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The difference between pads and tampons

The difference between pads and tampons

Hot take: I prefer pads over any other period management product. That includes tampons, menstrual cups, and period undies. 

Why? I feel most comfortable wearing a pad, like my aching vulva is resting on a pillow. A pad offers a layer of security between me and the world when I’m on my period, and the style with wings has saved me many times from leaks. I like checking in on my flow when I go to the bathroom, and it’s super easy to tell when it’s time to change to a fresh one.

While sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in my friend group to use pads, it turns out, pad usage is much more prevalent than I thought. According to Nielsen data, women in America purchase more boxes of pads than tampons annually.* When asked in another survey why they prefer pads, women’s responses mirror my own reasoning:

It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my penchant for pads vs. tampons. And as they become cooler, more comfortable, and increasingly designed by — gasp! — people who actually get periods, my vagina has been happier in pads than ever before.

I wanted to know more about why other pad users swore by them, and how they really felt about them. So I conducted a survey with people of all different ages who have periods. Here’s what I found.

Why we prefer pads

As I said, pads are and probably always will be my go-to period product. But pads aren’t all created equal, of course. I find it much more enjoyable to wear a cotton pad versus a synthetic, plasticky one — for real, did you know that most pads are made with plastic? Periods are hard enough.

Here’s what my survey respondents had to say about their pad preference:

“I prefer pads to tampons. I prefer them because I find tampons extremely uncomfortable and have never really been able to find a way to make them feel right when inserted. I also feel pain when removing them.” —Avery, 19

“Pads, because they are easier to see how heavy your cycle is. Tampons are a pain because you have to remove it to see how much you’ve bled.” —Amira, 26

“I much prefer pads over tampons. I have never found tampons to be comfortable.” —Jayme, 34 

“I prefer pads due to comfort.” —Lora, 46

“I prefer pads over tampons because tampons always hurt me when I was younger. Tampons were always uncomfortable to wear. I work as a server and spend all day on my feet, usually running around. The LOLA pads give me great protection, and they’re thin but very absorbent. They give me the right amount of comfort and coverage.” —Nicole, 34

Back it up, how did it all begin?

Just like everything else in life, a proclivity for pads seems to have a lot to do with your family’s period product preferences. I inherited pad usage from my mother. When I first got my period, she gave me my first one and taught me how to use pads. I had read about pads in the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, so they were already familiar. Thankfully, they’ve have been updated since that book was published in 1970.

I asked the people I surveyed how pads became their preference:

“I used a tampon once during my first period, took it out when it was still dry, and it hurt so bad that now I have this fear of taking them out. Something about the suction that happens when it is being removed really bothers me physically. I have used them in the years between 7th grade and now, but I never enjoy it. I also had a super heavy flow that lasted seven days before going on birth control, so changing a tampon every two hours seemed inefficient compared to wearing overnight pads all the time and being able to see when I needed to change my pad.” —Avery, 19

“Pads were the first menstrual product that I learned how to use. For years I stuck with whatever was comfortable, and wore tampons on occasion.” —Amira, 26

“My mother never had tampons. Ever. I got used to wearing pads and found they fit my body better.” —Jaymee, 34

Why do pads get a bad rap?

I find that people who don’t use pads often dismiss them too quickly. “Diaper-like” or “uncomfortable” are common misconceptions I’ve heard. And they’re not entirely wrong. Some pads — like the maxi pads you get in a bathroom for a quarter — are too bulky and awkward to fit comfortably in your underwear. But luckily, the most comfortable pads out thereare actually built for a woman’s body. And in my experience, you can’t even feel them.

Here’s what my fellow pad loyalists had to say about stigma and misconceptions:

“There is definitely a stigma. People ask me how I can stand ‘sitting in my blood all day,’ or if I leak all the time. Or comment on how unhygienic it is to not use tampons. I rarely notice that I am using a pad unless it is time to change it, I leak just as much when using tampons as I do pads. I have never had any issues with smell or any related hygienic things because I change my pad when I need to.” —Avery, 19

“People have made comments about how strange it is that I only wear pads. I have had people ask me for a tampon and not want to use a pad that I offered.” —Jayme, 34

“I feel like people tend to think it’s gross, or like wearing a diaper. I want people to know they are actually pretty comfortable, and if you get the right pad, like a LOLA pad, you won’t even know it’s there.” —Nicole, 34

So, there you have it: I prefer pads. They make me feel comfortable and protected. They make me feel connected to my body, and my blood flow. They make something that’s always a bit of a nuisance (my period) a little bit more manageable.

*Source: Nielsen xAOC Sanitary Pad and Tampon Category Unit Volume, 52 weeks ended Nov. 30, 2019