Teen Talk: The Truth About Tampons

tamponsIf you had told the 13-year-old version of me that someday, I’d be writing about tampons on a blog, my first reaction would be, “Eww, gross!” But here I am, writing about tampons. Life can take you in unexpected directions.

When I was growing up, tampons had a mixed reputation. There were those people who thought that tampons would somehow make you lose your virginity. Then there were fears about infections, or the chemicals that were used.

In a school or in a pool, tampons are safe and pretty cool.

Me, I was just worried they’d hurt, and I never wanted to use them. My refusal to use a tampon meant that I couldn’t go swimming in gym class — and everyone knew that I was on my period. There I was, sitting in the bleachers as everyone else was splashing around. I knew I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to wear a tampon — during lunchtime, a few of us quietly talked about our fears, but none of those other girls joined me on the sidelines. I think they were more concerned about their classmates knowing their business. During our six-week swimming unit, only a few girls sat out their periods in the bleachers.

Tampons weren’t the right choice for me at that time, but for other girls, they were convenient and comfortable. If you’re curious about tampons but have some concerns, it might be worth looking into them so you can make an informed decision. I’m glad we have so many options to deal with our periods — my mom would tell me about these crazy belts with buckles or pins that they’d have to put up with every month. But you have a ton of things to choose from when finding the products that work best for you.

Can you use tampons while swimming?

Yep! My reluctance to use a tampon was what barred me from swimming during gym class as a high school freshman. Pads will get soaked in a pool, and might not be very discreet when worn in a bathing suit. But the pool water won’t enter your vagina, making tampons ideal products for use while swimming.

Can a virgin wear a tampon?

If you’ve never had vaginal sex, you can still use a tampon. Look for “slender” types, as they might be easier to use. And don’t worry that using a tampon will somehow affect your virginity — only having sex can do that.

Can tampons cause infections?

It’s possible that tampons can lead to certain infections, but using them correctly can almost eliminate this small risk. First, you need to change your tampons every four hours or so — don’t leave them in for longer than eight hours. Leaving a tampon in for too long can give bacteria a place to grow, which can increase infection risk.

Second, It’s important to use tampons that aren’t too absorbent. On a heavy day, you might need a “super” tampon, but on light days, you might only need a “lite” tampon. When it’s time to remove a tampon, give it a glance before throwing it away. If there is still some white material showing, you should try a lower-absorbency tampon. (But if it’s soaked before four hours, you should try a higher-absorbency tampon.)

Washing your hands first, and making sure the tampon doesn’t get dirty between taking it out of the packaging and inserting it, will help ensure that no bad bacteria are introduced into your vagina. Finally, it’s best to avoid scented tampons or vaginal deodorants, which aren’t necessary and can irritate vaginal tissues.

Do tampons have dangerous chemicals?

Some people are worried that tampons are manufactured with harmful chemicals, such as asbestos and dioxin. The asbestos rumors arise from a conspiracy theory that manufacturers put it in tampons to make users bleed more, thus needing to buy more tampons. Yikes! Fortunately, there is no evidence to support that scary rumor.

There are also fears of chemicals called dioxins. Fortunately, the bleaching process that produced small amounts of dioxins is no longer used in manufacturing tampons. However, since dioxin is an environmental pollutant, the cotton or rayon fibers that make up your favorite tampons could have tiny amounts. Luckily, the dioxin levels aren’t thought to be high enough to cause harm, and you’re more likely to come into contact with dioxins through other exposures.

Do tampons hurt?

All tampon fans have put one in for the first time. For some, it can be an awkward experience that might take extra practice, while for others, it’s a piece of cake. Everyone is different, so you won’t know until you try.

You might be nervous, but relaxing your muscles can help. Waiting until your flow is moderate to heavy might enable the tampon to slide in more easily. If you have trouble putting one in, you can try a smaller size. Only a tiny percentage of girls actually have an opening that’s too small to fit a tampon, and you might be in this group — but for most girls, when a tampon is inserted correctly, they can’t even tell it’s there.

Some tampons come with plastic or cardboard applicators, which can make them easier to insert. While many users find that applicators make the process more comfortable, I’ve heard some girls complain that cardboard applicators can be “scratchy.”

The plus side is that reading the instructions and inserting the tampon can help you get acquainted with your body. You can even set yourself up in the bathroom with a mirror if that makes things easier! Getting to know our bodies isn’t something that we girls are always encouraged to do, but it’s important to know what our vaginas are like when they’re healthy — that way, when something goes wrong, we’re more likely to notice.

You can find more information on your period and menstrual products at GirlsHealth.gov, WomensHealth.gov, the Center for Young Women’s Health, and Planned Parenthood Info for Teens.

Check out other installments of our Teen Talk series here!