Whether you learned about tampons from your mom, an older brother, your best friend, or the side of a box, you may still have questions, even if you’ve been using them for years. And if you haven’t tried tampons yet because you’re not sure how to use them, help is here.
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“There’s a bit of embarrassment in talking about your period,” says women’s health specialist Sara Youngblood, CNP. “If you don’t have anyone in your family who is open to having that conversation, it becomes an even bigger barrier to getting proper knowledge about how to use tampons.”
Youngblood walks you through the steps to insert a tampon correctly and also answers some of your most pressing questions.
Why is proper use important?
Inserting a tampon wrong can cause discomfort and leakage. However, when you put it on correctly, it can do its job: absorb your menstrual blood and allow you to live your life carefree while you have your period.
“Tampons are a great option for most people because they are discreet and easy to use,” says Youngblood.
What are the parts of a tampon?
Before we insert a tampon, let’s go through all of its parts and define what they mean. The first thing you need to know is that the word “tampon” is actually used in two ways:
- It can refer to the entire device, as a whole; either
- You may refer to single the absorbent core: the bullet-shaped piece of cloth that is inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood.
This can make things a bit confusing, so let’s identify all the components:
- Applicator: This tube-shaped barrel contains the absorbent core inside. The applicator is made of plastic or cardboard, with an opening at the top to slide the cloth part through.
- Plunger: This smaller tube-shaped barrel is also made of plastic or cardboard. When you insert the applicator into your vagina, the plunger will slide up the applicator and push the cotton tampon into your vagina.
- Absorbent core: Often simply called a tampon, this cylindrical piece of cloth is usually made of cotton and/or rayon. It is the part that remains in the vagina and absorbs blood.
- String: A soft braided cord is attached to the absorbent core and encased in the plunger. Once you insert the tampon, the string hangs out of your vagina until you are ready to pull the string out.
Not all tampons have applicators. But if this is your first time using a tampon, it’s best to use one that does, as they’re a bit easier to insert. “And plastic applicators are more comfortable to insert than cardboard ones,” advises Youngblood.
The correct way to put in a tampon
Here’s a step-by-step look at how to insert a tampon correctly, including some essential things to know along the way.
Step 1 – Choose the right tampon
Tampons are classified according to their degree of absorbency, that is, the amount of blood that they can absorb. “They’re not measured by the size of your vagina,” explains Youngblood. “The words used to describe them are actually related to how heavy your period is.”
So terms like “junior” or “light” tampons refer to lighter blood flows, while “super” or “ultra” refer to days with heavy periods. And you may need to use different absorbency levels for different days of your period. (Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing how heavy your flow will be. But over time, you may begin to notice patterns about your period, including when it’s likely to be heavier and lighter.)
Here’s a breakdown:
- For light flow days, use junior, thin or light tampons. These may be your best option for the first day of your period, if it tends to start slowly, or towards the end of your period, when your flow starts to slow down.
- For days of normal flowuse normal absorbency tampons.
- For busy daysyou may need to try tampons categorized as super, super plus, or ultra.
“If you notice that your tampon is very saturated with blood in a short period of time, you may need to increase the absorbency,” says Youngblood. “And vice versa: If your period isn’t very heavy and you see empty, white, unsaturated areas in the tampon when you take it out, consider lowering the absorbency.”
Step 2: Wash your hands
Before inserting a tampon, visit the sink and be sure to use soap. “You’re putting something in your vagina, so you want to try to keep everything as clean as possible, which will prevent bacteria from getting into your vagina as well,” says Youngblood.
Step 3: Try to relax
If you’re not familiar with using tampons, inserting one can make you nervous. But when you’re nervous, you tense up, which can actually make it harder for you to get the job done.
“When you’re tense and fearful, your vaginal muscles contract, which can make inserting a tampon difficult or uncomfortable,” explains Youngblood.
Take a few relaxing breaths before you begin. As you breathe in and out, allow your body to relax and your muscles to relax. You got this!
Step 4: Get into a comfortable position
You can insert a tampon while sitting on the toilet. “Spread your legs wide and spread your knees a little wider than your hips,” Youngblood instructs, somewhat as if you were going to squat.
However, if you’re new to the process and want a little more space, you can put one foot on the toilet or in the bathtub. This might help you better insert the tampon at an angle (which we’ll talk about in step 6).
