Confused about Incontinence Wear - The Simon Foundat...

The Simon Foundation for Continence

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Confused about Incontinence Wear

BarrySimpson profile image

Many people seem to be reticent to talk about incontinence. Brand names are often used instead of generic names; even generic names are not always precisely used with the same meaning. I am often left confused about what kind of wear is being referred to. Often, the sex of the intended user is not specified on the packet: are we to assume it is for anyone?

There is also some fuzziness in defining what is incontinence. Since puberty I wore paper towels in my underwear to soak up any dribbles after peeing and leaks of semen. I did not think of myself as being incontinent. (This was long before a spinal injury made me doubly incontinent in 2013.) How much dribbling makes someone incontinent? How often must a considerable accident have to occur for someone to be incontinent?

Many kinds of normal underwear, both male and female, have a double layer or gusset where there is likely to be a small amount of leakage.

Protective wear for those more heavily incontinent seem to fall within five types:

1 There are many kinds of underwear on the market adapted for heavier leakage and marketed as incontinence wear: there are many brands of washable or disposable pants and knickers adapted to take pads or with absorbent areas. Most seem to be single-sex. The pads when sold separately can be single- or unisex.

2 Fixation pants: non-absorbent, used only to hold a pad in place; unisex - no front exit for men; nurses and carers usually refer to mine as nets, pants or knickers. The manufacturers often just refer to them by their brand name chosen to give a hint of what they are, with a pictogram to give a further clue, announcing that they are fixation pants for incontinence pads in microscopic print in 20+ languages on the back of the packet.

Another minute pictogram showing how to determine your size shows a figure of indeterminate gender, leaving the sex of the intended user equally uncertain.

Mine tend to be tight round my groin - perhaps I am an odd shape - so I buy a bum size bigger than suggested on the packet for my waist size. Some fixation pants have deeper sides covering the top of the leg, which would perhaps reduce the problem of cutting into the groin.

They are more stretchy than is usual for ordinary underwear and so can be expected to take a pad more readily. The pad can be unisex or single sex. It is to be expected that the difference would be in the length at the front. My pads leave a man popping out of the top when more than about 4 or 5 inches. The packet does not clear up the mystery of the gender of the intended user.

3 Pull-ups: an expression used in the USA for both children's and adult products; similar to normal underwear but with pad fixed inside and are made of waterproof material. They can be unisex or single-sex.

4 Diapers: can open out flat; large absorbent pad to cover area likely to be affected by urine or faeces; plastic sides with one or two adhesive tabs on each side to hold them securely around the body between the groin and the waist. A term used in the USA for both children's and adult products. These too can be unisex or single-sex.

5 Cloth diapers (USA)/nappies (UK): square, absorbent, washable material held in place by safety pins or something more modern. There are many brands of cloth diapers/nappies shaped like plastic ones with fastening studs at each side. Occasionally they are referred to as 'napkins' but in the UK this is more usual for smaller squares of lighter material used at the dinner table to clear up stray bits of food from around the mouth or fingers or to prevent the soiling of clothes - similar in purpose to nappies but at the other end of the alimentary canal.

Pants made of plastic, rubber or other waterproof material can be worn over any of these types of incontinence wear for extra protection.


s this in line with what others have found? Do any readers use incontinence wear not covered here?

3 Replies
incon1982 profile image

You are so right about all the confusion. I am anxious to see others reply. I would truly love to see standardization in the terminology (with definitions).

I know here in the States that the brand name Depend is almost like Kleenex (people use Kleenex to refer to any facial tissue product), to describe a pull-up product.

In May of last year, the Journal of WOCN published an article "Assessment, Selection, Use, and Evaluation of Body-

Worn Absorbent Products for Adults With Incontinence" that goes into great detail about the issue.

incon1982 profile image
incon1982Administrator in reply to MMHB1

This is a link to the abstract and you can link to the publisher and purchase the article. Check you local library to see if you might have free access to this journal article.

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