Tampons or pads?

Originally Published: September 5, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 14, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I am a twenty-year-old foreign student and I am new to the States. One of the first things I learned about the American way of life for women is that tampons seem to be used by my sister students more often than pads. I was not familiar with them before I arrived here and am rather worried about trying to use tampons myself, despite the advantages claimed for them. Maybe you can help by answering a few of my questions, as I find it embarrassing to talk about this as frankly as some American girls do.

1. Should one use pads or tampons?
2. What kind of pads or tampons are recommended, as I am not familiar with the brands in the stores here?
3. What particular advantages do these types have over others?
4. I have seen some pads described as "overnight." Does that mean very absorbent? Is it possible to wear a pad and a tampon at the same time?
5. What are panty liners? Do you also use them with pads and with tampons?
6. I have heard that tampons are sold to girls as young as thirteen. How is it possible that they can use them?
7. Are there any risks or dangers in using tampons?

— New to Playtex

Dear New to Playtex,

You ask some great questions that many American women have as well. Wearing pads or tampons is a matter of personal preference. Women choose different products and brands depending on the heaviness of their flow, personal preference, and what fits their lifestyle.

Pads, or sanitary napkins, are made of absorbent materials that are placed on the inside of the underwear to soak up menstrual blood. Pads come in varying sizes from panty liners, which are the thinnest pads, to “super” or “overnight” pads that are made to be worn when a woman’s flow is heavy. Some pads have extra material that fold over the sides of the underwear called “wings.” These wings help to hold the pad in place and to prevent leakage.

Tampons are made of soft absorbent material and are inserted into the vaginal opening, resting in the vaginal canal to absorb menstrual fluid. Tampons come in various sizes and absorbencies, with or without deodorant, and with or without applicators, which can be plastic or cardboard. They may be used with pads as backup in case the tampon leaks. Women, of all ages, can use tampons even if they haven't ever had sexual intercourse, and using tampons does not affect virginity.

To answer your question about dangers and risks, here are a few tips. There is no reason to use deodorant tampons or pads. In fact, they can be irritating to many women. Also, if a tampon is hard to pull out or shreds when you remove it, the tampon you are using is too absorbent and you will need to switch to one with a lower absorbency rating. Tampons need to be changed frequently to prevent toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but serious condition. You can read more about TSS in the Go Ask Alice! Q&A, lost tampon.

It may take some time to decide which tampon or pad is the right size, comfort level, and fits your lifestyle. If you would like to speak to a healthcare provider about tampons or pads, Columbia students can make an appointment with Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Hope you find what works for you!

Alice

February 4, 2014

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Tampons and pads are not the only options during your period. More women are switching to menstrual cups, which collect blood instead of absorbing it. Cups have almost no risk of TSS, and unlike...
Tampons and pads are not the only options during your period. More women are switching to menstrual cups, which collect blood instead of absorbing it. Cups have almost no risk of TSS, and unlike tampons cups only rest on the cervix. Menstrual cups can be reused over & over for many years, making them very economical. They can also be sterilized by boiling. Youtube has demos for several different brands, why not check it out?