Say “No” to Leakage! Period Panties for Athletes

I love that friends send stuff our way because it might be blogworthy. Last week, I got a tip from my friend, Rachel, about THINX. What are they, you ask? They are “underwear for athletes with periods.”

On its own, that’s not so exciting. I mean, the whole idea of having to skip workouts because of periods is dated, no longer an issue, right? Maybe it’s not an issue in the same way it used to be, where people thought athletes with periods shouldn’t work out because it was too hard on them.

But it turns out there are other things to fear besides over-taxing the menstruating body: leakage! THINX makes a panty for every kind of flow. For medium days, try the Sport or the High Waist, each good for “up to 1 1/2 tampons worth” of flow.  Heavy day? The hip hugger can handle “up to 2 tampons worth.”

And then there are the light days, for your Boyshorts or Cheekies (“up to 1 tampon worth). And for the lightest of light days, you can even get a thong (1/2 a tampon worth). They anticipated my first question, “But like, who wears a thong on their period?” Answer: “You can, friend. YOU can.”

But not my second question: “But like, who wears a thong when pursuing athletic activities?” I mean that as a serious, not rhetorical question, so if you have some athletic reason for wearing a thong when you work out, please share. The THINX thong is”is the sexy little piece of stretch lace that you’re used to, but with a lil’ baby amount of protection.”

These are moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, absorbent, and leak resistant panties that look comfy enough. They take the place of panty-liners and offer “back-up” for the menstrual cup or tampon. Apparently, they stay dry, don’t feel like diapers, and you can wear them all day.

Tennis players might especially like them, since “even your whitest white gear is safe.” I’m not sure I know any other athletes who regularly wear white gear–maybe martial arts types?

Anyway, that’s the literal info on panties for your period. I can see a place for these, though personally I haven’t found panty liners to be all that much of a problem. The biggest issue is that they’re disposable, so adding to landfill (THINX could play up the environmentally-friendly aspect of their product a bit more). For endurance activities, panty liners might chafe in ways that these don’t, though the website doesn’t really play up their non-chafing features.

But there are products and then there are the way those products are advertised/represented. My friend Syd, took one look at the pictures and asked, “What? Are we supposed to work out in our underwear now?” Because yes, the website shows women in action (yay!) but wearing only their underwear (um?). Not only that, she pointed out the picture in the ad seems to defy their slogan, “Keep your head in the game.” Where are these athletes’ heads?


Now, it’s a positive that the women are actively engaged in athletic activities in the pictures. All too often, we don’t see women actually doing anything. And the fact that they’re doing these things while also supposedly menstruating is also a good way to challenge any lingering thoughts that women on their periods need to take it easy. So we’ll give them points for that.

And as Rachel charitably pointed out, it’s hard to show underwear, which is after all, their product, if there’s a pair of pants over them. This is true.

Syd suggested this:

Well, the way they do it in the tampon ads is to put them in white pants. If you want to show that these are formfitting (not diapers or big pads), you could show a woman in white leggings. But… do you actually need to show women running in the undies? I mean, most underwear can be worn when you’re working out, so this doesn’t add any information.

I thought maybe it was like so many ads, where the way a thing is pictured is not exactly the way it’s used (like car action ads where they tell you not to try this at home; or the food ads where they say in teeny tiny print, “Serving suggestion”). They’re giving you the general idea so you can see exactly what the product is capable of even if, in the end, that’s not what they’re expecting you to do with it. Chances are, you will be wearing something over it, right? But here’s what it would look like if you didn’t!

Then there was some debate about whether the pictures did or didn’t sexualize the athletes. It’s not totally clear to me. We live in a culture that associates under garments with sexy, so there’s an argument to be made for the claim that any depiction of women in their undies could be taken as sexualizing. But, in response, we could point out that underwear has a solid utilitarian function as well, so it’s not entirely obvious that representations of women in their panties ought automatically be suspect.

The question comes back to: is there a way of showing women being active in these panties without showing the panties? And if so, is there a reason to seek out that way (as in the tampon ad, which, face it, is a bit different because there is no way of showing an actual tampon in use)? I think if they want to show the panties, they’re doing their best to show them in ways that make them look attractive and functional, and not necessarily sexy (except the thong, which is advertised as such).

