Cramps. Gnawing dull pain, sharp aches or rolling spasms, they come in all kinds of annoying varieties. An irritating inconvenience for one person is debilitating pain for someone else, with days off school required to spend curled up with a hot water bottle.

Historically, cramps were just something people had to deal with and power through, but this is finally changing. Recently there has been much more open discussion and study around periods and the intense pain they can cause, and the medical world is taking the treatment of cramps more seriously.

As someone who suffers from truly awful period pains (think being unable to move for hours at a time) I wanted to find out more from an expert. I asked Dr. Shirley McQuade, women’s health expert and Medical Director at the Dublin Well Woman Centre a few burning questions.

It feels like thousands of tiny knives stabbing me, but what’s actually happening to my body?

“The womb is made of muscle and when the muscle starts contracting to shed the lining of the womb (a period) women experience cramping. So, period cramping tends to happen for a day or two before bleeding starts and for the first 2 – 3 days of bleeding.”

Life is an unfair lottery, and I wanted to know why some people get exhausting period pains while others get off scot-free. Apparently, it’s all about ‘pain factors’ (things called prostaglandins and leukotrienes). Scientists have found there are higher levels of these substances in people who experience more severe pain around that time of the month.

Wait though, I’m getting cramps at weird times…

If you’ve just gotten your period and are experiencing cramps at other more unusual times in your cycle, don’t worry too much. “For the first year or two after periods start – and sometimes longer – periods are not regular and so cramping can happen at other times with little or no bleeding.”

You can also get cramps in the middle of your cycle – this is down to ovulation. It’s a good idea to keep a pain record to spot patterns, this can help you and your doctor figure out what other reasons there might be for your discomfort. Avoid self-diagnosing online, as this most likely will just cause you unnecessary anxiety (speaking from experience).

So, how do I deal with them?

A lot of people can deal with cramps in a straightforward way. They might just need a regular painkiller like paracetamol for the first day of their period. Others are sadly not as lucky, and Dr McQuade says a visit to the doctor is vital if your cramps are getting in the way of your routine and plans.

“You should see a doctor if the pain is interfering with your life – either regularly missing days from school or not being able to go out with friends. Most women will experience some cramping at period time but it should not stop your normal life. The doctor will ask about your diet and exercise level and what you have tried so far for the pain. Ask about the treatment choices available. Often this kind of period pain gets better as you get older.”

My friends don’t get them, so they don’t understand how bad it is…

People who don’t experience cramps can sometimes be insensitive about how much pain you’re in, but Dr. McQuade emphasises that if you’re cancelling plans regularly because of your pain, you need to talk to a medical professional. The best ways to cope with menstrual pain are regular exercise and a good diet, they can make a massive difference to how you feel during your period. If you’re not able to do any major exercise, some light yoga or pilates stretches really do make a difference.

Although we all reach for the chocolate during those tough few days, this can cause your blood sugars to spike and drop (it’s best to keep them stable). Skipping meals is also a big no-no, you need to care for your body and keep it nourished. Dr. McQuade is also an advocate of the trusty hot water bottle.

In terms of medicine, taking ibuprofen three times a day, two days before your period starts is what Dr. McQuade recommends. Prevention is better than cure. “Since the “pain factors” we mentioned earlier start being released before a period happens, it’s much more effective than waiting for the period pain to begin.”

Help! They are still really painful

Unfortunately some of us need other pain killers as ibuprofen might not have much of an effect on extreme cases. There are plenty of other brilliant options you can try out, under a doctor’s supervision of course. Many women also find taking the contraceptive pill can alleviate period pains, so this is also worth bringing up the next time you go to your GP.

Tracking your period in a notebook or using an app is probably one of the most useful things you can do. By recording your cycles and other menstrual symptoms like fatigue, nausea, tender boobs and bloating, you can see a clearer picture of what’s going on with your body. You’ll feel more in control and be able to explain your problems to your doctor clearly, ensuring you get the help that’s specific to you.

Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t let period pains take over your life. There are so many solutions out there that will make things easier for you.

Image: Legally Blonde

Ahhh hormones, they make the world go round, right? Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration but they’re deffo responsible for rollercoaster emotions and the weird and wonderful things that happen to bods during puberty and beyond.