Step 5: Prepare your hold on the tampon
Unwrap your tampon and hold it in your dominant hand. Hold the bottom of the applicator with your thumb and middle finger, while using your index finger to cover the end of the plunger (where the string comes out).
This will give you the leverage you need to push the plunger up into the applicator, which is what pushes the tampon out of the applicator and into your body.
Step 6 – Identify the opening of your vagina
First, a quick anatomy lesson. What we tend to call the vagina is actually the labia, those “lips” or folds of skin that form the outside of the genitalia. The tampon goes into your vagina and up your vaginal canal, which is a tunnel inside your body.
To prepare to insert a tampon, use your non-writing hand to spread your labia, giving you access to the opening of your vagina.
“Holding the tampon in one hand and parting your labia with your other hand, place the tip of the applicator at the entrance to your vagina,” says Youngblood.
Step 7: Insert the tampon at an angle
Slowly and gently insert the applicator into the vagina until the base of the applicator, where it is held by the thumb and middle finger, reaches the entrance of the vagina. The plunger should still protrude from the vagina.
Now use your other index finger (the one that has been on the end of the plunger) to push the plunger back into the applicator. This will insert the absorbent core into your vagina. At this point, the plunger will nestle inside the applicator, leaving only the cotton string hanging outside the vagina.
While you can lean in to point the tampon straight up, or tilt it toward your stomach, it will put you in an awkward position. “You want to point it toward your rectum or your back, which goes along the natural curve of the female reproductive system,” says Youngblood.
Step 8: Remove the applicator
This is critical: The applicator does not stay inside your body! It’s just there to help you insert the absorbent core with ease. After the core is inside you, it’s time to remove the applicator.
“After you’ve inserted the plunger, pull out the plastic or cardboard barrel slightly,” says Youngblood. “Leave the tampon in place, with just the string hanging out of your body.”
Don’t pull on the string, though, as this can loosen the tampon and cause discomfort.
Step 9: Dispose of the applicator and packaging
Think of the tampon wrapper as a little garbage bag for the applicator. “Most tampon packages serve as a little bag,” says Youngblood. “Put the applicator back in the bag and throw it away in the trash.”
If you’re embarrassed about other people seeing it in the trash can, you can also wrap it in a piece of toilet paper. But remember: menstruation is normal, as is the use of menstrual products.
Just be sure not to put the used cotton applicator, wrapper, or tampons down the toilet, which can lead to serious plumbing problems.
Step 10: Take out the tampon on time
When it’s time to remove the tampon, simply pull gently on the string to remove it from your vagina.
And while tampons are very safe to use, you should never leave the same tampon in for more than eight hours. “Even if your tampon isn’t completely soaked in blood, it’s important to remove it on time,” Youngblood emphasizes. “Otherwise, you’re at risk for health problems like toxic shock syndrome.”
Remember: the type of tampon you use should depend on how heavy your flow is. If you’re bleeding a lot and your tampon gets soggy in just a couple of hours, try a more absorbent tampon. But if it comes out of your vagina with lots of white spots still visible, switch to a lower absorbency tampon or pad.
Should you be able to feel a tampon when it’s in?
“You may feel a little uncomfortable when you first put a tampon in, especially if your period isn’t heavy yet,” says Youngblood. “Your vaginal walls aren’t as lubricated as they are during a heavy period, which causes a little more friction on your vagina.”
However, once the tampon is in place, it shouldn’t cause any pain or discomfort. “Tampons definitely shouldn’t hurt,” she says. “If it hurts after you put it in, there could be some things at play.”
- It is not completely inside your vagina. Sometimes the plunger doesn’t push the tampon all the way out, so use a finger to push it further into your vagina.
- It’s at the wrong angle. Also in this case, you can use your finger to gently guide the tampon into place. “You can also walk around a bit to help him get into his ideal position,” Youngblood suggests.
- It is very big. If you’re using a larger tampon than you need, it may not feel right at all. Remove it by pulling lightly on the string (so the dry cotton doesn’t scratch the vaginal walls), then replace it with a tampon of the correct size.
- The applicator is still inside you. A common mistake among novices is not removing the plastic or cardboard applicator. Be sure to use the plunger to push the cotton part into your vaginal canal, then remove and discard the applicator.
Congratulations, you’ve made it! Enjoy the next few hours with no period-related worries in the world.