Stop Shaming Me For Using Pads


I’m 24 years old, and I’m a proud pad wearer. Whenever it comes up in conversation or someone learns that I have never used a tampon, I’m typically met with one variation of the same handful of responses: “But why?” “Wait . . . you’ve never used a tampon before?” And my favorite: “I could never deal with all of that blood down there.”

I don’t exactly remember when tampons became the default period hygiene product, but I do remember reading the American Girl hygiene book (you know, that one with the three girls on the cover wearing bath towels) and seeing illustrations of young girls learning how to insert tampons. This book was my introduction to menstruation; it was given to me as a gift before my parents had ever spoken to me about periods. And so when I saw those drawings of a girl — seemingly about my age — putting an unfamiliar object into her body, my eyes widened with fright.

When I first got my period at age 14, I attempted to use a tampon — once. But as I stood in the bathroom of my childhood home and tried to guide the tampon in, I was met with crippling pain.

I’d later learn that I have vaginismus, a condition that occurs when the vaginal muscles involuntarily spasm or tense in response to penetration, which can cause severe pain during activities like penetrative intercourse or — in my case — trying to insert a period product.

But at the time, I didn’t understand why tampons hurt. All I knew was that the product wasn’t for me — and that pads were just fine, thank you very much. More than fine: I like pads. I like the way they feel and that they come with a reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome (a condition linked to tampon use, among other causes, that impacts an estimated one in every 100,000 people — rare, but scary to me).

But while I’m happy with my choice, I often feel like others look down on me for making it. Pad depictions in pop culture would have you believe that they are bulky, diaper-like, and messy. In one commercial from the ’90s, for instance, using a tampon is called “the best feeling of all.”

While more recent ads don’t always explicitly compare pads and tampons, the latter are still put forth as the best option for people who want to, say, play sports or wear white clothes while menstruating — or both. For instance, Tampax recently partnered with NCAA basketball players Flau’jae Johnson and Angel Reese; Johnson described being a “pads type of girl” until she had to play a game while on her period, and the uniform included white shorts. Tampons became “one less thing to worry about on game day.”

Meanwhile, pad ads like this Always video are still trying to emphasize the message that pads won’t show or feel uncomfortable under your clothes, won’t leak, and won’t smell bad. Clearly, we’ve internalized a message that pads are an inferior choice. While less common, menstrual cups are even seen as a “better” choice than pads, for many of the same reasons as tampons.

But wearing a pad has never prevented me from wearing leggings, going to the gym (which I do three times per week), going to the beach, or going hiking while on my period. Nor have I ever been told that my pad is showing. The pads don’t feel “wet” or “bulky,” and I’m not constantly stressed about leaks, all purported downsides to pads. To be honest, I don’t think people realize how far pad technology has come.

But, hey, even if my pad were noticeable through my clothes, would that be so terrible? Tampons are touted as being “invisible,” but why should we feel the need to hide that our bodies are undergoing a natural process? Menstrual blood isn’t disgusting or embarrassing, as it’s portrayed in many television shows and films (looking at you, “Superbad” and “And Just Like That“). I view my menstrual cycle and blood as beautiful and sacred. After all, it’s a process that means I may have the opportunity to create life.

I suspect that the disdain people have toward pads is tied to a wider stigma around menstruation in general. If society were to become more accepting of menstrual blood and periods in general, maybe a person’s choice of period product would be less judged. Not only that, but the lives of those who menstruate would change for the better. Not only would they be freed from the secrecy that often exists around periods — asking for a spare period product in whispers, hiding those products up a sleeve or in a handbag on the way to the restroom — but reducing period stigma could reduce issues like period poverty and gender inequalities in research.

Ultimately, we have the power (and the right) to take care of ourselves in whichever way is healthiest for us and makes us most comfortable. No one should be made to feel that their period product of choice is wrong or disgusting: your period product preference should be your choice and yours only. So, I’ll never stop wearing pads and neither should you — unless you genuinely want to, that is.

Jenna Clark is a freelance writer specializing in commerce and lifestyle content. In addition to PS, Jenna’s work has been published in Women’s Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Business Insider, and various other publications.

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