If I’m interested in the product, I want to see the panties. And on balance, I like that they’re portraying the women as athletes doing active things rather than simply as models wearing panties. If there had to be a trade-off between representing active women wearing only their panties, on the one hand, or representing women in the panties but not active, I think they made the right choice.

What is definitely true is that they haven’t done much to promote body diversity on their website. The majority of their models are slender young white women. They have one solid, though by no means large, young black woman wearing the hiphuggers, but other than that, no diversity at all. What about inclusive fitness?

I consider that a missed opportunity, since if you’re going to promote a product that is supposed to provide a new freedom to women who work out (I guess that’s its purpose), then why not use it to promote inclusivity as well?

I’ve not tried these panties, though I can see how they might be useful not just for menstruating women, but for women in peri-menopause or menopause, who sometimes have occasional spotting.  At over $30 per pair, they’re something of an investment. And I wonder how many uses you would get out of them. They directly address the “it’s gross” worry on their website, saying:

No, it doesn’t feel wet; no, you don’t have to change them during the day; no, they don’t feel like diapers; and no, it’s not like sitting in your own blood. Boom.

But I don’t know — how many times would you reuse them if they ended up with a tampon or two worth of menstrual blood in them? Of course it would depend how well they clean up. But we’re not talking a Diva Cup here.

Thanks, Rachel and Syd, for your reflections on this product and the way it’s represented on the website.



18 thoughts on “Say “No” to Leakage! Period Panties for Athletes

  1. I have these! I bought one pair at first and loved them so much I bought several more. And at the time I did that, they didn’t have a store in the UK so I had to have them shipped from the US…. they are great and I re-wear them all of the time. I just rinse them under the tap and then pop them in the washing machine. They completely save on pantyliners and are great for those days at the beginning and end of your period. But I also wear them throughout and don’t use anything else other than on my heaviest days. My issue with things like the Diva cup / moon cup is that I don’t know how I would wash them out in the sinks at work – I really wouldn’t want colleagues to see me doing that!

    I agree there are some issues with Thinx’s advertising but I do agree with you that if you are selling underwear, we need to be able to see underwear. And I also like that they are very out there about periods, not hiding it at all. And aside from the advertising, they’re a great product (no I don’t work for them!)

    1. Thanks so much for this. I’m really happy ro hear they’re great, comfy, and easy to wash. Have you run long distances in them? I’m curious about chafing. Thanks again for telling us about your experience with them!

      1. I haven’t actually run any long distances in them but have worn them for long distance flights which is when some underwear makes me feel really uncomfortable(!) and there was no chafing or uncomfortableness there. I’ll report back once I’ve run in them 🙂

    2. Thanks for your comment! I was looking at this maybe a month or so ago, and mostly the price was too much for me to invest in something I wasn’t sure about, but I was definitely curious. When I first heard of them though, it wasn’t through the lens of wearing them while working out, so I wonder if this is a new angle for them. Mostly I was hearing about them via sources that are concerned with nixing the taboo-ness of periods in general, and sources that wondered if this could be a good first step in helping those who don’t have much access to feminine hygiene products (although at $30 a pop, that’s not happening!).

      In general, I feel pretty favorable about what they are doing, and maybe my only quibble is the headless piece that Tracy pointed out.

  2. Ok, so I’ll be real here. I will wear a thong when I go to yoga, mostly when I’m wearing lululemon-esque pants that are basically see through. I don’t want the dude across from me seeing my lady bits! A thong covers that up, doesn’t give me wedgies, and doesn’t give me pantie lines. But other that – I can’t help ya on the thongs while working out, and I never wear them on my period.

    1. I sort of get it, but I guess my inclination when doing yoga is (a) not to buy see-through pants and (b) to wear full undies (not go commando or wear a thong). But your reasoning makes sense. I used to do a lot of Iyengar yoga and the instructors always have students gather around for demos. They always pick a student to be the one being demo-ed on. I remember one time (this is the first time it even occurred to me that some people do not wear anything under their yoga pants) a student was asked to go into downward dog and seriously, her pants were practically see through. She may as well have been naked. My friend and I looked at each other and each at the same time whispered, “don’t ever let my yoga tights get like that without telling me!”

