Tampons might sound weird and uncomfortable to the uninitiated, but they’re really a super simple and convenient way to manage your period. They can help you move around more easily and feel less self conscious, even during days when you have a heavier flow.
In this article, I’ll walk you through how to insert a tampon, step-by-step. I’ll give you tips for using tampons safely and effectively. At the end of this, you should be putting in tampons with no problems!
Feature image: Frances Ellen/Flickr
Why Use a Tampon?
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably using pads to manage your period but are interested in experimenting with tampons as an alternative. Many women prefer tampons to pads for several reasons, including:
- They make it easy to do sports and other physical activities comfortably during your period.
- You can go swimming with them in, so you don’t have to miss out on beach days and pool parties.
- You won’t feel like you’re wearing some kind of weird adult diaper.
- They create much less waste than pads.
Tampons are actually very easy to use, though they can seem scary at first if you’re not used to them. Once you put one in a couple of times, you won’t even think twice about it!
What Kind of Tampons Should You Buy?
For your first time inserting a tampon, it’s a good idea to buy the smallest size. They are the easiest to insert and will cause you the least discomfort. It’s essentially the equivalent of sticking one finger in there (or even slightly thinner). If you find that these are too small to accommodate your blood flow (blood starts dripping out fairly quickly after you put the tampon inside because it’s already absorbed all it can absorb), you can experiment with larger sizes.
I’d also recommend buying tampons with plastic applicators. It can be difficult to insert the ones without applicators if you’re not used to it, and cardboard applicators feel harsh against your skin. Plastic applicators are smooth and easy to operate.
The brand you choose to buy is up to you. You might just go with whatever brand you use for pads if you feel most comfortable with their products.
How to Use a Tampon: Step-by-Step Instructions
Let’s go through how to use a tampon from beginning to end, so you can see the whole process. It’s not so bad, I promise!
Step 1: Wash Your Hands
You’re putting something inside your body, so you should make sure there is as little bacteria involved in the process as possible. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly before opening the tampon’s packaging.
Step 2: Get Relaxed
Take some deep breaths, and try to relax your body. It’s hard for some people to insert tampons when they’re new to the process because they’re too nervous. Tensing up will make it harder to put in a tampon because the vaginal canal is really just a muscular tube.
Trust me. The tampon will feel a little weird at first, but it won’t hurt you, and if all goes well you won’t even notice it’s there afterwards.
Step 3: Position the Tampon (and Yourself) Correctly
Find a comfortable standing position that allows easy access to the vaginal opening. It’s easiest to just bend your knees slightly (a sort of mini-squat position).
Put the end of the tampon against your vaginal opening at about a 30 degree upward angle towards your lower back so that it aligns with the direction of the vaginal canal.
Insert the entire device (applicator and tampon) about a centimeter inside of your vagina.
If you’re using a tampon without an applicator, it may be easier to sit down and look in a mirror so you can see exactly where you’re putting it. In a seated position, pull open your labia and position the tampon perpendicular to your body before inserting the tip rather than at an upward angle.
Step 4: Use the Applicator and/or Your Finger to Push the Tampon In
Now that everything’s in position, gently push down on the applicator so that the tampon slides out of the applicator and backward into your vagina. You will feel some slight discomfort if it’s your first time doing this, but it SHOULD NOT be painful.
Continue to push down on the applicator until your fingers touch the outside of the opening and the tampon itself is completely inside. Then, pull off the applicator and throw that part away (don’t flush it down the toilet!). If you’re doing this without an applicator, continue to push the tampon all the way in with your finger as you hold open your labia.
Step 5: Make Sure It’s Secure and Comfy
Still feel kinda awkward? You might need to do some adjustments. Check to see if you can feel any of the cylindrical part of the tampon still sticking out of you. If so, it hasn’t been inserted far enough. Use your finger to push it all the way in. The tampon is in the right position when you have to stick your finger at least a centimeter or so into your vagina to touch the cylindrical cotton part.
Step 6: Keep Track of Time
Now that the tampon’s doing its job, you have to remember to relieve it of its duties and put in a new one every few hours. You should change your tampon every four to eight hours. This range is so broad because a particularly heavy or light flow might mean more or less frequent changes.
Just pull on the string, and it should slide out easily. If you notice some resistance, you may want to leave it in for longer so it has time to become fully saturated. If you see blood on the string, it’s definitely time to take the tampon out.
Always put used tampons in the trash rather than flushing them down the toilet. You can just wrap them in toilet paper and throw them away like you would with a pad.
What If I Still Can’t Do It (Or It’s Really Uncomfortable)?
If you’ve tried to put a tampon in and still can’t get it to work, there could be a couple of things happening.
First off, you may just be nervous about it and overthinking the process, which leads to more tension in the area. Try it again at another time when you feel more relaxed and unhurried (ideally at home in your own bathroom).
You also may just need to keep experimenting until you figure out how to insert the tampon at the correct angle. Everyone’s vagina is angled slightly differently, and sometimes it can be hard to get the tampon in exactly the right position for insertion. As weird as it sounds, it might be helpful to sit in front of a mirror when you insert the tampon so you can see exactly what you’re doing and whether you’re aiming correctly.
In rare cases, some women have hymens with smaller openings that make it difficult or impossible to insert tampons. This can be corrected with very minor surgery to remove some of the extra tissue covering the opening. If you think this might be your problem, talk to your doctor about it at your next check-up.