So are you clued up or totally clueless about the chemicals that make us fabulously female?

Let’s find out! (WARNING: This test is tricky).

1. Ok, so one of these ISN’T a legit hormone. Can you spot it?

2. What’s the name of the super-important hormone that kicks off your first period during puberty?

3. Aww, did you know the brain releases a ‘cuddle’ hormone that makes you feel all warm and loving. What’s it called?

4. What natural chemical in the bod causes those demon cramps when you’ve got your period?

5. Boys have oestrogen in their bodies too. True or False?

6. You feel pain less when oestrogen is at its highest (the week after your period finishes). Fact or fib?

7. The follicle-stimulating hormone sounds fancy. But what does it do?

8. Due to the blue light that devices let off, too much time on your phone late at night (yup, guilty), can meddle with the sleep-related hormone called…

9. Progesterone majorly peaks sometime during your monthly menstrual cycle, but do you know when?

10. What’s the name of the brain-chemical that makes you happy and fun? (When this dips you can feel super-sad too. Boo.)

For any gal who gets a period, choosing how to handle things is a pretty big decision. It’s almost as if the struggle of contorting yourself into a ball to combat cramps, fighting the urge to scoff six packets of chocolate biscuits in a row and trying to keep a lid on an explosion of ragey hormones wasn’t enough to deal with.

A lot of girls would call it a no-brainer when it comes down to what comes next, though. When that magical time of the month rolls around, you stick your hand in your bag and pull out either a pad or a tampon to prevent your favourite undies from being ruined. Right? Um, not necessarily.

Did you know that there’s actually a shedload of alternative options if you’re still not convinced by the two main players in the ‘feminine hygiene’ (eye roll) aisle? Here’s a few other genius ways of handling your period that you might not have heard about before.

Period pants

Alright, hands in the air if there’s a couple of pairs of particularly tragic looking undies in your drawer, that have been officially ruined by an unexpected period or two? Yep, that’s everyone then.

Luckily, there are now specially designed PERIOD PANTS out there to make sure that such knicker-related disasters never happen again. Some brilliant human has invented totally stain-resistant underwear called Thinx, which are absorbent enough to hold up to TWO tampons worth of fluid.

They totally eliminate the need for any extra bits and bobs each month, and all you have to do is pop them in the washing machine between uses. Even if you’re not quite confident enough to rock them through the day, they could just save your sheets through the night if you get particularly heavy periods.

Menstrual cup

Tempted by tampons but ever so slightly freaked out by the cottons, the fibres, the fact they cost a million pounds a box? You’re not alone, and that’s where THE CUP could be ready to change your life. A menstrual cup is a small, cute little silicone cup which basically just sits inside you and collects your flow as you go.

Attempting to use one can be a little tricky to begin with, but once you’ve cracked it, some say they’re way more comfortable to wear than tampons. Plus, a cup can hold a LOT of fluid, so it can be left to do its thang for up to 12 hours, and they’re as environmentally friendly as it gets. Some can last up to ten years if cared for properly. It’s kinda like your ride or die.

Importantly, a cup is the ultimate way to get to know how your body works (yup, emptying them into the loo is weirdly satisfying) and will teach you more than you ever knew about the whole process of your period from start to finish.

Sea sponge

Everyone wishes they were a mermaid, but using a sea sponge for your period surely takes things to the next level. Almost definitely favoured by Ariel, this non-toxic, all-natural little guy really does come from the sea, and basically transforms your ovaries into a coral reef. Kinda.

Sponges are obvs super-absorbent and soft when soaked in moisture, so it totally makes sense that they’d be handy for periods. A menstrual sponge/sea sponge/sponge tampon is literally just a piece of natural sponge that’s cut to the right shape and soaked before use.

It might sound kinda crazy, but hear us out. All you have to do is use it, take it out, rinse it and pop it straight back in – and they can last for up to a year which would save you a few quid. They’re comfy, sustainable and are even more absorbent than your average tampon. Okay, so it’s not your usual period accessory, but everyone HAS been going on about #mermaidgoals this year…

Free bleed

For the girl who owns a strong supply of black underwear and is on the ball when it comes to changing the sheets, free bleeding – as in, just letting your period come on down – is a perfectly valid option and it’s totally okay.

