I tried period underwear for the first time – this is how it went
You’ve seen ads for it. You’ve heard people talk about it. Is it time to make the switch? CNA Women’s correspondent finds out.
I’ve worn sanitary pads all my life. I tried tampons once or twice but it never stuck.
Two years ago, I was on a work trip when I saw, for the first time, an ad for period underwear. It was on a New York billboard and for their local brand Thinx, which had just launched Thinx Air, a fast-drying version of its signature product.
I was excited. I had always been disconcerted by ads that try to convince you that you don’t have to make any compromises just because you’re on your period.
That is such a lie. When you experience something as disruptive as a period one week in a month, 12 months a year, you’re bound to have to compromise. In fact, sometimes, it feels like compromising is all I’m doing.
Period underwear brands not only acknowledge this, they claim to eliminate at least some of the issues.
For those new to the concept, period panties have in-built padding with a range of absorbency levels to suit your cycle, so you might never have to buy or wear a pad or tampon again. They’re also reusable, making them more earth-friendly in the long run.
Some of you reading this may not be privy to the dark world of periods. So here’s a (short) list:
- Buying bedsheets is not a happy experience because you know you won’t end up buying what you really want, even if you can afford it (read: accidental staining).
- Similarly, you don’t wear white anything while you’re on your period – it’s just not the responsible thing to do.
- Hot-desking at work feels particularly hateful – who’s to say you won’t be leaving a stain on a different chair every day of the week?
- When you’re on your period, “flow state” doesn’t mean “being in the zone” but “never being able to stay in the zone because you keep having to remember to change your pad”.
- You can’t return a smile sometimes because you can feel your pad filling up like you’re sitting in a canoe with a hole in it.
- At some point in your life you’d have triggered a whisper chain of “do you have a pad” in some public place and had a questionable-looking pouch passed back to you by someone you are now indebted to for life.
- You block out at least a week in your calendar each month for the exclusive activity of moping around the house because you can’t deal with period pains and having to check your rear end for that dreaded red spot.
As you can probably tell, I could go on and on about period problems. Which is why I was hopeful but also skeptical when I saw that Thinx ad. And why it took me two years to finally try out period underwear. Could it really make the problems I’ve suffered for decades go away?
First, the selection I bought:
MODIBODI CLASSIC BIKINI
The brand: Modibodi is an Australian brand by Kristy Chong, a mum whose determination to create a brand came from her own personal experience with bladder leaks after the birth of her second child. Modibodi makes a wide range of leak-proof products for the entire family – not just women – so there are period, pee and sweat-proof undergarments for both men and women, plus reusable diapers.
The product: The classic bikini is available in two colours – black and beige. The panty itself is made of bamboo, viscose and spandex, while the gusset, where the padding is, is made of merino wool, polyamide and polyester.
What I bought it for: Light flow, day use. I chose beige over black because I wanted to see if I could finally start wearing light-coloured bottoms while on my period, at least on those lighter days. And black underwear is to white shorts like UV light is to sweat stains.
Price: S$34.90 from The Period Co.
LOVE LUNA MIDI BRIEF
The brand: Another Australian brand, Love Luna was created in 2017 by a group of women, amid demand for reusable and sustainable sanitary products. Today, it sells leak-proof underwear for every type of bladder or period flow, as well as biodegradable and reusable pads.
The product: The midi brief sits higher on the waist and lower on the legs, which makes it ideal for sports. It comes in four colours: Black, beige, dusty blue and plum.
What I bought it for: Moderate flow, active use during the day.
Price: S$25.90 from The Period Co.
THINX SLEEP SHORTS
The brand: Thinx is arguably the most well-known period underwear brand out there, thanks to its sometimes controversial advertising and the occasional accolade from high-profile news outlets like Time and Fast Company. It has such a large variety of leak-proof products that it has two sub-brands – Speax for urinary incontinence and (BTWN) for its younger customers.
The product: The sleep shorts look just like boxers, with three little buttons in front. (They’re just for show, by the way.) They come in two colours: Black and grey. The outer layer is mostly modal fabric made from beech trees, plus some elastane. The inner layer, which holds the padding in, is made of 95 per cent organic cotton and 5 per cent elastane. The gusset is 100 per cent polyester, with the middle made of what the brand describes as a “breathable” form of polyurethane laminate.
What I bought it for: Heavy flow, overnight use.
