Pads, tampons, period underwear, and cups — sometimes called “feminine hygiene products” — absorb or collect the blood and tissue that comes out of your vagina during your period.
What are pads, tampons, period underwear, and menstrual cups?
Pads, tampons, period underwear, and cups let you go about your normal life during your period, without getting blood on your clothes or sheets. Tampons and cups go inside your vagina, pads are worn in your underwear, and you can wear period underwear instead of regular underwear on the days you have your period.
Pads (sometimes called sanitary pads) are narrow pieces of material that you stick to your underwear. Some have “wings” or flaps that fold over the sides of your underwear to protect against leaks and stains. Some pads are made out of disposable materials — you use them once and throw them away. Other pads are made from fabric, and can be washed and reused.
Tampons are little plugs made of cotton that fit inside your vagina and soak up menstrual blood. Some tampons come with an applicator that helps you put in the tampon. Tampons have a string attached to the end, so you can easily pull them out.
Period underwear (AKA period panties) are just like regular underwear, except they have extra layers of fabric that absorb your menstrual blood during your period. There are different kinds of period underwear for light, medium, or heavy flow days. You can wear period panties on their own, or with a tampon or menstrual cup.
Menstrual cups are shaped like little bells or bowls, and they’re made of rubber, silicone, or soft plastic. You wear the cup inside your vagina, and it collects menstrual blood. Most cups are reusable — you just empty it when you need to, wash it, and use it again. Other menstrual cups are disposable — you throw it away after one use or one period cycle.
If you have an IUD, don’t use a menstrual cup. Using a menstrual cup can cause your IUD to move out of place.
Tampons and cups can’t get stuck, get lost inside you, or move to another part of your body. The muscles in your vagina hold them in place (without you even knowing!), and they stay inside your body until you take them out. Most people can’t feel tampons or cups at all when they’re in the right spot. You can wear tampons and cups in the water, and during all kinds of sports and activities.
What type of period protection is right for me?
It’s totally up to you! Think about your lifestyle and what will best fit your needs. It’s also helpful to try different products, or ask a friend or family member what works for them.
It’s common to use different things at different times during your period. For example, someone may use tampons during the day and pads at night. You can also wear period underwear, a pad, or a pantyliner (a thin pad) while you’re using a tampon or cup, for backup protection in case of leaks.
Some people think wearing a tampon or cup inside your vagina is more comfortable and convenient, because it’s out of the way and you usually can’t feel it. Others feel like period underwear and pads are more comfortable than tampons or cups, or they prefer period underwear or pads because they don’t want to put an object in their vagina. But you can’t wear period underwear or a pad in the water, and pads can move out of place or feel awkward during some activities. So use a tampon or cup when you’re swimming or playing sports during your period.
Many people like the convenience of products that you use once and throw away, like tampons and disposable pads. These are usually easier to find in stores, too. Others choose reusable protection, like menstrual cups, period underwear, or fabric pads, because they can save money and they’re better for the environment.
Don’t use scented tampons or pads, vaginal deodorants, or douches — they can lead to irritation or infection. Some people worry about the way their period smells, but chances are that no one will be able to tell that you have your period. Just make sure to change your pad, tampon, period underwear, or cup often.
How to use pads
Pads come in different sizes — they can be thin for when you’re not bleeding much (pantyliners), regular, or thick for heavier bleeding (“maxi” or “super” pads). You can use whichever kind feels most comfortable to you.
Stick the pad in your underwear using the sticky strip on the back. Some reusable pads are held in place with snaps or the elastic in your underwear.
Change your pad every few hours, or when it's soaked with blood.
Wrap used pads in the wrapper or toilet paper and throw them in the trash. Flushing used pads or wrappers down the toilet will clog it up.
How to use tampons
Tampons come in different “sizes” (absorbencies), like light, regular, and super. It’s best to use the lowest or lightest absorbency that lasts you a few hours. Some tampons come with applicators — small sticks made of cardboard or plastic that help you put the tampon in your vagina. And some tampons don’t have an applicator, so you just put them in with your finger.
