Looking for a disposable feminine hygiene option to help you stay on the go during your flow?
If you’ve been considering making the switch from pads to tampons, or are wondering how to talk an adolescent through the ins and outs of inner wear, we have some no-nonsense info to get you started. We’ve broken it down into helpful sections so that you can scroll right to the info you need the most!
What Is A Tampon?
Tampons are created from absorbent layers of cotton rayon, or a blend of both, compressed very tightly to make them easy to insert. A string is attached through the center of these layers, which is used to pull the tampon out when you are finished with it.
When Were Tampons Invented?
The modern tampons with its pretty plastic wrapper began as early as the 5th century BC in Egypt, where women used a more rugged blend of lint and papyrus. In 1860, the first tampon was patented for sale, leading to what we see today on the drug store shelf.
Your Body: A Map
In order to walk you through the how to put a tampon in, we first need to talk about female anatomy. Any road trip needs a map, and every good map needs clearly named landmarks.
No matter what private nickname you choose for your intimate areas, it’s important to be able to explain to a doctor any concerns or questions you might have using proper language. You don’t want to be in an examination room, asking questions about “down there”.
The female body has three openings in the genital area: the anus, the urethra, and the vagina. The anus and urethra are attached to our digestive system, helping the process of removing unused food waste from the body.
The vagina is a member of our reproductive system. After an egg has waited to be fertilized and hasn’t found a match, the cushy nest of blood and tissue that the uterus has created needs to be removed. Your menstrual period is a way of your body cleaning house and getting ready for the next month, when another egg will make the trek from your ovaries to your uterus. Learn more about your cycle here.
Can A Tampon Get Lost?
Whether you would prefer to use a tampon with an applicator or without, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself first with your vagina. Common fears associated with tampons include the tampon getting stuck, losing the string, or losing the tampon all together. These fears are easily put to rest with a little personal knowledge of your private parts.
A good time for a self-exam is after you shower or bathe. Make sure you have complete privacy, and plenty of time. Wash both your hands and vaginal area with warm water and soap, and make sure that your fingernails are trimmed.
The best way to access the vaginal canal is in a squatted position. Move your index finger between the labia of your vaginal opening, and insert it slowly. Take a moment to notice the texture of your vagina. You might find the walls are rippled, even speckled, with grooves and small folds of flesh. Tip: You may find it helpful to use a mirror.
The vagina appears to be a long tube-like shape, but it’s actually similar to an umbrella, able to move and expand to accommodate all of the facets of its function. At the end of the vaginal canal, you will discover a bump, similar to a large nipple. This bump is called the cervix, and it is the tiny opening that leads to your uterus.
Most days of the month, it is firm and small in size, but during your period it softens and expands to allow menstrual discharge to be expelled from the body. You may even notice that it moves form examination to examination, as its position changes with the different phases of your hormonal cycle.
How Do Tampons Work?
Tampons are designed to soak up the discharged uterine lining like tiny disposable sponges. When it comes to inserting a tampon, it can take a few practice rounds to get the hang of it. Every vagina is unique in its shape, size, and depth, and none of them look like the one-legged diagram found in a box of tampons!
Some tampons come with applicators, others without.
How to Insert a Tampon: Tampons With Applicators
Tampons with applicators are often wrapped in a layer of plastic to keep them sanitary while on the go. This way you can toss them into your purse or backpack without worrying about them getting dirty!
A tampon applicator is a long tube containing a tampon, and a second smaller tube that works as a plunger. After unwrapping the applicator, you may need to pull out the plunger slightly to lock the tampon in place at the tip of the applicator.
Hold the tampon applicator between your thumb and index finger where the tube and plunger meet. Gently insert the applicator into your vagina (aiming slightly towards the small of your back) until your thumb and index finger are resting against your vaginal opening. This may be easier from a squatted position or by placing one leg on the toilet seat.
After inserting the tampon applicator, hold onto the large part of the tube, while pushing the small tube with your fingers until you hear or feel a small click. This places the tampon into the vagina. Pull out the applicator and adjust the string attached to the tampon until it rests comfortably between your vaginal lips.
Try the extension and compression technique of the applicator system a few times before trying to insert a tampon.
How to Insert a Tampon: Tampons Without Applicators
Tampons that come without applicators are conveniently small, and can fit easily into a pocket or purse. The insertion style is a little bit different, but the idea is the same.
With an applicator-free tampon, first unwrap the protective plastic covering. After unwrapping, gently pull the string to the left and right, up and down, to open up the end a little. This creates a small indentation where you can rest the end of your index finger to guide the tampon into your vagina. Adjust the string attached to the tampon until it rests comfortably between your labia.
Always remember to wash your hands before and after inserting a tampon.
Toxic Shock Syndrome: A Warning
TSS is caused when bacterial toxins invade and take over the vagina, leading to severe flu-like symptoms. This can happen when a tampon has been left inside of the body for too long, or if small fibers from the tampon remain behind after the tampon has been taken out. If left untreated, TSS can even result in death. There are several factors, including age, that can increase risk. It is important to learn the facts.
Tampons can be a perfectly safe and effective way of managing your menstrual flow if they are used correctly. Check out our related article on Toxic Shock Syndrome for valuable information, including the signs and symptoms of this very serious disease.
It is important to note that there is mounting research to suggest that synthetic tampons present a greater risk of contracting TSS than their organic alternative. Though the FDA does not agree with these allegations, we suggest that you consider going organic for the added environmental and health benefits this choice can bring.
Lost Tampon: “I can’t find it!”
If you have inserted a tampon, and you aren’t able to find it, insert your index finger in your vagina just as you did for the self-examination. Do a gentle sweep of your vaginal canal with your index finger to see if you can locate the tampon string.
Sometimes a tampon will become lodged near the cervix – use a hook-like motion to curl your finger around the tampon, and gently pull it out. Most of the time, the string is there to guide you, and this motion won’t be necessary.
Tampon Pain: “Do Tampons Hurt?”
Tampons are designed to be inserted and extracted comfortably. If inserted properly it should not be felt. If you find it uncomfortable, it may not be placed properly or inserted completely – simply remove it and try again with a new tampon. Don’t stress if it takes a few attempts – like all new things, it can require a little practice.
If you have any problems removing a tampon, consider lowering the absorbency next time, or using a pad on days with a light flow.
Although tampons are highly effective, we also suggest using a panty liner as a backup on heavy flow days. Take your time to look through the different brands and options available to you.
Tampon Questions: “What do I do with my questions?”
If you feel comfortable, chat about menstrual hygiene options with a family member or friend that you feel close to. There are also plenty of online forums like our Period Talk page where you can anonymously chat with other girls and women about your questions or concerns.
Think you’ve got tampons aced? Have a look at our Menstrual Cup 101 series, giving you even more options to manage menstrual hygiene.