When I was 9, a family friend gifted me the American Girl guide to puberty, The Care and Keeping of You, a book famous for a generation of women who leafed through the pages laden with watercolored illustrations of pubescent traumas like acne. But I’d put money on the assertion that the part of this book that readers remember most vividly is the nakedly accurate tutorial on how to insert a tampon. I remember staring at the display, which we can all applaud for helping normalize and publicize tampon use, and thinking to myself, No thanks. In the face-off of tampons vs. pads, I’ve always gravitated toward the latter.
My stance isn’t something I’m, um, ashamed of so much as something I’ve resolved to keep to myself when possible, which is actually pretty easy to do. I mean, when’s the last time someone ever asked you if they could borrow a pad? It’s been a hot minute (or, like, multiple decades), right? That’s because pads, in the court of public popular opinion from the scope of my personal point of view, are antiquated and outdated. Look no further than Amy Schumer’s joke in the Netflix special Growing for details. “And millennials, if you don’t know what a pad is, congratulation…. A pad is a foot-long diaper that you coil betwixt your legs and just kind of waddle around all day wearing it,” Schumer says, while wobbling about.
And, don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against tampons. In fact, I think it’s empowering, universally so, that society is cool with tampons, menstrual cups, and whatever hair-care (down there) choices make you feel great. But on a personal level, I feel like the only GD person left on Earth who still uses pads.
I get it, I get it: You think tampons are so much cooler
Tampons had a rebellious rep from the get-go; when Tampax hit the mainstream market, the Catholic Church denounced unwed tampon-users. And, anecdotally progressive grandma says the patriarchal mood in her time was that “tampons are for sluts.” That, if your vagina could fit a tampon, what else might it possibly have room for [clutches pearls]? And while some shade of that tampon-shaming may well have leaked, even if subliminally, into contemporary society (spoiler alert: patriarchy still exists), that the tampon was a “bad girl’s” accessory only made them sexier.
To be clear, I mean sexy as in appealing—not as in sex. And they’re indeed appealing for a number of reasons that evolve right along with you. When you were, say, a barely bleeding young lady growing up in the early 2000s, for example, maybe tampons offered the same badge of adolescent coolness as wearing a thong, smoking clove cigarettes, or drinking from a vodka-filled water bottle. I’m not saying any of this as a historian, but as someone who recently mainlined Pen15 and was like, “Yeah, that was pretty much it.”
For a lot of my peers, jumping on the tampon bandwagon was easy because it was either A. Not a big deal (see: The Care and Keeping of You) or B. A sassy marker of womanhood. Cut to today, and tampons are the sole feminine hygiene product holding court in a well-stocked women’s restroom. There they are, looking like cute, individually wrapped candies in a glass canister; and there I am, with my pad supply bulging in the secret pocket of my purse.
It’s not like I use pads because I find the echoing “rrrrrrrrrip” of unwrapping them that reverberates off every bathroom wall to be ASMR-adjacent.
Like I said, I don’t feel ashamed—but I do sometimes feel like an outlier. Whenever a co-worker mentions pads, it’s in an eye-roll-y, giggle-stifling tone of “Lol, pads? Are we in the ’50s?” And it’s not like I use pads because I find the echoing “rrrrrrrrrip” of unwrapping them that reverberates off every bathroom wall to be ASMR-adjacent or anything. I also don’t use them as a marker of my purity (because HAHAHAHAHA no.) More simply, I use them because, for me, it’s what makes sense.
Here’s why I, your internet Grandma, use pads
I am old-fashioned, anxious, deeply irresponsible, and I don’t care for the beach.
The old-fashioned part: I was raised by a strict, traditional Catholic mother. And while my upbringing didn’t include any hymen-related fear-mongering, we simply weren’t buying Tampax in the Garis household, and I wasn’t going to make any special requests.
The fear factor comes from toxic shock syndrome and, trust me, I know the odds are in my favor when it comes to avoiding TSS. Fewer than 1 in 100,000 people are affected by it, but I’m someone who falls asleep in her makeup, who could never take birth control pill at the same time each day, and who mixes up the steps of a three-step skin-care routine.
I don’t love putting anything in me that doesn’t give me pleasure.
But the major reason is this: I don’t love putting anything in me that doesn’t give me pleasure. It freaks me out, and that’s how I feel, and I don’t judge people who feel otherwise, and hope they don’t judge me. Since I can’t get past the insertion aspect of tampons, I knew from the start that we would be an ill-fated union. And in case you think I haven’t given it the old college try, rest assured I’ve used a couple in desperation when I had no pad handy, and zero of my friends with me were my single pad-wearing one. My record for leaving in a tampon? 30 excruciating minutes of discomfort followed by a swap out for wadded up toilet paper.
Oh, a quick word on those low-maintenance menstrual cups: If these are your preference, really happy for you (and all your saved money and sustainability wins each month), but…nope, not for me. If I can’t commit to tampons, you really think I’d be game to essentially fist myself three times a day?
Turns out I’m hardly the only pad stan in the tampons vs. pads showdown
Though I often feel like the last person who uses pads, in reality, a lot of people are still stocking up. As of 2018, it looks like me, my one friend, and like 61.31 million other consumers are pad users. And while I’m glad to know that I’m not as much of an outlier as I previously thought, I’m really not here to make a compelling argument for pads. No matter what you use—pads, tampons, cups, or opt for free-bleeding—I think it’s great if it’s what makes you feel most comfortable, empowered, and at one with your period.
…Still, it would be nice if bathrooms would diversify their period-product offerings to cater to me and more than 61 million others.
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