Wash your hands and get into a comfortable position. You can squat, put one leg up, or sit on the toilet with your knees apart.
Push the tampon into your vagina using the applicator or your finger, depending on what kind of tampon you have.
Inserting a tampon in your vagina is more comfortable if you’re relaxed. Using tampons with smooth, rounded applicators may make it easier. You can also put a little bit of lubricant on the tip of the tampon or applicator. If you’re having trouble, ask someone you trust (like your mom, sister, or another person you trust who has used tampons) to show you how to put the tampon into your vagina.
Throw the wrapper and applicator in the trash — don’t flush them.
It’s best to change your tampon every 4-8 hours. Don’t leave your tampon in for more than 8 hours. You can wear a tampon overnight, but put it in right before bed and change it as soon as you get up in the morning.
Tampons have a string at one end that hangs out of your vagina. You take the tampon out by gently pulling the string. It’s easier to take your tampon out when it’s wet from absorbing the max amount of period flow it can.
Wrap used tampons in toilet paper and throw them away in the trash — don’t flush them.
If a tampon is in your vagina for a long time it can cause an illness called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is really rare, but dangerous. If you’re using a tampon and have vomiting, a high fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, a sore throat, dizziness, faintness or weakness, and a sunburn-type rash, take the tampon out and call your doctor right away. To help prevent TSS, use the lowest absorbency tampon you can and change your tampon every 4-8 hours or as often as needed.
Putting in a tampon usually doesn’t hurt, but it may take some practice in the beginning. Try different kinds until you figure out what you like best, but don’t wear tampons unless you’re actually having your period.
If putting in a tampon is very painful, talk with a doctor or nurse about it. You may have a medical condition, or it may be that your hymen is covering the opening to your vagina. Either way, a doctor or nurse can help you figure out why it’s causing pain and figure out what to do about it.
How to use menstrual cups
There are different kinds of cups, and they all come with specific step-by-step instructions and pictures. Cups may look kind of big, but most people can’t feel them once they’re in.
1. Wash your hands and get into a comfortable position. You can squat, put one leg up, or sit on the toilet with your knees apart.
2. Squeeze or fold the cup so it’s narrow, and slide it into your vagina with your fingers. Use the directions that came with your cup to figure out the best way to squeeze it and how to place the cup.
- Putting a cup in your vagina is more comfortable if you’re relaxed. If you’re having trouble, ask someone you trust (like your mom, sister, or another person you trust) to show you how to put it in your vagina.
3. Some cups need to be put high into your vagina, near your cervix. Others sit in the lower part of your vagina. If your cup is uncomfortable or in the wrong spot, take it out and try again.
4. You wear a menstrual cup for 8-12 hours at a time, or until it’s full.
5. Some menstrual cups have a little stem that you pull on to take it out. Others are removed by hooking a finger around the rim, squeezing it, and pulling it out.
Most cups are reusable: you use the same cup over and over. Empty it into the toilet, sink, or shower drain, and wash it out before reusing it. If you're in a place where you can’t wash your cup, just empty it and put it back in. You can wash it later when you’re in a private bathroom or at home. Always follow the cleaning and storage directions that came with your cup.
Other cups are disposable: you throw them away after one use, or one period. Wrap these cups in their wrapper or toilet paper and throw them away — don’t flush them down the toilet.
Putting in a cup shouldn’t hurt, but it may take some practice in the beginning. It may even take a couple of periods until you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it. You can wear a pad as a backup in case your cup leaks, but you can’t wear a tampon and a cup at the same time.
If putting in a cup is very painful, talk with a doctor or nurse about it. You may have a medical condition, or it may be that your hymen is covering the opening to your vagina. Either way, a doctor or nurse can help you figure out why it’s causing pain and figure out what to do about it.
How to use period underwear
Wear your period underwear on days when you’re bleeding. You can wash your period underwear in the washing machine, the same way you wash the rest of your underwear. Your period underwear will come with instructions that explain the best way to wash them.
If you have a heavy flow or you’re wearing light-flow period underwear, you may need to change your period underwear more often than once a day, or get some extra help from a tampon, pad, or menstrual cup.