Pad, Tampon, or Cup? My Choices for Period Protection with Endo

In the early years of my period journey, when I was a pre-teen, tampons were placed on a pedestal in terms of what they symbolized for maturity. Wearing them meant you were more of a woman than those who still sported pads (otherwise known as sanitary napkins). When I was young, there were rumors that wearing tampons meant you were not a virgin-- in fact, some myths claimed that the act of inserting a tampon alone could cost you your virginity.

My experience with tampons

But that myth was quickly dispelled for me, even by the nuns instructing my Catholic school sex-ed class. Nonetheless, I found tampons intimidating and stayed far away from them throughout high school. Despite the stigma, I stuck with pads, even though they were bulky and uncomfortable. When I got to college, I finally figured it was time to try tampons, hurt. A lot. I was still a virgin through most of my college years, and even as many of my other virgin friends wore tampons with no problem, I found I couldn't insert them without excruciating pain. I only ever managed to get even a small one a little over half-way inside me. Even after I finally lost my virginity my last year of college, I had issues with tampons. While I could now more easily insert one all the way without much problem, I found that I always could "feel" it inside me. And I wasn't sure if I was imagining things, but it seemed to make my cramps much worse as well.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Environmentally-friendly options

So, once again, I returned (or you could say, resigned myself) to wearing pads. As I got older and more environmentally aware, I switched mostly to machine-washable cloth pads (such as Glad Rags), which I found more comfortable. Also, as a burgeoning environmental scientist and journalist, I began reading more and reporting about the toxic chemicals used in producing pads and especially tampons (such as bleach, which contains dioxin, a chemical implicated in some research as potentially contributing to and/or exacerbating endo), so that made me more fond of my cloth pads. I only used disposables for when I was traveling or on the go (which is not often when I am bleeding) and even then, stuck to pads made of organic cotton.

Testing-out the menstrual cup

In the past couple of years, I decided to try a menstrual cup, as so many of my friends have made the switch, to rave reviews. I was excited at the prospect of finally being able to ditch diaper-feeling pads for this convenience. As many people I spoke to stated, and even many online testimonials claimed, even those who found tampons troublesome or problematic had positive experiences with cups. So, I ordered my first cup on Amazon and eagerly awaited its arrival in the mail.

And then I was, unfortunately again, disappointed. I would like to restate this is just my personal experience. But as with tampons, I found the cup very uncomfortable (I could always feel it in me, as though it was trying very hard to come out), and again, it seemed to be making my cramps worse. Not only that, I leaked and always needed a panty liner with it.

Why the cup didn't work for me

Now, I have spoken to some others with endo where this also happens (pain, discomfort, a constant feeling of the cup trying to come out). Perhaps it's the extra pressure; however, I have also heard from women who have endo and do not experience this and wear the cups relatively comfortably and do not experience additional cramping.

At this point, I had not been a virgin for over 15 years. I am -quite thankfully- one of those women with endo for whom painful sex is not a side effect (at least most of the time), so it is not as thought insertion of the cup in itself is what causes me pain (it doesn't). The cup itself is uncomfortable, but not painful. But what I can't help but notice is my cramps seem much worse whil wearing it. Whatever the reason why, be it the pressure on my endo-riddled pelvic cavity, or the way I am built, the convenience of the cup is not worth risking cramps worse than what I already suffer. I have heard that the cup, as with the tampon, could in theory aggravate endo by causing more retrograde flow- though none of that has been proven and the jury is out.

Sticking with pads

For now, I have decided to remain using cloth and disposable organic cotton pads, until something more convenient comes along (I am trying to save up to try those period panties that are now on the market) that doesn't cause more cramps, or until I bite the bullet and have a hysterectomy.

What works best for you- tampons, pads, or cups? Do you have trouble with tampons or cups? Feel free to join the discussion below!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.