Grossed out by the idea? Well, think about it. You’re simply just letting your body do what it’s naturally born to do, without any hassle from a load of products getting involved. A lot of women opt for it for comfort, ease and even as a kickass feminist statement.

There’s all sorts of benefits that come with literally going with the flow. Tampons absorb more than just menstrual blood – they also take in vaginal and cervical fluids, so ditching them leaves your bits and pieces in their perfectly natural state. It’s better for the planet, it’s free and hey, the only thing you have to lose is your last pair of stain-free undies.

Resuable pads or tampons

Who knew that reusable tampons were a thing that existed? Washable versions of the trusty, traditional (but not always perfect) tampon can actually be knitted, sewn from cotton or even crocheted, which just brings a whole new meaning to arts and crafts.

You can easily find them online, and once you’re the proud owner of a reusable tampon or two, you’ll never have that horrible, sinking feeling of realising you used your last one this morning.

Reusable pads are also a solid choice that you might want to consider. They vary in absorption and comfort levels to perfectly suit your period, depending on the type of material that they’re made from. Often with a clever built-in waterproof back lining, reusable pads just need a wash between uses, and are often made from cute AF patterned fabrics.

So maybe it’s time to think outside the tampon box for your next cycle? Whatever you choose to opt for to tackle your time of the month, make sure it’s something that’ll leave you feeling totally confident and comfort. Period.

Cramps, clots and moods: we’re living in an era where people are more vocal and open about periods both among our friendship groups and in popular culture. We discuss the merits of a menstrual cup vs tampons, swap cramp cures and are just generally more comfortable chatting about that time of the month. This shift in how we talk about and manage our periods is amazing, but what about how they were dealt with in the past? How did people treat cramps in medieval times? What did people use before tampons?

Ancient attitudes

The root of the word ‘menstruation’ comes from the Latin word ‘mensis’ which means month. The word ‘moon’ also originates from this Latin root. Using the word ‘period’ is actually relatively modern, although it was in use from the early 15th century, it wasn’t used in the context we know it until the 1820s.

There was a major taboo around periods in ancient civilisations, and this means that there isn’t a lot of recorded information about what people used to deal with periods thousands of years ago. What we do know for sure is that both Ancient Greeks and Romans used makeshift ‘menstrual cloths’, a very basic version of the sanitary towels of today. A lot of these historical records were also written by men, so there’s not a lot of first-person accounts from people who actually had periods.

The medical knowledge we have today about periods means that a lot of the mystery that was there before has been debunked. Ancient civilisations were far more superstitious about periods and what they ‘really meant’.

The Ancient Greeks believed that if you didn’t get your period after the age of 14 the excess blood would cause a condition called ‘hysteria’, the main symptoms of which were headaches, depressive episodes and (gasp) swearing. Strips of linen were used and washed by Ancient Egyptians, who viewed the period as a time of ‘cleansing’. Ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was pretty outlandish in his claims about menstrual blood. Calm down, mate:

“turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens dry up, the fruit falls off tress, steel edges blunt and the gleam of ivory is dulled, bees die in their hives, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.”

Medieval menstruation and beyond

Hygiene standards in the Middle Ages were less than perfect. In the era of the bubonic plague and open sewers, it can’t have been easy around the time of the month. Super-absorbent bog moss was used to stuff homemade menstrual pads, and petticoats were often red to disguise bleeding. Historians Karen Harris and Lori Caskey-Sigety wrote a book all about the subject and found that few medieval women actually got regular periods because of poor nutrition, and often menopause began earlier in light of the short life expectancy in general. Religious beliefs at this time also meant that periods were still seen as unclean and something not to be discussed.

The beliefs about periods varied from culture to culture. When Europe colonised America, they found that the indigenous Cherokee tribe avoided women during their periods, and the women stayed in special houses for the few days a month. Christian Europeans wrongly believed this was a result of the tribe thinking the women were unclean, when it was actually a case of them believing menstruating women were extremely powerful.