Price: S$70.08 from Thinx
HOW IT WENT
I started wearing my purchases three months ago. As I mainly work from home, there was little anxiety about the underwear not being able to live up to its promises. Still, I kept a pack of sanitary pads on standby.
The first thing I noticed was how comfortable everything was. The in-built padding in each piece was deceivingly thin and soft, a far cry from the scratchy standard of most sanitary pads.
The second thing I noticed was how the fabric seemed to absorb the odour well. The smell of period blood can be nasty – it’s not just from the blood and tissue exiting your body, but also due to the bacteria that can accumulate from letting them sit for hours.
The Love Luna, which I wore on moderate flow days, was particularly impressive in this aspect, living up to its promise of the underwear’s microbial properties.
The sleek microfibre finish and 3mm lining also made it feel like I was wearing regular, thin underwear, which made me a little worried at first. Happy to report that I didn’t suffer any first-day (which for me is typically tame – yours could be different) or fourth-day leaks.
The Modibodi bikini bottom, which I used on light-flow days, felt more secure than the Love Luna, perhaps because of its thicker fabric. That and the beige option I chose gave me the confidence to wear it out in the final days of my cycle – under a pair of super-white high-waist shorts. And all I can say is wow.
The biggest winner for me was the Thinx sleep shorts. The first few nights of my period are typically very uncomfortable. Pads designed for overnight use are massive, which makes me feel like I’m wearing one of those rope belts for wrestlers. They also usually come with wings, which chafe against my skin.
So I would resort to wearing two medium-flow pads, front and back, and even then things would move around in my sleep and I would sometimes be greeted with a bright surprise on my sheets in the morning.
The shorts had a soft outer layer that was perfect for sleep and an inner layer that held an incredibly thin but super absorbent padding in its place.
As a result, I felt secure on the inside and the outside – well, I could pop into the convenience store downstairs (wearing an oversized tee to cover the telltale buttons on the front) and no one would be the wiser. It even has pockets!
After putting the underwear through three menstrual cycles, I’m happy to announce I suffered no mishaps.
It has to be said, however, that as a newbie, I was very careful – I wore a pad once or twice over the in-built padding in my first cycle of use. It didn’t help that the padding remained odour-free and was black, no matter what the colour of the panty was, making it hard to tell if I had busted the absorbency limit.
But by the third cycle, I’d completely done away with sanitary pads and was feeling good about significantly reducing my carbon footprint.
So period underwear is indeed comfy and leak-proof. But how convenient is it? Washing period underwear is pretty straightforward – leave it under running water until the liquid runs clear, machine wash it at low temperature then hang it out to dry.
I bought three pairs of period underwear that each served a different stage of my menstrual flow, which is a good starting point but obviously not enough to cover daily use for at least seven days. Adamant about not wearing a pad as much as possible, I ended up washing underwear every day, which is not ideal.
Now let’s talk about the price.
I spent about S$150 on three pairs. To cover me for at least a week, I’d have to buy another set. That’s a total of S$300. Before period underwear, I was spending upwards of S$15 a month on a pack of 32 pads from a brand I have a soft spot for because I’ve never experienced a leak while wearing them, plus they don’t stink.
Consider that period underwear – like most undergarments – can last for six months to two years depending on how well you care for them. Say mine lasts a year. In that year I would’ve spent just S$180 on pads.
So yes, period panties are expensive.
Overall, I’m a changed woman. Period panties have been a game-changer for me. They wear well, make period maintenance a lot less messy and they look pretty. Also, I no longer feel guilty each time I throw away a soiled pad and the plastic wrapper that comes with it.
The price is steep, but I personally don’t mind it. I’m having to refresh my underwear drawer once a year anyway, so why not just fill it up with more period-friendly options? Besides, you can wear period underwear even on non-period days.
All that said, everyone is different so preferences and mileage may vary. My advice is to figure out what you need, then start with a small variety, like I did. From there, make adjustments. You might have to wear your period underwear with a pad or a tampon on some days. Maybe you have to wear a moderate-flow pair even on your lightest days. Experiment.
Even leak-proof workout tights and bodysuits have entered the market. Perhaps the time has finally come for those who have periods to stop struggling and start living.
CNA Women is a new section on CNA Lifestyle that seeks to inform, empower and inspire the modern woman. If you have women-related news, issues and ideas to share with us, email CNAWomen [at] mediacorp.com.sg.