Most women in India don’t talk about menstruation openly. They restrict such discussions to their partner, mom, best friend, or gynaecologist. As a result, they do not stay updated about the newer tools to deal with Aunt Flo. Women mostly use sanitary napkins here. Some women also use tampons. A few have taken to menstrual cups. It is therefore important to understand the differences, and the pros and cons of using sanitary napkins v/s tampons v/s menstrual cups.

Sanitary napkins v/s tampons v/s menstrual cups

It is necessary to take a good look at the details of the three products to understand which is best suited for you to make your periods comfortable, hygienic, and affordable, to keep you happy during these stressful days of the month.

A) Sanitary Napkins

These are elongated pads with fibers that absorb the menstrual blood. They are of different types, ranging from only cotton pads to those with gel lining inside. Even the top layer varies from rayon to cotton. The newer menstrual pads are thinner and often come with wings. These pads are supposed to be stuck to the underwear, and the wings help to keep the pads more securely in its place. You need to change them every 3-4 hours, as they are not capable of more absorption, though some variants are available for longer use during the night.

Pros:

1. They are easily available.

2. There’s no need to insert this in the vagina and can be used externally. This makes sanitary napkins particularly popular among new, young users.

3. They are less messy, as long as you change them within 3-4 hours.

4. Many inexpensive variants are available, though they may not be winged, thin, or super-absorbent.

5. There’s no chance of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) from using pads.

6. If you’re going through a vaginal infection, then sanitary napkins are a good option.

Cons:

1. Makes you feel wet after a while. The duration might be longer if you’re using an expensive one, but they definitely make you feel the wetness, and keep you aware of the flow.

2. The item often shifts and even starts to fold and lump up, causing discomfort, especially if you do not have the opportunity to change.

3. Stains are formed easily when pads are used. Even though there are maxipads to deal with long hours, night use, and heavy flow, even the slightest carelessness can lead to ugly marks on clothes and sheets. (And, you should know - blood stains are very difficult to remove, especially from light-coloured clothes.) Sleeping with pads on can be a problem, especially for women who have a heavy blood-flow.

4. Physical activities are quite difficult while wearing pads, because of all the above-mentioned reasons.

5. However thin your sanitary napkin might be, you will always be aware of the layers of cotton.

6. They can also cause skin irritation, redness, rashes, etc., especially during summer time.

7. The advanced sanitary napkins can be extremely expensive. One pack of 15 pads, which should last you 2.5 days, can range in price from Rs. 100 to Rs. 150, at least. If you’re a lady with heavy flow, and have your periods for 5 days or more, you’re in for an expensive deal.

8. They are large, and difficult to dispose of. They must not be flushed, as they can cause clogging.

9. They are not eco-friendly. The Non-biodegradable material of the pads takes hundreds of years to decompose.

10. The thicker, less expensive ones can create an odd shape visible from outside your clothes, especially if you’re wearing something tight.

11. The bleach in the napkins can lead to cancer through extensive use.

B) Tampons

These are bullet-shaped plugs made of a soft, cottony, absorbent material which you have to insert into the vagina to absorb the menstrual blood. You can either buy the variant that you have to insert with your finger, or pick the ones that come with a wand; you just insert the wand inside and use it to set the tampon securely before you take the wand out. The tampons have a string attached to it which will help you to pull it out of the cervix. Tampons need to be changed every 4-8 hours.

Pros:

1. As the tampons settle in your cervix, the menstrual blood gets absorbed while it’s still inside your body, and there is absolutely no question of the common problems like odour or stains.

2. Even though the idea of walking around with something stuck in the vagina might sound strange for someone who hasn’t used it, the reality is that once it is placed properly, you will completely forget that it is there at all. You’ll not be aware of the flow, either.

3. Tampons are perfect for active women who can exercise, run, swim, and do what they want while wearing tampons.

4. They are small, easy to carry and dispose of.

5. They will not limit your clothing options to “loose and dark”.

6. Since the blood is soaked up right after its discharge in the cervix, tampons absorb the blood, instead of letting it flow out. This means that the duration of your menstruation becomes less.

7. It’s completely mess-free.

Cons:

1. One of the greatest fear associated with tampons is that of catching the TSS, even though it is incredibly rare, affecting about 1 out of 1,00,000 women. TSS can affect a person because the blood in the tampons can be a suitable environment for toxins to develop, if the tampon is worn for too long.

2. For new users and young girls, using a tampon can be difficult and even intimidating.

3. It is not as easily available as sanitary napkins, though all supermarkets and online stores stock tampons.

4. They do not have a pocket-friendly variant. The standard cost of a pack of 10 tampons to deal with heavy flow ranges from Rs. 100 to 120, which will last you for 2.5-3 days.

5. They are not eco-friendly.

6. If a person plans to sleep for more than 7-8 hours, tampons are not a good idea, as they must be removed from the body every 8 hours, if not earlier.

B) Menstrual Cup

Menstrual cups are the newest kid in the block of feminine hygiene products. It is a cup made of a flexible medical grade silicone, inserted inside the vagina to collect the blood. It does not absorb the blood unlike tampons or sanitary napkins. You have to empty the cup every 10-12 hours, and reuse it. You must remember to sterilize and clean the cup before every period.

Pros:

1. Menstrual cups can be reused for up to 10 years!

2. They vary in price from Rs. 300 to Rs. 800. This is your expense for the next 12x10 =120 periods!

3. There’s no question of disposing of them, and are therefore excellent for the environment.

4. They are an amazing option for active women who can do anything from swimming to trekking.

5. Sitting inside the cervix, they make you forget all about your periods.

6. There’s no chemical involved, and the chance of contracting any disease from using a menstrual cup is almost none.

7. There’s no question of staining or odour.

Cons:

1. Using the menstrual cup can be quite a challenge in the initial stages. You have to fold the cup, insert it inside and ensure that the cup is unfolded inside to create suction. Then, the suction can make it difficult to pull it out. You have to try and push it, like you would do while pooping. It helps if you can simply use your finger to push a side of the cup to let air in, so that the suction goes away. The entire process takes a little practice to perfect.

2. It can be a little messy, as the blood is not dried up, unlike during usage of sanitary napkins and tampons. You have to empty the cup, and there can be a little spillage in the first few times.

3. It is a little difficult for new users and young girls.

4. So far, two women have reported TSS after using menstrual cups, though they used the cups for far longer than recommended, i.e. 7 days, as compared to 10-12 hours.

5. Emptying the menstrual cups and washing them in public places can be a little difficult and messy, though. It is best avoided, since you have to empty the cups at intervals of 10-12 hours, anyway.

6. Unclean cups can lead to UTIs.

7. Finding the right size can be a challenge, especially since you would want this to be a one-time investment. Read through the descriptions properly, to understand the size you need, based on your age, general blood flow, whether or not you have given birth, etc.

However, if you can manage to get over these initial hiccups, our recommendation for a hassle-free periods would be menstrual cups. It’s not only a healthier option for you and the environment, but is also an economically intelligent product. It gives you freedom from repeated changes, and allows you to be as active as you want. You can always go to the gynaecologist to learn how to use it, or refer to the multiple blogs and YouTube videos that explain it. Try using it when you’re not menstruating so that you get to practice without all the mess.