The hysterical Victorians

The Victorian era was extremely conservative and uptight, and any discussion of periods or female sexuality was usually silenced. People were more generally aware of having good hygiene standards, so tampons, if used at all, were made with linen and even had the string they come with today. A girdle-like contraption called a ‘sanitary apron’ was also used during this time. The idea of female hysteria from the Ancient Greeks became something Victorian doctors wrote about a lot, with symptoms like headaches, mood swings and even homicidal mania. These ideas would eventually evolve into what became known as PMS (pre-menstrual tension).

The first period products

The first disposable pads were called Lister’s Towels and were made by Johnson & Johnson from 1888. During World War One, nurses noticed that wood pulp bandages made excellent makeshift pads. Cellucotton were big suppliers of these bandages and in a stroke of genius decided to market them as Kotex. The first commercial tampons were invented a few years later in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas. He later sold the patent to Gertrude Tendrich who made each tampon by hand with a sewing machine and air compressor. Her company is now known as Tampax.

The first pads with an adhesive strip were made in 1969 by Stayfree, which was just one of many design changes that made life easier for millions of people.

The first menstrual cup was patented all the way back in 1932. It was made of rubber, not like the modern silicone variety and wasn’t a commercial success, as people were still a little squeamish at the idea. The popularity of reusable cups has now skyrocketed, as a way to save money and also avoid creating waste.

Still a way to go

The stigma around periods is lifting, with companies finally realising that ads depicting a blue liquid being poured onto a pad just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Approaching periods in a realistic way means more of us are talking about them. We’re ending the shame, piece by piece, conversation by conversation.

Although many of us are lucky enough to be able to afford period products, there are many others who are not as fortunate. People who are made homeless or living in poverty don’t have access to the comfort and security of pads or cups, but there are ways you can help. Dignity Period are an organisation that provide pads and education to improve the lives of women and girls in Ethiopia. Closer to home, food banks accept donations for those they help, and your donation can really make a difference.

One of the best things about having an older sister is listening to her life advice, right? Bras, boys, big life decisions like whether or not you should try unicorn hair or Topshop’s see-through jeans. Well, betty has a VIP pass to a group of girls that are sharing their words of wisdom, too. Because there’s always room for more embarrassing stories we can learn from. Awkward sex chats, fashion mistakes, first kisses… ex Made In Chelsea star and My Flash Trash founder Amber reveals *everything* about growing up. And you’ve got a front row seat.

Lots of things in life are complicated. Conjugating french verbs. Contouring. Heart surgery.

Luckily for all of us, tampons don’t have to be one of them.

Made of absorbent material, compressed into a small cylindrical shape and inserted into your vagina like a fancy plug, tampons come in two main species:

Applicator vs non-applicator tampons

Applicator tampons have a cardboard or plastic mechanism that slides out, clicks into place and helps guide the tampon into place, like the satellite GPS of sanitary products. Because of the applicator, they can look intimidatingly long when they’re in their packaging, but don’t worry – most of that will end up in the bin, not your body.

Non-applicator tampons are just like applicator tampons… but usually shorter, a little wider and, you know, without the applicator. You just insert these bad boys with a clean finger, no equipment required.

Tampons may take a bit of practice to get right, but when they’re put in correctly you shouldn’t be able to feel them at all (like, AT ALL).

The best way to work out whether you an applicator or non-applicator type of gal is to try out both, and see what works for you.

Let’s talk absorbency  

Tampons tend to fall into four main houses.

Lite – these are the Hufflepuff of tampons. People often overlook them, or underestimate their abilities, but they’re actually really approachable and great for those who are new to the tampon world. Perfect for the light beginning and end of a period, or times when you’re only bleeding a teeny tiny bit.

Regular – these are the Gryffindor of tampons. They’re popular and heroic and they often take on more than they can handle. They’re all-round great sports. But just because they get all the glory, it doesn’t mean they’re always the right tampon for you.

Super – these are the Slytherin of tampons. They’re ambitious guys who know how to get a job done. They might seem a bit intimidating, but when needed they should still slither-in fairly easily… if you know what we mean.

Super plus – the Ravenclaws of tampons, super plus won’t be outdone by anyone thank you very much. Like a teacher’s pet in a History of Magic class, these guys absorb everything. Just remember to Expelliarmus every 4-8 hours to avoid a Moaning Myrtle situation.