If the tampon is securely inside you but you still feel incredibly conscious of its presence or it hurts to sit and move around, your period might be too light right now for the tampon to be comfortable. The tampon in its dry cotton state is not a great thing to have in your vagina (and is even more unpleasant to take out). Try using a tampon again when you have a heavier flow.
Also, verify that the tampon is completely inside you. If it’s halfway in, it’s going to be very uncomfortable (not to mention ineffective!). You should not be able to feel any part of the cotton cylinder on the outside of your body.
Frequently Asked Tampon Questions
This section is devoted to providing answers to some of the most common questions asked by people who are new to tampons. In general, there are barely any health risks associated with tampons, and it’s easy to live your life normally while using them.
Do Tampons Hurt?
Nope! As I mentioned above, tampons shouldn’t hurt — they can feel a little weird though, especially the first few times you put one in.
If inserting a tampon is painful, you are most likely inserting it at the wrong angle, experiment a bit and if you’re still having trouble consider chatting with your doctor.
Can You Go Swimming With a Tampon?
Absolutely! In fact, this is one of the big advantages tampons have over pads: you can go swimming with out any leaking.
Can You Lose Your Virginity From a Tampon?
No way! Some people think that inserting a tampon will cause them to lose their virginities because it may stretch or tear the hymen (a thin membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina). This isn’t true. Many, many girls break or tear their hymens in random events before they ever have sex, and it doesn’t mean anything about their virginities.
Losing your virginity is an emotional concept, not a physical change. It’s about the bond you create with the first person you are intimate with. You can’t lose your virginity to a practical device that helps you stay dry and comfortable during your period.
Will Tampons Stretch Out Your Vagina?
Nope! Keep in mind that a baby can come out of your vagina, and the whole thing will still go back to normal later. Anyone who thinks a tampon or anything else can stretch out your vagina permanently has a very uninformed perspective on female anatomy.
Can Tampons Get Lost Inside You?
Nope! The vaginal canal is only four or five inches long at rest, so there’s nowhere for the tampon to go. Even if you can’t find the string, you should be able to locate the tampon without too much trouble just by sticking your finger an inch or two into your vagina.
Do You Have to Change Your Tampon When You Use the Bathroom?
Usually the answer is no. You may want to change it if you’re bothered by accidentally getting pee on the string (or if it somehow comes in contact with your poop), but otherwise it’s not necessary. You can also keep your tampon in when you take a shower if you don’t think it needs to be changed yet.
Can You Use a Tampon at Other Times of the Month to Absorb Discharge?
Nah, that’s not a good idea. Only insert a tampon during your period. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to have some vaginal discharge, so you shouldn’t try to stop it from happening. Also, it will be super uncomfortable to put a tampon in and take it out when there’s no blood flow to saturate the cotton and provide lubrication. If you’re uncomfortable with the amount of discharge you have, use panty liners rather than tampons.
What’s Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), and Should I Be Scared of It?
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a very, very rare condition that has been associated with leaving a tampon in your vagina for too long. It’s not caused by anything in the tampon itself. The only reason TSS is connected to tampon use is because having a foreign object inside your vagina for a long time creates an environment that breeds bacteria.
TSS presents with flu-like symptoms, so if you have a high fever while wearing a tampon or are experiencing vomiting and dizziness, you should take it out and get in touch with your doctor.
It’s not something you should be worried about as long as you change your tampons at regular intervals. To stay safe, you should:
- Change tampons every four to eight hours.
- Avoid leaving tampons in overnight. (Keep some pads around for nighttime use.)
- Wash your hands before inserting tampons.
- Avoid using tampons that are more absorbent than necessary (e.g. don’t use a super absorbent tampon at the tail end of your period when there’s barely any blood).
Other Options Besides Tampons and Pads
You may not know that tampons and pads are far from the only products that exist to help women manage their periods.
One pretty cool recent invention is something called the Diva Cup. It’s a reusable bell-shaped silicone cup that sits low in your vagina and collects menstrual blood. It looks like this:
The Diva Cup can be left in for up to 12 hours. It’s definitely the most eco-friendly option for managing your period because there’s nothing to throw away! You can just wash it and use it again. There are some great answers to frequently asked questions about the Diva Cup on the company website.
Another new product is a brand of special period underwear called Thinx. They’re literally just regular underwear made out of special material that catches your menstrual blood. This is the most comfortable option out there if you’re not a fan of putting things in your vagina to manage your period. They hold up to two tampon’s worth of blood, and you’ll still feel dry and comfortable because it’s absorbed into a layer of the underwear that doesn’t have direct contact with your skin.
How to Insert a Tampon: Key Tips
To recap, here are a few of the most important tips to remember if you’re using tampons for the first time:
- Use smaller tampons to ease into the process
- Wash your hands first
- Stay relaxed
- Angle the tampon slightly upwards if you’re standing or perpendicular to the floor if you’re sitting down
- After insertion, always make sure the tampon is completely inside of you and feels comfortable
- Change your tampon every four to eight hours (avoid leaving it in overnight)
- Don’t use tampons at any other time of the month
Once you’ve inserted a tampon a couple of times, you’ll be a pro! If you’re still looking for even more convenient ways to manage you period, you can explore other options like the Diva Cup and Thinx. There’s no right or wrong method as long as you’re staying clean and comfortable.