Everything You Want To Know About Pads, Tampons, And Menstrual Cups
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Everything You Want To Know About Pads, Tampons, And Menstrual Cups

Lakshmi Devan
3 min read

Everything You Want To Know About Pads, Tampons, And Menstrual Cups

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Should we say that the debate is finally over?

A 4-letter word that makes Aunt Flo/cousin red/shark week/crime scene/red tide/crimson wave or periods, sound fun.

N-o-n-e. Because menstruation is not fun, not for most women anyway. Bloating, cramping, nausea, diarrhoea, lethargy, and a dripping nether region is enough to make any human go cuckoo. Now imagine that as – release (ovaries release egg) – bleed (menstruation) – repeat (in another 28 or so days). Horrible, right? Let’s just say that if I ever meet God, I’d have a few things to say to him.

With so much happening at the same time, a woman would go to great lengths to feel pampered, comfortable, and completely at ease (by the way, here are 5 effective ways to relieve period cramps). And the key to that, I believe, is solely the kind of sanitary product you use. What is your product of choice?

There are countless myths about pads and tampons that you must put to rest since none of them are true. For instance, pads do not smell so much that your boyfriend can automatically tell that you are on a period! And no, tampons do not make you lose your virginity (if you’ve believed this until now, then read this right away!). Did you not know that there are holes in the hymen of teen girls to let menstrual blood flow through them? So the insertion of a tampon would definitely not take away your hymen! Most of the women and young girls figure out pretty quickly what suits them the best out of the pads, tampons and cups. However, just in case you haven’t been able to make up your mind read on to understand about pads, tampons and cups before you finally make up your mind.

Sanitary pads or napkins

Pads are the earliest form of feminine hygiene product known (not counting thick rolls of cloth stuffed between your legs that would give you angry red rashes). Used most widely in India, pads are available in different sizes and absorbencies. Pads are supposed to be safer than tampons when it comes to toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially fatal infection caused by staphylococcus bacteria.

Disadvantages of sanitary pads

There are a few disadvantages of sanitary pads that most women don’t realise. The rayon used in the manufacture of pads , and dioxin – the bleach used to whiten a pad – have side effects. These include pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cancer, hormone dysfunction, diabetes, impaired fertility, etc. A lot of women find using pads very uncomfortable and restricting, driving them (especially women with a hyperactive lifestyle) towards tampons.

Sanitary Pads


This little wonder is recorded to have been invented by ancient Egyptians, using softened papyrus.

Hippocrates, the famous Greek physician, in the 5th century BC, described another type of tampon using lint wrapped around lightweight wood. If this is to be believed, then it would make tampons the earliest feminine hygiene invention known to mankind. Tampons, pads, are also available in different sizes and absorbencies, and are easy to insert and remove.

How to insert a tampon

If you’ve never used a tampon before, then it is natural to feel a bit nervous. But, follow these simple steps and everything will be smooth sailing:
  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and dry them.
  2. Unwrap the tampon and squat over the toilet bowl. Some women can also manage doing it standing, but for first timers, I highly recommend squatting as it helps stretch open the vagina.
  3. With one hand, spread apart the folds covering the vaginal opening.
  4. With the other, insert the tampon in with the string facing away.
  5. Gently guide the tampon in as far as it will go. Do not use force. A significant portion of the string should be hanging out.
  6. Wash your hands with soap after.

Disadvantages of tampons

Keeping in mind the dangers of TSS, it is advisable to change tampons every 4-6 hours and no longer than that. Other than that, a tampon also uses rayon and dioxin in its making, and has the same speculated long-term side effects as the former. But despite all that, most athletes, swimmers, and gymnasts use tampons, since it’s safe when in contact with water, and is not restrictive. It's important to note here that some women find a tampon extremely uncomfortable. If a tampon is inserted correctly, it should never be a cause of discomfort. Make sure it's inserted to a depth where you cannot even feel it inside, and only the thread hangs out. Also, it's vital to use the right kind of absorbency. Using a high-absorbency tampon on your fourth or fifth day will lead to irritation or mild pain during removal because the tampon will cause friction against your dry vagina. Lastly, NEVER use 2 tampons at the same time, even on the high flow days; change every few hours instead, and always choose the non-fragrant varieties, to avoid any chemical irritations.

Menstrual Cups

The newest thing in the market that is gaining steady popularity due to its environment friendliness.

Unlike its competitors, a menstrual cup is a hygienic sanitary product made of medical grade silicone that is reusable, soft, comfortable, and does not use bleach, fragrances, toxins, or chemicals like the other products.

How to use a menstrual cup

If you are someone who feels queasy around blood, then using a menstrual cup can be a bit challenging for you. See for yourself:
  1. Before using a menstrual cup, sterilise it by placing it in boiling water for 5 minutes.
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly while the menstrual cup cools down.
  3. Fold the menstrual cup into a ‘C’ (refer to the image below.)
  4. Insert this folded cup slowly into the vagina.
  5. Let it pop open once it is inside. Feel the base of the cup to ensure that it has opened correctly. It should feel round. There should be no folds.
  6. To remove it, reach in and pinch it at the bottom of the cup (not the stem) and pull lightly.
  7. Wash your hands and sterilise the cup again after use
How to use a menstrual cup

Menstrual cup: Pros and cons

Let’s start with the pros: Menstrual cups are environment friendly and can be reused for up to 5 years. They are also low on chemical toxic ingredients such as the ones often used in the manufacture of pads and tampons. You can  leave your cup inside and not be worried about an overflow for at least 6 hours. But, all these benefits come with a few drawbacks. Doctors have been warning menstrual cup users against a possible risk of toxic shock syndrome, just as in tampons. Also, removal of the menstrual cup after use can get messy. Lastly, manufacturers don’t recommend using a menstrual cup if you have an IUD inserted because chances are that the cup could dislodge it and impair its function.


Menstrual Cups

What do you conclude? Tampons vs pads vs cups. Who won?

With sanitary products, there is no one-size-fits-all. Hence, there is no one ‘who wins’ – you could’ve just realised tampons are meant for you, or been reassured that you were right to use pads...or in a mood now to go eco-friendly, and try a menstrual cup, for all you know! So, the prize goes to...you, for making a well-informed choice, now that you know so much. Congratulations!

Before you go, click here and read what Dr Abhishek Mangeshikar has to say about adolescent sexual and reproductive health. It’s a must read!

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