#ESSADebate - Pads vs Menstrual Cups

#ESSADebate - Pads vs Menstrual Cups

Julia Pham – The Power of Pads!

Ok first up: if you’re squelching when you sit down or walking around with what feels like a pool noodle between your legs then you’re doing it wrong. Pads have come a long way since that weird unbranded pack the school nurse gave you when you first got your period. New designs and advancements in technology now mean that tampons and cups are not the only option for girls who like to move around. These days, there are more varieties of pads than milk in a Paul’s ad – you’ve got light flow, heavy flow, panty liners, overnights, ultra-thin, sports, super absorbent, wings, no wings, extra-long… There’s something to cater for every day of Aunt Flo’s visit, and she’ll never feel uncomfortable or get spots on the sheets if you know what keeps her happy.

In fact, with modern pads, you can now live life even better than when you’re not on your period. Those ads are real, girls. If you’ve got a good pad placed in the right position on your undies, then there’s nothing stopping you from riding a horse in white pants or sitting on your friend’s shoulders at a music festival.

Allow me to pad out (badum tish) my argument. To some, these next points may seem like an attempt to draw a tenuous link between periods and economic theory – but how else I am supposed to use my economics major?

As your flow becomes lighter over the course of your period, it becomes harder to use products like tampons and cups as your vagina loses its moisture. In other words, the marginal utility of pads diminishes less rapidly than other sanitary products with every additional unit consumed. On the other hand, a trusty pad will always be the best way to catch those last few drops at the end.

Some academics* have argued that pads actually have an increasing marginal utility. When a girl buys a pack of Libra pads, she receives at least 30 fun facts free of charge. The value added here should not be underestimated – where else could you learn that your thumb is the same size as your nose whilst enjoying the comfort of a toilet bowl? With every additional pad unwrapped, a woman adds at least seven fun facts to an arsenal that could be powerfully unleashed at a pub trivia night.

Given there is no such thing as diminishing utility for knowledge, pads have a unique feature which puts them in a class above tampons and cups. According to this school of thought, pads transcend being just sponges for blood and become repositories of wisdom, empowering women with endless trivia that could impress even the likes of Eddie McGuire.

The only limit to a pad’s utility is your creativity. At the Women’s March in Washington DC, women stuck menstrual pads on the sides of buildings as fun way to show feminine solidarity. They can also be stuck on a male friend like the karate-chopping guy in the Libra ad. Everybody gets a good laugh and said friend becomes endearing for fifteen minutes. Pads are versatile products which can be put to infinite uses.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the world menstruation remains a matter that considerably impacts a woman’s quality of life. A combination of poverty, stigmas and urban myths prevent women from having access to sanitary products. As a result, many choose to stay at home during their period, forgoing school or work. In countries such as Uganda and Rwanda, UNICEF estimates that girls miss up to 20 per cent of the school year because they do not have access to adequate feminine hygiene. [1] Missing school has many negative knock-on effects. Cycles of poverty are perpetuated as missing school increases a girl’s likelihood of dropping out. Social impact organisation SHE estimates that when women miss out on work or school, there is a potential GDP loss of $215 per woman every year. [2]

Sanitary pads are not just a product that enable women greater comfort and dignity during their period. They are a means through which communities can reduce gender inequality and create long-term economic prosperity. A study of schoolgirls in Ghana found that five months after girls were given access to sanitary pads, overall attendance increased by nine per cent. [3] In India, a man has famously created low-cost machines which allows women and girls to create their own sustainable sanitary pads. Empirical evidence has shown that the invention has increased school enrolment and created income and employment for women in rural villages. [4]

It is incredible how much a simple sheet of cotton fibres has been able to improve the lives of women around the world. Also, side note, Malcolm Turnbull, if you’re reading this, please remove the tax on sanitary products. Whether I win or lose this debate, the pink tax is a loss for women overall.


*You wouldn’t know them, they go to another Uni along the coast and publish all their research in Ancient Swahili

[1] UNESCO, (2014). Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management. Good Policy and Practice in Health Education. Paris: UNESCO, pp.23-34. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002267/226792e.pdf.
[2] SHE. (2017). SHE28 Campaign. Retrieved from http://sheinnovates.com/.
[3] Oster, E. and Thornton, R. (2011). Menstruation, Sanitary Products, and School Attendance: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(1), pp.91-100.
[4] Venema, V. (2014). The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26260978.


Jasmine Nguyen – You and a cup are a cuple made in heaven!