How do I know which one to use?

Luckily there’s a sorting hat in your pants – all you need to do it listen to it. Most people start with lite or regular tampons and then adjust the size they use depending on their flow.

Your tampon should be easy to remove. If it feels dry or ‘stuck’ it probably means it hasn’t been in for long enough and you can wait a bit longer before removing it. But if you’ve had it in for eight hours and this is still happening, you might want to try a lower absorbency tampon – particularly towards the end of your period when things tend to lighten up.

On the other hand, if you go to the loo and find that the tampon string is wet with menstrual fluid, you’re definitely ready for a change. If you find that this keeps happening after only having your tampon in for a few hours, you might want to try a higher absorbency tampon. Simple!

Or as the French would say… simple. Oh.

If you’re not sure what kind of sanitary product will work best for you, check out our tampons vs pads article.

Image: Manjit Thapp

PMS stands for Premenstrual Syndrome.

It’s also sometimes known as Premenstrual Tension (PMT), the monthly blues, or The Bit Before Your Period Starts When You Feel Like You Want to Hide Under Your Duvet with Three Packets of Oreos and Shout at Everyone. But that’s less catchy.

Give it to me straight

People experience PMS in different ways, and 25% of women don’t experience PMS at all. With any luck you’ll be one of those people – but if you’re not, here is the rollcall of things that you might find you experience for a day or two before your period.

Physically, PMS might make you feel a little bloated, tired or achey. Some people have headaches or backache, some get a few cramps before their period actually arrives. Others notice they’re more clumsy (mind that lamp!). You might find your skin gets a little spotty, or your fringe does that annoying flicky thing you hate.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome, and it generally affects three in four women. That’s lots of us. Hiya.
  • Emotionally, it might make you more irritable, anxious or weepy. Physically, PMS might cause bloating, acne, headaches, backache or sore breasts – but hopefully not all at once.
  • Exercise and a healthy diet can both help decrease PMS symptoms. But if you’re really struggling, a chat to your GP might give you more options.

Emotionally, you might find yourself feeling a little… fragile. This could mean that you’re more irritable, anxious, weepy and/or prone to slamming doors. One minute you might be on top of the world, the next you could feel like the world is getting on top of you. Or it might just be a general feeling that everything is a little… blarrgh.

A bit… arrghh.

Basically, all the fun stuff. But you probably won’t have all these symptoms; most people just experience a few.

Who can I blame?

Don’t shout, but nobody knows exactly what causes PMS. It’s thought to be something to do with the changing levels of hormones in your menstrual cycle, which can throw everything… off. A little.  

The most important thing to know is that you’re not just being a drama queen – PMS is very real, and you’re definitely not alone.

PMS Treatment: How do I make it go away?

While there’s not much you can do to prevent PMS, there are lots of ways you can help yourself feel better.

Eating a balanced, varied diet with lots of fresh fruit and veg could help ease those symptoms. PMS might make you feel like face-planting a bucket of KFC, but too much salt or fatty, processed foods can actually make things worse (don’t get us started on the unfairness).

And while it might be the last thing you feel like doing, regular exercise can also help keep PMS in check, as well as generally making you feel more like a queen. That could be a run, a fierce game of hockey, a nice long walk with a favourite playlist or just punching a pillow quite hard.   

As time goes on you’ll find your own, personal ways to beat the premenstrual blues – but some of our favourites are: weeping along to a sad film, having a one-woman dance party, learning to cartwheel, giving yourself a craft project or watching videos of unlikely animal friendships. For more inspiration, visit Weepy Girls’ Corner.

NOTHING. IS. WORKING.

Be kind to yourself, and remember that some people suffer more than others – and it won’t last forever. But if PMS is still having a big impact on your life, it might be a good idea to head to your GP for about what will work best for you.

There’s only so much those poor pillows can take.

Image: Hailey Hamilton

Britney is a total sasspot. Seriously, if you haven’t seen her in concert (ok, we get it, it’s expensive and in Vegas but we can dream) or at least watched her goddess moves on YouTube over and over, please do. Not only is she an insane dancer, but she gets us. We can pretty much relate to every one of her bangers.

