, the resulting pressure might drive you crazy. 

Pad Drawback #4: Boring Underwear

Panty liners are usually marketed as additions to tampons, not as stand-alone absorbent liners that can take on the full flow of your cycle. This is a shame, because if you don't use tampons or menstrual cups, panty liners are your only menstrual hygiene option while you're wearing skimpy undies. 

Unfortunately, if you want a pad that's going to give you full coverage, it needs to be stuck onto bigger underwear that you don't mind possibly staining — and that's no fun if you're already feeling like a bit of a loser thanks to period hormones. 

The Winner?

Look, there's not going to be one overall "winner" in this department — women choose both pads and tampons in large quantities, so it's clear that there's no one distinct advantage either way. It's more about choosing what fits you best. If you're looking for discretion, freedom of movement, and minimal fuss, tampons are your best bet. If you're OK with sacrificing discretion for longer wear and no frustrating insertions, pads are your friend. The bottom line is, you need to pick what works for you — and don't forget that you can always use a mixture of the two — or something else altogether!  

Images: Bustle, Giphy, MemeGenerator 

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