When I got my first period, it was the late ‘90s, and you couldn’t just order your feminine care products of choice online and call it a day. You had to actually go out and buy them — or, in my case, go through my mom’s stash, tucking away individually wrapped pads into every nook and cranny of my backpack. Within a couple of years, though, I had switched to tampons. I can’t remember why exactly — maybe it was the compact packaging that appealed to me, or maybe all those commercials had finally convinced me that I was just a tampon away from wearing white capris on a yacht. Whatever it was, I made the switch, and went on to assume it was my mom, and my mom alone, still buying pads.
Turns out, I was way off. To celebrate the launch of LOLA’s new ultra-thin organic pads, I wanted get the lowdown on pad use — and wow, was I in for a surprise.
Let’s start with my Facebook friends, who I ambushed with an informal poll that consisted of “TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MENSTRUAL PAD USE!” No, not particularly scientific, but I did learn a lot from my pad-wearing friends — like Paula in Oklahoma City who told me she prefers pads because she has a Mirena IUD. “[I] have no clue when I might get a light period, so I prefer pads for those ‘just in case’ situations. Sometimes those ‘light’ periods are so light, there isn’t enough flow for a tampon,” she explained. Makes sense: as anyone who’s overestimated their flow knows, an undersaturated tampon can feel like sandpaper on its way out (and though tampon-related vaginal dryness is temporary and usually clears up within 12-24 hours, that doesn’t make it feel any better).
My friend Amanda in Minneapolis is another pad fan. Sure, “coughing and sneezing during heavy days feels GROSS!” But she feels better about wearing something outside of her body rather than inside. She also claims her periods became a day shorter when she switched to pads from tampons. Just keep in mind, though you’ll find a ton of pad die-hards online echoing the experience, experts say there’s nothing about pad use that would shorten a period. “Your cycle is your cycle is your cycle,” says Dr. Angela Jones. “Neither wearing a tampon or pad determines how heavy, light, or long your period will be.”
She feels better about wearing something outside of her body rather than inside.
Even still, based on my personal experiences, I assumed Paula and Amanda were in the pad-wearing minority. But it turns out they are actually in good company — recent research found that 96 percent of women over 18 years old have used pads in the past six months, while only 74 percent have used cotton tampons in the same timeframe. Of the women surveyed who haven’t used tampons in the past six months, over half said they’re not interested in trying them at all. And the sales numbers don’t lie — in the United States, pads bring in about $600 million more in sales every year than tampons do, according to the Mintel Group.
That said, it’s not really an either-or situation — plenty of women use both pads and tampons, either alternating between the two, or using pads as a backup for tampons on heavy flow days. And, as Paula puts it, “sometimes a lady needs a pee pad.” Her pads sometimes pull double duty, she says. “Look, sometimes sneezing, coughing, breathing can just be too much for my bladder and I need coverage for that. So, I will actually sub a pad for ‘leakage control’ […] and I’m covered both ways.” (She’s not alone — according to the Mintel Group, 45 percent of women in the US experience bladder control issues.)
As for me? I’m sticking with tampons, but I think I’ve been convinced to rotate in a pad on light flow days. But if you see me flee the room immediately after sneezing, you’ll know why.