If you’re having relationship drama, Womanizer on repeat will help release your anger. If it’s love you’re feeling, Gimme More will have you head over heels before you can say, ‘It’s Britney, bitch’. And if you’re on your period, well, you could create a whole album… Does it drive you crazy? Make you stronger? Or do you become a total slave for it? Take our quiz to find out!

1. You come on your period at school, do you...

2. You’re two days into your period. It’s Wednesday. It’s raining. Do you...

3. You see a puppy in the park licking its owner and you...

4. You’ve got a sleepover tonight and you’re on your period, do you…

5. Periods = cravings. Always. Your go-to favourite food to binge on is…

6. You’ve got a party on Saturday night and your crush is going. But you’ve got a period spot. Do you…

7. You’ve vegging out in front of the TV eating snacks. But what’s loading up on your widescreen?

8. You’re sat round the lunch table chatting with your squad. Are they…

Haven’t got your August bettybox through the post yet? This month’s delivery will get you through the LEGIT BEST month of the year: the month when school is out and summer is here! So, whether you’re chilling with your mates in the sun, hitting the local lido or jetting off on holiday with your famalam, use your bettybox essentials to make you feel like a mermaid goddess, inside and out.

ERRRYTHING inside…

Rhythm 108 Lemon and Ginger Biscuits

The London Tea Company Purple Tea

Spa To You Konjac Sponge

Saturated Colour, Colour Switch

Urban Veda Daily Purifying Facial Wash

My Flawless Blusher Brush

Stylondon Henna Tattoos

Whether you’ve been dreading it or totally desperate for it to arrive, your first period can feel like a leap into the great unknown.

Will it arrive drip by drip, or all at once in a river? Will I look different? WILL EVERYONE KNOW?

Unfortunately there’s no period crystal ball to tell you exactly when it will happen, or where you’ll be when it does (please not assembly). And like your first day of school or your first ever burrito, everyone’s first period will be memorable in a different way.

But here are some things you can expect.

Will I feel it?

Probably not. You might feel some wetness or stickiness in your pants, or maybe some slight cramps in your tummy – but there is no specific ‘bleeding feeling’ that announces your period is in town. Chances are you won’t notice at all until you next go to the loo.

What colour will it be?

This will be different for everyone too – but we can promise you this much: it won’t be blue.

Nobody really knows why olden days sanitary towel companies decided that bright blue liquid would be less scary than the real deal, but you can live safe in the knowledge that your monthly visitor won’t be a raspberry Slush Puppy.

More surprisingly, period blood doesn’t often look like the bright red blood you see when you fall over and cut your knee either. For some that first appearance will be a pink-ish colour, while many people’s first period is often closer to brown than red – which can come as a bit of a surprise. Fact: you will not be the first person to wonder if they pooed themselves without noticing.

Seriously.

Whatever the shade, don’t panic. Your reproductive system is just getting into the swing of things, and the colour will often become more red over time. But it will never, ever be blue.

How much blood will there be?

The amount will be different for everyone too. It could be a sticky discharge that only lasts a day or two, or ‘spotting’, which means bleeding lightly on and off for a few days. And some people’s first period might be quite heavy – but don’t panic, that doesn’t mean it will be heavy forever.

Your first few periods might be feel like a whole variety pack of changes, but things should settle down into a more predictable routine.

TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
  • At least at the beginning, period blood will probably be more brown than red – but everyone is different.
  • Some people will have a sticky discharge the first time, others will have light, on-off bleeding and some might bleed quite a lot.
  • Your first period can last from anywhere between one and 10 days, and might not arrive again for a while.
  • You can celebrate however you like (we recommend a dance party).

How long will it last?

Your first period can last from anywhere between one and 10 days, and it’s also pretty common to have your first period and then not bleed again for a few months. Helpful, we know.

For the first year or so your periods might be a bit all over the place while your body finds its natural rhythm, but things should settle down into a fairly predictable pattern.

Will everyone know?

Nope.

Promise?

Honestly. You might feel like you’re walking around with a neon flashing ‘PERIOD! PERIOD!’ arrow above your head, but the truth is you look exactly the same as you did the day before. Nobody will know unless you choose to tell them. Or send out party invites.

