A tampon is a small cylinder of absorbent material that a person inserts into the vagina to absorb menstrual blood. People who have just started menstruating and those who have not used tampons before may need guidance on how to use them safely.

Most people with a vagina start menstruating during puberty. A period usually lasts 3–5 days, but it can be as short as 1 day or as long as 8 days.

Tampons are a popular option for managing menstrual flow because they are small, discreet, and easy to use, and they allow people to exercise comfortably.

This article explains how to put in and remove a tampon and provides tips on how to choose the right size and style of tampon.

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A tampon is a menstrual product that usually consists of a cylinder of absorbent material with an attached string. A person inserts it into the vagina to soak up blood flow during a period.

Tampons usually consist of soft, absorbent material — typically cotton — with a thin layer of rayon or another fabric surrounding it. The material is wrapped for hygiene and compressed so that it is small enough to fit through the vaginal opening. It will expand once inside.

The attached string remains outside the body. When a person wants to remove the tampon, they can gently pull on the string.

A person can choose tampons in different sizes depending on heavy their menstrual flow is at that time.

The most common absorbencies are light, regular, and super. If a person is young or new to using tampons, they may find light tampons easier and more comfortable to use.

Some tampons also have plastic or cardboard applicators. These tubes wrap around the tampon and make it easier to insert. However, people who prefer to limit their use of plastic and other materials for environmental reasons may wish to select non-applicator products instead.

People may prefer tampons over other menstrual products, such as pads, because they are small, discreet, and do not move around. This makes them good options for activities such as team sports and swimming.

Before inserting a tampon, a person should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. It may also be a good idea to trim the nails and avoid wearing rings.

The technique will vary slightly depending on whether a person is using a tampon with an applicator or one without.

A person can insert an applicator tampon by following these steps:

  1. Choose the appropriate size of tampon.
  2. Unwrap the tampon.
  3. Find a suitable position, such as squatting, sitting on the toilet, or standing with one leg up on the toilet seat or a chair.
  4. Pinch the tampon in the middle with the thumb and second finger of the dominant hand. The string of the tampon should be facing down.
  5. Use the other hand to part the folds of skin, called the labia, at the opening of the vagina.
  6. Gently insert the tampon and applicator into the vagina, pointing it toward the lower back.
  7. Push the applicator with the index finger until the tampon is fully inserted. The entire length of the white cardboard tube or colored plastic should be inside the vagina.
  8. Remove the applicator by holding onto its base and gently pulling it out.
  9. Use a finger to check that the string is pointing downward and is outside of the vagina.
  10. Make sure that the tampon does not feel painful or uncomfortable. If it does, remove it and try again with a new tampon.

Some tampons do not have applicators and require insertion with a finger.

A person can follow these steps to insert a non-applicator tampon:

  1. Choose the appropriate size of tampon.
  2. Unwrap the tampon and remove any protective paper.
  3. Hold the tampon in the middle with the thumb and second finger of the dominant hand. The string of the tampon should be facing down.
  4. Using the other hand, part the labia at the opening of the vagina.
  5. Gently insert the tampon into the vagina using the index finger, pointing it toward the lower back. Remember to keep the string facing downward.
  6. Keep pushing the tampon gently until the base of the index finger reaches the vaginal opening.
  7. Check that the string is outside of the vagina.

Tampons come in different absorbencies depending on how heavy the menstrual flow is, and people can usually find the right size through trial and error. People can generally choose from junior, light, regular, super, super plus, and ultra-absorbent options.

As a general guide:

  • For people new to menstruating, start with a junior tampon.
  • For a light flow, use a light or regular tampon.
  • For a medium flow, use a regular or super plus tampon.
  • For a heavy flow, use a super plus or ultra-absorbent tampon.

The heaviest days of menstrual flow are usually the first 2 days. As the flow gets lighter, a person can switch to a lighter absorbency tampon.

Using a tampon with or without an applicator is usually a matter of personal preference. Some people find applicators more comfortable and easier to use, while others prefer non-applicator tampons.

It is important to remove a tampon after 4–8 hours and never leave one in for more than 8 hours. Leaving a tampon in for too long increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but potentially severe infection.

If a tampon becomes saturated before this time, a person should replace it with a new one. They can check this by gently tugging on the string. If the tampon moves or starts to slide out, it is likely full.

If the tampon starts to leak or the string begins to turn red or brown, it is also time to change the tampon.

An individual can remove a tampon by gently pulling on the string until the entire tampon is out of the vagina. It is best not to yank or pull at an angle, as this could cause discomfort.

If a person has difficulty removing a tampon, they can insert a finger into the vagina and feel around for where the string attaches to the base of the tampon. They should seek medical attention if they cannot find the tampon or are unable to remove it.

However, it is important to note that it is not possible for a tampon to become lost in the body. It is too large to pass through the opening of the cervix, so it will remain in the vagina.

Below are the answers to some commonly asked questions about tampons.

What if it hurts to put one in?

If insertion is painful, it may help to apply a water-based lubricant to the tampon or vaginal opening. People can also try using a smaller tampon or one with a plastic applicator.

If a person continues to experience pain, they may have a condition called vaginismus, which makes insertion difficult or impossible. In this case, it is a good idea to contact a doctor.

What type should I use?

As a general rule, use the lightest absorbency tampon necessary for the flow. For example, if a person has a heavy flow, they may need to use super plus tampons for the first 1–2 days but switch to regular tampons later in their period.

Finding the correct tampon absorbency requires trial and error, and people may also notice that their periods change over time. For instance, a person may have very heavy periods at first but find that they get lighter and more regular over time.

What if it will not go in?

If it is not possible to insert a tampon, it may be too big. However, being anxious and tense can also make it difficult to insert a tampon. It is also possible that the person is not pushing the tampon in at the correct angle.

It may help to relax, use a smaller tampon, or add water-based lubricant. If none of these options work, it is best to speak with a doctor.

Tampons are a safe and convenient way to absorb menstrual flow. They come in different sizes and types, so it is important to choose the right one for the level of flow.

The insertion should be gentle and slow, and a correctly inserted tampon should not cause pain or discomfort. It is simple to remove the tampon by gently pulling on the string until the entire tampon is out of the vagina. People should change tampons every 4–8 hours, and they should never leave one in for more than 8 hours.