  3. Martial arts are definitely sports where white outfits and periods don’t mix well, especially for women like me, with very heavy periods.

    The problem with aikido (maybe even moreso than for other martial arts) is that we are constantly getting up and down off the ground, lying down for some warmups, and regularly getting flipped upside down, which means the blood is coming out at unusual angles (rather than straight “down” into the panty or pad), making leakage a real problem.

    Before I had to stop going to aikido class because of my chemotherapy, I avoided taking class on the days of my heaviest flow, and on the rest of my flow days would wear a tampon, a heavy flow pad (because they have a larger surface area), and a pair of snug athletic shorts under my white gi, and even then felt nervous whenever I felt my flow coming out while I was on the ground.

    Panties like these ones might be a great solution for me, although I’m curious to know how far the “protective” fabric extends.

    I’m actually hoping that periods are behind me now, since chemo has stopped my periods, and I’ll be taking hormone blockers for several years once my chemo is finished, which usually induces chemical menopause.

    1. Interesting. Yoga has a similar thing (minus the throwing). What’s really interesting about this product is that the boy short, which you would think would be for extra coverage, is actually only recommended for light days. So that makes you wonder how useful it would be for the kinds of spillage that might happen in aikido. Maybe if they’re snug enough that wouldn’t happen? But I can see why you’d want to throw some snug shorts on over that, just to be sure.

  4. When I read your comment about the headless athletes, I laughed out loud, although not entirely with mirth. Is this an increasing trend? In recent coverage on the CDC’s (now sort of walked-back) recommendations that women who are thinking about maybe getting pregnant sometime shouldn’t drink alcohol, some of the news coverage photos featured headless pregnant women. And of course the headless fatty (generally a female torso) is infamous. I don’t think this is an anonymity/modesty thing in the underwearing-models; who thought this was a good idea?

    1. I know. I meant to reference the “headless fatties” post that Sam wrote (even though these are “headless thinnies). It does seem to be a trend.

  5. They do have gender diversity in their ads, but it’s not easy to find. This one features a trans man.

    As a plus sized lady (2X), I found that their hip huggers and sport style underwear didn’t stay put well enough to wear to yoga (the coverage on the bum isn’t enough to prevent wedgies). On the plus side, I generally wear cloth pads because disposables chafe unbelievably and thinx are a good alternative to cloth if blood grosses you out.

    1. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what brand of cloth pads do you use? I find the opposite (cloth pads chafe, disposables don’t) and I would love to try other brands if there are ones that don’t chafe as much

  6. Definitely going to check these out. I no longer get periods, but I do have a little bit of leakage. 😉 I have a pessary, but get a little dribble now and then. Pads are SO yucky to run in. Thanks for the post!

  7. So glad am beyond periods since am in menopause…which the phase was tame for me.

    I’m so glad that I was never the only one worrying about leakage. Menstruation does come up among women cycling internet forums. Some people seem to like diva cup….

    I would love for men to get a reaction reading this whole thread. this is why I think that women do have it tougher when engaging in very active athletics especially if they have medium-heavy periods on certain days.

    Ok. Thong ..for athletics. Not really’s actually more chafing to me. So full, but below belly button panties in whatever sports I do. It’s enough to have long tights elastic band PLUS 2nd elastic band of rain pant hitting at the same point on stomach. Or make that long johns as a 3rd elastic before the 4th elastic band of panty in abdomen area. Oy.

  8. These look worth a try but I still can’t seem to understand how they can absorb all the blood (I have heavy periods). I think I would still be worrying about leakage. And agree about the issues with martial arts! Also the word *panties* totally creeps me out! Am I the only one? :-O cheers c

  9. So I do triathlons. On my heaviest days, a tampon just doesn’t cut it. Could these be worn in the water for the swim portion of the race, only to cover me when I get to the run?

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