Wellness·7 min read

Surprise: You Might Be Putting Your Tampon In Wrong.

A person holding a grapefruit and pointing a tampon at it
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Pexels
Nov 2, 2022

Sometimes it takes years of doing something the wrong way to finally figure out the right way. Like how to place a bobby pin or cure a hangover. Or even how to insert a tampon correctly. It might sound simple. But if you’ve had days where you can feel your tampon while wearing it, or it hurts, it might be because you’ve been putting it in wrong. Even if you’ve been wearing tampons for years or decades. So we connected with Dr. Allegra Cummings, an OB-GYN at Weill Cornell Medicine, to break down exactly how to use tampons correctly.

Expert Interviewed

How to insert a tampon (correctly)

Before we tackle any big Q’s, let’s break down the basics of how to put in a tampon:

  1. Wash your hands before you place or remove a tampon. Even if you haven’t been doing this your whole life, start now. Because you don’t want to introduce new bacteria to the vaginal ecosystem. 

  2. Spread your legs wide. You can do this while sitting on the toilet, or standing with one foot propped up on the toilet or bathtub — depending on what’s easiest for you.

  3. Grip the tampon applicator between your thumb and middle finger. Place your index finger on the back of the tampon plunger. 

  4. Push the tip of the tampon applicator into your vagina, pushing the tampon parallel to your vaginal canal rather than straight up. 

  5. Push the tampon plunger with your index finger, holding the applicator in place with your middle finger and thumb. 

  6. Once you release the cotton tampon, pull the applicator out. 

  7. To remove the tampon, gently pull the string until it comes out. BTW: Tampons shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet, so wrap it in some toilet paper and throw it away. 

Illustration: Michele Rosenthal

Got all that. But why does it hurt to put a tampon in?

If you experience pain when you try to insert a tampon, it could be because of…

  • Vaginal dryness. Whether that’s because you have a light flow, you’re on certain meds, you’re breastfeeding, you’re experiencing menopause, or because your estrogen levels are low. Applying a little bit of lubricant to the tip of the tampon applicator may help. 

  • Vaginismus. Which is a condition that makes insertion painful, difficult, or not possible at all. 

  • Vulvodynia. It causes chronic pain around the opening of the vagina that lasts at least three months. 

  • Vaginal cysts. Which are sometimes painful bumps in the vagina filled with air or fluid.

Make an appointment with your OB-GYN if you think you might be dealing with these conditions. And if tampons just don’t work for you, remember that there are plenty of other options. Like menstrual discs, menstrual cups, pads, or period underwear.

If your tampon hurts after you’ve put it in, it could mean that it hasn’t been placed correctly. A few ways that can happen:

  • You may have put it in at the wrong angle. “You should be pointing a little bit more, not towards your butt completely, but back a little bit,” said Dr. Cummings. 

  • It may not be pushed in far enough. “One of the most common issues [patients] have is that they're not placing it far enough into the vagina, and so they get discomfort because it's sitting low,” said Dr. Cummings. 

  • You’re wearing the wrong size. And speaking of sizes…

How do I know which tampon size I should be wearing?

The heavier your flow is, the larger the tampon you may need to absorb the blood. Read: light, regular, super, super-plus, or ultra. Wearing one that’s too big could be uncomfortable. And using the lowest-absorbency (read: smallest size) tampon that your flow will allow can help reduce your risk of getting toxic shock syndrome

Not sure what size you need? It might take a little trial-and-error to get it right. If you notice your tampons get soaked through in a couple hours, or you see blood on the string when you change it after a short time, you might need a larger size. You may need to size down if the tampon is mostly dry after wearing it for a few hours. And don’t wear one for too long — all tampons should be changed within eight hours. 

Heads up: No two period days are the same. So you may need a combination of tampon sizes in stock for heavy, medium, and light flow days. 

Can a tampon get stuck? Asking for a friend. 

Rarely, but it’s still possible a tampon can be difficult to remove. Like if you can’t find the string or it’s been pushed up a little too far.  

But here’s the good news: Tampons can’t get “lost” inside you. Dr. Cummings explained it like this: Think of the vagina like a cul-de-sac that’s only three to four inches long, with no other streets to drive down. Meaning, your tampon can’t go anywhere else. “The only time your cervix is open is if you're having a baby,” said Dr. Cummings. “So the tampon's not going to wind up in your uterus or anything.”  

If you think there’s a tampon inside but you can’t feel the strings, the first step is to get ready to feel around for it. And it’s a good opportunity to get to know your body, she said. 

Start by washing your hands and putting some lubricant on your finger. “If it freaks you out too much to do with your bare hands, get a glove,” Dr. Cummings suggested. Then, insert your finger in the vagina and feel around for the tampon, because “it's in there somewhere,” she said. 

But if you still can’t find it, see your doctor ASAP so they can help you get it out. 

Do tampons make cramps worse?

Nope. Period cramps happen in the uterus, and tampons sit in the vaginal canal, so they aren’t related. But sometimes tampons can exacerbate the pain of an underlying condition (like the ones we mentioned above). If you’re experiencing pain that can’t be solved by switching to a smaller tampon, or something feels off, check in with your doctor

theSkimm

Re-learning how to use a tampon might make you feel like you’re back in middle school health class. But the only thing more uncomfortable than having your teacher talk to you about tampons is wearing one the wrong way. And it might be worth going back to the basics of how to insert them correctly.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 


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