But if you’re ready, it is a good idea to talk to an adult you trust. They can help you to get all the supplies you need – whether it’s pads, tampons, cuddles or a really big burrito.

Image: Emma Block

If you’ve ever paid a visit to the ‘Feminine Hygiene’ section of the supermarket, you’ll know that there are more types of sanitary product than there are Kardashian/Jenner/Hadid siblings put together.

There are mini tampons and regular tampons and super tampons. Applicator tampons and non-applicator tampons. Pads with wings, pads without wings. Maxi pads, night time pads and unicorn pads that make your period look like a rainbow and turn your hair really shiny (ok, these aren’t a thing – but a menstruating gal can dream).

The whole thing is a bit overwhelming, and let’s face it, there’s enough risk of shopping errors during your period as it is (how’d those eight bags of Minstrels get there?) without sanitary gear adding to the confusion. But never fear, we’re here to break it down for you.

So seriously, what’s the difference?

Pads (also known as sanitary towels or sanitary napkins) are made of absorbent material that you stick, via an adhesive strip, to the inside of your underwear. Some have extra material on the sides called ‘wings’ that you can fold over the edge of your knickers to make sure your pad doesn’t slip around while you’re busy slaying all day.

Tampons are also made of absorbent material, but compressed into a small cylindrical shape and inserted into your vagina like a fancy plug. There are a few different types of tampon: Some tampons have applicators, which help guide the tampon into place, whereas others you can insert with a clean finger. Tampons may take a bit of practice to get right, but when they’re inserted correctly you shouldn’t be able to feel them at all (like, AT ALL).

Many girls start out using pads because they’re a bit simpler to use and then progress to using tampons when they want to exercise or go swimming. Others swear by pads for every occasion, all their lives. And some start with tampons and never look back. All these options are totally safe, it’s just important to work out what’s right for you and your body.

TL;DR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Pads (AKA sanitary towels or sanitary napkins) are made of absorbent material that you stick, via an adhesive strip, to the inside of your pants.
  • Tampons are also made of absorbent material, but compressed into a small cylindrical shape and inserted into your vagina. Some tampons have applicators, whereas others you can insert with a clean finger.
  • Try a few different options so you can find a product that you’re comfortable with and an absorbency that works for you. Dassit.

Riiiiiight, but which one should I use?

Figuring out your sanitary wardrobe can be overwhelming – but DO NOT PANIC. All this choice is actually a good thing, as it means you’re more likely to find a product or a combination of products that works for you.

The best way to decide is to shop around. Try a few different options so you can find a product that you’re comfortable with, with the absorbency powers you need right now.

You might want to use different products for different times of your cycle. A lot of people find their period is heavier during the first few days and then tapers off, so you might want to use a more absorbent ‘super’ tampon or pad for those days and then a regular tampon or pad for the rest of your period – or mix it up with tampons for heavy days and pads for lighter days. Think of it like pick ‘n’ mix, for your period.

(You could also buy some actual pick ‘n’ mix, while you’re at it.)

Image: Manjit Thapp

When the puberty train rattles into town, it’s running on its own schedule – but it’s not just the timing that can be a total mystery. Did you know that the tell-tale signs of puberty and periods can be different for you and your besties, and that boys get their own body changes too? (We get boobs, they get balls, huh.)

So if there was an exam on all things puberty, would you pass it? Take our quiz to test what you know – and what you don’t – about growing from a girl into a woman.

Let’s do this!

So what actually *is* puberty?

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Feeling moody and oversensitive right now? This is mostly because…

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Girls can start puberty from as young as eight years old. But when does it *usually* happen?

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Getting whiffy is sure-sign that your body is changing. But roughly how many more sweat glands jump into action during puberty?

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Important hormones are secreted from which gland in the brain during puberty?

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Starting your periods is an important part of puberty. But what’s the real name for it?

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As boys develop, their voices will deepen. But what’s that thing that also becomes more noticeable in their throat?

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Which of these is probably *NOT* a sign of puberty?

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You’ve probs noticed discharge in your knickers. But what does it actually do?

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Can puberty affect your sleep?

Gah! What’s the best way to handle greasy skin and puberty spots?

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Which of these puberty-boob facts is a total FIB?

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Words: Ali Horsfall, Image: Getty