What makes for a great cuple that will last for a more than a cuple of years? You and a menstrual cup! Made of rubber or silicone, menstrual cups are worn inside the vagina to catch menstrual fluid. [1] Superior to the pad in many ways, menstrual cups are not only the eco-friendliest consumption option, but also the most affordable of all options in the feminine hygiene market.

The relative value of a menstrual cup compared to the pad is understated. In 2011, the Vancouver Island Women’s Clinic in Canada found that 91 percent of women who switched from tampons to menstrual cups would continue to use it and reported higher satisfaction. [2] Just one menstrual cup can be used throughout the entire menstrual cycle, with the opportunity to reuse. In contrast, the average cycle requires a woman to use 20 disposable pads, as well as additional night pads. [3] Statistics have shown that the average Australian woman uses 12,000 pads and forks out somewhere between $2000 to $6500 on menstrual products in her lifetime. [4]  Much of this cost could be avoided by switching to menstrual cups. A menstrual cup can be purchased for around $50 dollars. Compare this to pads, which cost roughly $10 for a month’s supply, or $120 annually. Although the initial cost of acquiring the menstrual cup is higher, we can see that the cost-efficacy quickly outweighs pads.

The opportunity cost of buying 10 years of pads over a menstrual cup would be approximately $1150, without factoring in the time spent on purchasing and storing the goods. This is an example of a time-inconsistency problem; if you were willing to pay the higher upfront cost of the menstrual cup, you would save more money and time in the future.

In addition, menstrual cups provide higher levels of utility for consumers than disposable pads. For one, risk-adverse individuals can avoid side leakage and the infamous diaper rash, which is perfect for active individuals. Furthermore, rather than storing multiple pads in your purse, the menstrual cup travels easily with you and can be used for up to 12 hours at a time. [2] You might have to change from regular to night pads, but with a menstrual cup, there is no need for a substitute. Menstrual cups come in different sizes and colours, ensuring there is one on the market that will suit your functional and aesthetic preferences.

Menstrual cups also lead to a more efficient allocation of resources. In Australia alone, approximately 18 thousand metric tonnes of sanitary waste contribute to landfill every year. [4] From the placement and maintenance of sanitary bins in public spaces, to individually wrapping each pad in plastic, the life-cycle of the disposable pad is both labour- and capital-intensive. If all pad users switched to menstrual cups, the costs associated with sanitary bins will be much lower and the consumption of plastic wrapping can be significantly reduced. Given that half the world deals with menstruation, it would be more efficient to make menstrual cups accessible to women in developing countries. Clearly, the menstrual cup is a good with positive externalities on the environment and economy.

Furthermore, menstrual cups could help revolutionise the way we think about periods. Despite half the population dealing with periods monthly, there is still a cultural taboo on talking about menstruation. Pads have been the most-purchased sanitary product for than a decade, with 62 percent of women saying that they use pads in the U.S. [6] The dominance of disposable feminine hygiene products reflects the overwhelming mentality that the period is something that should be “out-of-sight” and “out-of-mind”. [5] Women usually head into bathrooms with their pads hidden in their purse and keep the process as inconspicuous as possible. As the consumption of menstrual cups continues to grow, perhaps there will be more opportunities for positive period talk by raising awareness about alternative and sustainable menstruation products. Menstrual cups help women embrace menstruation and keep engaged with their bodies.

From an environmental, financial and societal viewpoint, the benefits associated with the menstrual cup far exceed those of the pad. Maybe you should start making the menstrual cup your cup of ‘p’.  Period!


[1] Women’s Health Queensland Wide Inc. (2015). Understanding your menstrual cycle fact sheet. Retrieved from http://womhealth.org.au/conditions-and-treatments/understanding-your-menstrual-cycle-fact-sheet
[2] Browne, K. & Gruber, I. (2015). What on earth is a moon cup? Retrieved from https://www.choice.com.au/health-and-body/reproductive-health/womens-health/buying-guides/menstrual-cups
[3] The Diva Cup. (n.d.). Eco-Divas. Retrieved from http://divacup.com/eco-divas/
[4] Sustainable Menstruation Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sustainablemenstruationaustralia.com.au/
[6] Chalabi, M. (2015, Oct 1). How Many Women Don’t Use Tampons? FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-many-women-dont-use-tampons/
[5] Spinks, R. (2015, April 27). Disposable tampons aren’t sustainable, but do women want to talk about it? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/apr/27/disposable-tampons-arent-sustainable-but-do-women-want-to-talk-about-it