One writer ditches the traditional pad and tampon for three different period alternatives. Here's what she thought.
I still recall the conversation my mom and I had about "becoming a woman." It involved the reveal of a shelf in the linen closet where a supply of tampons and particularly large pads were stashed for me to use when my monthly visitor arrived. I also remember the fear I had of staining my pants and the apprehension around going swimming (although a friend told me your period stops when you go in the water and to this day that makes me laugh).
Would you believe that it has taken me another couple of decades to delve into the world of pad and tampon alternatives? The experience has been a true eye-opener and a literal game changer. I have been a longtime user of tampons sans applicator, but a recent emergency purchase of an applicator version made me consider the waste generated by each single use. When I started to do the math, I felt compelled to consider other options to the traditional pad or tampon. Here's what I tried:
- Period panties (underwear with built-in period protection)
- Discs and cups
- Period clothing (yes, this is a thing)
1. Period Panties
I heard about period panties from my in-the-know friend, and while I was intrigued, I didn't rush out to try them. I was admittedly skeptical: How would they work? Would it be a throwback to the bulky pads of my tweens?
There are a number of different brands on the market, and in my experience, they all work similarly. The underwear have a thin yet super absorbent pad built into the lining that draws fluid away from the surface. Capacity varies slightly from brand to brand and styles within each, but about 1-3 tsp. of liquid seems about the norm (3 tsp. is about two tampons-worth). Directions include hand rinsing the panties after use, washing them delicately (I used a lingerie bag) and then hanging them to dry (but, I accidentally tossed mine into the drier and they still work fine).
Simply put, I'm hooked. I haven't had a single leak with them—not even when I'm sleeping. I've discovered (and what the brands recommend) that on heavier flow days, I use the underwear as extra insurance and still use a tampon or other insertable options (see below) as primary protection. I tried several different brands and styles, and they're all similar. It just comes down to personal preference. Here's what I used:
- Knix: The Canadian company is known for their inspiring campaigns promoting diversity and body positivity. It offers a full range of Leakproof Panties including a teen line, Knixteen, that comes discreetly packaged in a reusable zippered pouch. I tried a couple of Knix's underwear styles including their Athletic Leakproof Thong, which holds up to 1 tsp. of fluid, and they didn't stain after washing (not even the beige pair!). I also tried the Knix Athletic Leakproof Boyshort in black, which holds up to 3 tsp. of fluid and was super comfy and discreet.
- Thinx: This activist period underwear brand works to de-stigmatize periods and supports women and girls (or as they put it, "people with periods"), with empowering partnerships. It offers an impressive range of washable, reusable period undies, as well as body wear (more on that below). I tried the company's best-selling product, the Hip-Hugger, which is suggested to be used on heavy flow days, as it holds up to 2 tampons-worth of fluid. The fit was comfy and the style cute. I also tried the brand's Sport Underwear (which holds up to 1.5 tampons-worth of fluid and is recommended for medium days), and as promised thanks to comfort-fit leg holes, were great for working out in.
- Dear Kate: The empowering period undergarment and activewear brand has a wide range of period underwear, activewear and dancewear. I tried their Ada X Hipster Full brief, which holds up to 2 tampons-worth of fluid and found them to be so comfortable that I wear them to sleep even when I don't have my period.
2. Discs and Cups
While the period panties took some persuasion for me to try, I had to mentally convince myself to try an insertable replacement for my familiar tampon. I worried I'd put it in wrong, that it would get lost (I know, I know, I should know better), or that it simply wouldn't work. Guess what? I was wrong on all fronts. Here's what I tried:
- The Flex Disposable Menstrual Disc works for up to 12 hours and holds the equivalent of 3 super tampons. It sits slightly differently than a tampon, but once in place (Don't worry: Clear instructions and diagrams are provided), it moulds to your body and you can't feel it. As far as removal goes, the brand suggests taking it out in the shower on heavy days until you get the hang of it, which is easy to accommodate since it's long wearing. The disc itself is discarded after use.
- The Diva Cup also works for up to 12 hrs, and is reusable, making it particularly eco-friendly and cost efficient. It's inserted similarly to the disc (plenty of how to info is also available) and sits in the vaginal canal, and comes in two sizes to suit women under and over 30 and/or who have given birth. After your period is finished the cup is stored in the included breathable cotton pouch.
I was pleasantly surprised by both of these alternatives. Both were easy to insert and comfortable. Removal in both cases was a little messy at first, but once I got the hang of it, the clean up was easier. The disposable nature of the Flex disc made it more manageable than the Diva Cup in public washrooms, but I love that the Diva Cup is waste-free. For heavy flow days, I doubled up and teamed the disc or cup with the extra protection from one of the above period panties.
3. Period Clothing
I had no idea that Period Clothing existed until I started researching for this article and realized a couple of the brands use the same leak-proof, moisture-wicking technology of their underwear for garments. Here's what I tested:
- Thinx Leotard, which holds up to 1 tampon's worth of fluid
- Dear Kate Capri Yoga Pants, which holds up to 1.5 tampons-worth
I loved the freedom of not having to wear undergarments with either the Leotard or the Yoga Pants, but most importantly, that I didn't have to worry about leaks with either one. I found the Leotard to be so sleek and sexy with a back criss-cross spaghetti strap and side mesh panelling, that I wear it even when I don't have my period. I had a leak-free experience, but I would add a tampon, disc or cup on a heavy flow day. The yoga pants were comfortable and stylish with back mesh panelling and indistinguishable from my other yoga leggings. I wore them mid-flow to a particularly bendy yoga class and can happily report I had no leaks.
My periods are forever changed. I'll be making regular use of all of the alternatives I've tried and will only use tampons when I feel I have to due to convenience—but I'll be sure to use the most eco-conscious options available.