Stats reveal over half of women aren't sure. Let's change the narrative
Question: do you really know how to use a tampon?
Sure, it may seem simple, but research carried out by Tampax revealed some surprising stats.
Hundreds of women in the UK do not know how to use tampons correctly. You read that right; 42% don't insert the applicator properly and 79% sometimes experience discomfort while wearing tampons. Of these, 60% of women say they feel discomfort from insertion or from the first moment they start wearing the tampon.
Interestingly, within the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket, 58% of tampon applicator users insert the product incorrectly. That's well over half.
How to use a tampon: your step-by-step guide
Not sure how to use a tampon? We've got a handy guide for you. For mothers, Parent 24 has a handy video guide to how to teach your daughters the necessary information. Or, if you yourself are looking for advice, the Becoming a Teen website (whatever your age) offers clear, expert-provided advice.
If you're just after a simple step-by-step guide to how exactly to use a tampon, you're in the right place. Doctor Deborah Lee of Fox Online Pharmacy has provided everything you need to know. If you are at all concerned, do speak to a medical professional in person, who will be more than happy to help you out.
Before you start:
- Choose an appropriate size of tampon. For example, you're best to opt for a slim or slender fit if you are young and not yet sexually active.
- Always use a tampon from a sealed packet which has not been damaged.
- Read the package insert – this Tampax article has helpful information and diagrams of your body which are very useful.
Be aware—tampons are only meant for your period, not for vaginal discharge.
To insert a tampon:
1. Find a quiet place – a bedroom or the bathroom where you will be undisturbed. Take it slowly and calmly. This should hot hurt, and there is nothing terrible you can do to yourself!
2. Remove your bottoms and underwear and make sure to wash your hands.
3. Either sit on the toilet or stand and put one foot up on a chair, or onto the toilet lid.
4. Open the tampon wrapper and remove it. Before you try to do anything - take a good look at the tampon. It has a rounded tampon end, and an inserter tube - made either or cardboard or plastic. The whole tampon is a bit like a syringe. When you insert the tampon into your vagina and push the plunger, the tampon will pop out the other end, and you then remove the inserter from the vagina, leaving the tampon in place. Its very simple.
5. Now, assuming you are right-handed, hold the tampon like a syringe, first and second fingers on either side nearer the tip of the tampon, and your thumb on the other side.
6. Feel down towards your vagina with your left hand. Gently part your labia with your thumb and forefinger to stretch the opening a little.
7. With your right hand, insert the tampon into the vaginal opening about 2 cm or so, so it’s wedged inside but still as some way to go.
8. You can drop holding the labia with your left hand and transfer your fingers to hold the tampon in place, instead, and relax your right hand.
9. Now, with your right hand, you guide the tampon further inside you gently but firmly. Aim for pushing downwards, backwards and in a straight line. Don’t be frightened. Everything is sealed up in there so you can’t push the tampon into your abdomen or do any serious damage. You want the tampon to lie near your cervix, either directly in front of it, or next to it. Remember, you can’t push it too far in. However, if you don’t push it far enough, when you have finished, it may well stick out of the vagina and be uncomfortable. So, it is important you get this right.
10. Once the tampon is in place, you will only have a few inches of the inserter device left outside you. Now, this is the moment of truth. Keep holding the inserter with your left hand and hold it still. Push gently but with enough force, slowly and steadily, on the applicator end. You can use your thumb or forefinger. Push downwards, backwards and in a straight line just as you did just now. Imagine the tampon being ejected out of the applicator and coming to rest beside your cervix. This will not hurt but you may feel a slight swelling inside the vagina as it settles into place.
11. Gently pull the applicator device out—just let go with the left hand and remove it with your right hand. You should just find there is a little string now protruding from your vaginal opening.
12. Dispose of the applicator in a dustbin, not down the toilet, and wash your hands. And you're done.
Should I use a tampon?
In short: it's up to you, as each body is different and responds differently. Many may prefer to use period pants, period cups or more eco period products that'll help you have a more sustainable period, but statistically speaking, 3.6 million women in the UK use tampons every month.
"Tampons are an effective and safe form of sanitary product and are one of the most popular forms in the UK," shares Jana Abelovska, pharmacist and medical advisor at Click Pharmacy. "They're one of the most popular forms of sanitary products because they're largely designed to be easy to use, simple, plus allow women to feel clean and comfortable."
Do take note here: when it comes to sanitary products, it's your choice to decide for yourself what will work for you. Tampons are one option, as are pads, as are more eco-friendly options, like period cups.
Will using a tampon interfere with my virginity?
Again, according to medical professional Abelovska, no, but many different cultures have different opinions on this.
"Many do not want young females to become sexualised or for their virginal state to be tampered with, but medically speaking, tampons do not break the hymen or interfere in any way with a girl’s virginity", expands Abelovska. "In some cases, they may cause the hymen to stretch or tear."
Why do women sometimes find it hard to insert tampons?
There are a number of factors at play here. For many, it's simply not something they were taught at school. Many don't know how to use a tampon. For women from broken homes or disadvantaged backgrounds, being guided by their parental figures likely took a backseat. Even for those whose parents taught them about period products, misinformation can be rife. Similarly, in some cultures, socially it's not the 'done thing' to wear tampons, and so young girls are never taught.
Historian Natasha Richardson shares: "It's very likely that people still aren't being taught how to use them because of the ongoing hangups about touching our own vulvas and outdated beliefs that using a tampon would take away your virginity. There are a lot of minority cultures who really prize virginity where these myths can prevail."
It may seem shocking, but only thirty years ago, this was still a major public concern, Natasha shares. "The fear that women may discover their own anatomy and masturbate was a strong fear in the early 20th century, as was the sanctity of marriage for sexual relationships. The idea that a menstrual product may take your virginity was worrying. Even into the 80s, this fear was on women’s minds as shown in the Tampax advert where they try to allay those fears", she explains.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.