Dr. Jen Gunter

Choose an incontinence pad for incontinence, not a menstrual pad

Many women use menstrual pads to manage their urinary incontinence. I understand this line of thinking. First of all, they’re almost always familiar with the product. In addition, if they are not menopausal or are just on the other side of menopause they may have menstrual pads around the house.

However, many women also tell me they are too embarrassed to buy incontinence pads because it makes them think of “diapers” and that is what “old women” need. And there is nothing worse in our patriarchal society than being an “old woman.”

Women get diminished and men, distinguished.

I’m always fascinated by the lack of public discussion about incontinence. I don’t buy “societal squeamishness” about urine as as reason. Women’s magazines produce articles with great regularity on vaginal mayhem (sigh) and there is an increasing number of articles on menstrual products (yeah!).

If we can talk about discharge and blood, why not urine?

(Or right, the association with aging thing).

I see this even in my office, when no one is looking an all conversations are private. Many women can’t hear my diagnosis that their vaginal discharge is normal and continue to try useless and potential harmful interventions to treat this non existent problem. Why? Because the patriarchy has led them to falsely believe that a dry, tight vagina that smells like Island Splash or a Delicate Blossom is deal.

(Oh hey, Summer’s Eve. Fuck off. And no, I’m not sorry. When you tell women that “feminine freshness” is some standard or elusive goal you are the actual fucking patriarchy. Prove me wrong and produce a men’s scrotal wash called Puppy Paws. I’ll wait).

On the other hand, I often feel as if am bullying a woman with incontinence into managing that condition more effectively. I don’t mean arm twisting into surgery or medications, just trying to get them to use incontinence pads instead of menstrual pads, or get some help with pelvic floor exercises, or try an incontinence ring. All reversible options!

Also, when I write or post videos about incontinence they get far fewer hits than similar ones on vaginal discharge.

Why the global interest in vaginal discharge and the disinterest in incontinence? It’s not numbers, at least 40% of women over the age of 65 have urinary incontinence and many younger women do as well. My personal opinion is the patriarchy sees vaginal discharge as problematic because it is thought of as visible during sex and incontinence is not. I have nothing to back this up, just my observations.

OK, back to incontinence products!

(Come for the snark and the patriarchy smack down, stay for the science).

Choosing the right protection matters as when the pad can adequately hold the urine, some will leak back onto the skin, which can cause irritation and itching. These symptoms may even be mistaken for a yeast infection. This contact with urine, when chronic, can lead to skin breakdown.

To demonstrate the difference in absorbency  between menstrual pads and incontinence pads I made the video below. I poured 30 ml of fluid on a heavy flow menstrual pad and onto a light flow incontinence pad. To put this volume in perspective, the average blood loss a day with a period is 30-50 ml. A medium leakage for an episode of incontinence is probably about 30 ml (enough to make you wet, but not soaked).

What happened? The menstrual pad was drenched and leaked fluid every where, there were just drops released back from the incontinence pad and the surface was dry.

I repeated the experiment with 15 ml (no video, sorry) and there was no leakage from the incontinence pad, the menstrual pad was still very wet and leaked. The incontinence pad that I used was probably designed to hold about 15 ml, so it performed very well even when asked to hold more urine that it was likely designed to manage.

Hopefully, this video helps convince people to switch to incontinence pads from menstrual pads.

Your vulva with thank you!

If you liked this content, my new book The Vagina Bible is filled with this kind of practical information!

And in case you are curious about incontinence rings, here’s that video!