Tampons are pressed cotton cylinders used internally to collect menstrual flow. Many women prefer to use tampons because they are less messy and more discreet than pads.
Tampons have been around in one form or another for centuries. Today, tampons generally contain two parts, an applicator and the tampon itself. Women have many options to choose from, including plastic or cardboard applicators, applicator-free tampons, sport tampons, and a variety of sizes designed for light to very heavy flow.
The first few times you insert a tampon may be awkward, but when placed properly, tampons provide comfort and security about menstrual hygiene. Some women also use a pad, pantyliner, or absorbent period underwear along with a tampon for extra protection against leaks.
How to Insert a Tampon
- Before you insert a tampon, wash your hands to prevent any harmful bacteria that may be present on your hands from entering your vagina.
- Unwrap the tampon and throw the wrapper in the trash. Make sure the tampon string is secure by gently pulling on it.
- Before inserting it, check that the tampon reaches the tip of the applicator by gently pushing the inner applicator tube so that the tampon almost begins to come out of the applicator. If you are not using an applicator, see the instructions below.
- Decide if you want to sit or stand during tampon insertion. If you choose to sit, the toilet is a good place. Spread your knees apart and insert the tampon into your vagina. If you’d rather stand during tampon insertion, prop one foot on something so that leg is higher than the other leg; the side of your bathtub is good for propping your foot on.
- Place the tampon applicator tip into the opening of your vagina and push it towards your lower back. Continue pushing the tampon back until you can feel the end of the outer tube just at the opening of the vaginal canal.
- Next, push the inner tube into your vagina until the tampon inserts fully, and the inner and outer applicator tube ends meet. For proper tampon insertion, make sure the two ends of the applicator meet just at the opening to your vagina.
- Gently pull the applicator out of the vagina, while making sure that you can feel the string hanging out from the bottom of the tampon.
- When you’re ready to remove, or change a tampon, relax and gently pull on the string attached to the end of the tampon until the tampon is out.
- Wash your hands after inserting or removing tampons.
- Using an Applicator-Free Tampon
- Some women prefer to use tampons without an applicator, such as o.b. brand because it is better for the environment. Start by washing your hands and check to make sure the tampon is fully sealed.
- Remove the wrapper according to package directions and unwrap the string.
- Place your index finger in the bottom of the tampon, and hold the sides with your thumb and middle finger.
- Stand with one leg up (rest your foot on the toilet or bathtub) or sit on the toilet, take a deep breath and relax.
- With your free hand, gently hold open the skin around the vaginal opening.
- Take the tampon, and with the full length of your index finger, ease it into your vagina, aiming toward your lower back.
- When the tampon is in the right place, you won’t feel it. If you do, push it a little further in. Leave the string hanging outside of your body.
- Wash your hands and discard the wrapping.
Relax: Before you try inserting a tampon, make sure you are fully relaxed. Inserting your first tampon is much easier when you are not worried about whether you’re doing it right. Tensing up can make tampon insertion difficult, if not impossible.
Use Lubrication: If vaginal dryness makes tampon insertion difficult, use a water-based vaginal lubricant on the applicator tip. Never use petroleum jelly as a vaginal lubricant; petroleum jelly can create a breeding ground for vaginal infections.
Throw Away Packaging. Make sure to throw all parts of your tampons and packaging materials including the wrapper and applicator in the trash. Do not flush wrappers or applicators.
Be Careful Flushing. Tampons are generally safe to flush, however, in some buildings with older plumbing or a septic system, tampons may clog the pipes. Most public restrooms with older plumbing will have a sign indicating you cannot flush sanitary products. In that case, wrap the tampon discreetly in toilet paper and throw away.
Change Often. Change or remove tampons every four to eight hours, including during the night, depending on the amount of menstrual bleeding you experience.
Beware of TSS: Tampons have been associated with the occurrence of a rare disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS); the risk goes up the longer you leave tampons in, so be sure to change them often to reduce your risk of TSS.
Remove After Period. Don’t forget to remove the last tampon when your period is finished. If you experience any trouble removing a tampon, contact your doctor for advice.
Every box of tampons comes with an insert warning about TSS, or toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection associated with tampon use. An estimated 1 in 100,000 women develop TSS. Symptoms include:
a sudden fever, usually 102 degrees or higher
If you experience any of these symptoms, remove the tampon immediately and seek medical help.