Pads, Tampons, and Menstrual Cups–Oh, My!

written by Amee Wurzburg

Did you know that menstrual pads used to be big and bulky, and attached by a belt? In the 1920s it was so embarrassing to buy pads that there were “silent purchase coupons.” Women would hand these coupons to male pharmacists because it was considered too inappropriate to directly ask for pads. Thank goodness people who menstruate have more options than that nowadays! Want to learn about what’s out there? Keep reading!

Pads: There are tons of variety when it comes to pads—wings, no wings, panty-liners, overnight…the list goes on. And while there are scented pads, they are not good for vaginas, since they can cause infections and because vaginas clean themselves naturally. As well, there are also reusable pads made out of absorbent cloth. These are environmentally friendly and can save money since you only need a few of them. Pads are easy, don’t require putting anything inside the vagina, and are easy to find—and thankfully don’t require belts these days.

Tampons: There is also a lot of variety when it comes to tampons—plastic applicators, cardboard applicators, no applicators… Tampons may take some time to get used to, but once people master using them they are fairly easy, though you do have to be comfortable inserting something into your vagina. Here and here are tips if you have trouble inserting tampons. When using tampons, it’s important to change them at least every 8 hours. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) can occur if a tampon is left in too long, which has serious health consequences, including death.

Photo by Cavale Doom, "Diva Cup," Flickr Creative Commons
Photo by Cavale Doom, “Diva Cup,” Flickr Creative Commons

Menstrual cups: Newer to the field of menstrual products, menstrual cups are small cups made of silicone or rubber. They can be inserted into the vagina for up to 12 hours. You then empty the cup into the toilet, wash it with soap and water, and reuse it. People have many reasons for why they like the cup—it’s environmentally friendly and can be used for much longer than pads and tampons. It is expensive initially (around $30) but is reusable and can last for years. Using one can even save you money in the long run! Using a menstrual cup can take a while to get used to, and for some people it takes a few periods to feel like they have mastered techniques to put it in and take it out. You have to be pretty comfortable with your body and body fluids since you have to get up close and personal with your body—some find it very interesting to track their flow! You can also buy disposable cups you can throw out if you aren’t sure you want to commit to a menstrual cup. If you have an IUD or the NuvaRing, check with your healthcare provider about using a menstrual cup.

One great thing about growing up in the 21st century is there are options—we have so many more choices when it comes to menstrual products. Also, there are videos like Camp Gyno to remind us that menstruation is normal and that there is no shame around it!


Amee earned her BA in History from Barnard College of Columbia University. Before moving to North Carolina, Amee worked at an organization in India focused on HIV, where she worked on projects related to rights-violations, LGBTQ health, and domestic violence. She also spent three years volunteering as a rape crisis counselor and advocate in an emergency department in NYC and over a year in East Africa on various sexual and reproductive health projects.

Amee is currently earning her Masters in Public Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, anticipated graduation in 2017. Her interests involve sexual health and rights; she is especially interested in how people’s experiences with stigma and discrimination impact their access to healthcare. In her free time, Amee enjoys cooking and baking, tea, hiking, and trying to read her height in books each year.

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