Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
We should not be afraid to say the word tampon in public. When talking about periods, women are often taught from a young age to be as discreet as possible. This does not ring true for other bodily functions such as coughing or sneezing – in fact, these reactions are usually met with customary responses like “bless you.” However, it only takes one mention of “periods” or “menstruation” to get some individuals shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
But, why should women be ashamed of their periods in the first place? They are a natural, albeit sometimes unpleasant bodily function that those with a uterus cannot avoid, so we might as well embrace them!
Tampon Shaming Statistics
A poll by Thinx revealed that, out of 1,500 surveyed women, 73% of them hide their sanitary products when going to the bathroom. Another study carried out by Water Aid found that 62% of 2,000 surveyed women would rather attend a formal occasion with a large coffee stain on themselves than carry a sanitary product.
But there is another problem…
After one becomes accustomed to being scrutinized for changes one’s body undergoes at “that time of the month,” one enters the world of Tampon Shaming.
Tampon shaming is the judgement over tampon usage and choices. This goes beyond stares from individuals who do not have periods – it may go as far as receiving negative, unsolicited input from other women regarding sanitary product preferences.
For instance, think about the last time you were in a public place and had to excuse yourself to change your tampon. How did that make you feel? Probably a little embarrassed and ashamed – although these feelings have become normalized here, they shouldn’t be!
What’s more, Water Aid’s survey also reported that 65% of women hide tampons up their sleeves or carry their whole bag when going to the bathroom. Only 16% of the women surveyed revealed that they would be confident asking the occupant of the next-door stall for a spare tampon.
“Tampons can get lost inside you”
“Tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome”
“Tampons stretch your vagina”
“You should change a tampon every time you pee”
“Tampons no longer make you a virgin”
It can be difficult to separate facts from fiction when dealing with tampons. About 43 million women use tampons in the United States; if used on a monthly basis, that comes out to an average of 11,000 menstrual products used in their lifetime. In the quest to stop tampon shaming, which partly developed from various myths that plague tampon usage, we will tackle and debunk a few misconceptions.
Tampons Alter the Size and Shape of your Vagina – Contrary to popular belief, the size of a tampon does not alter the shape of your vagina. Tampon sizes depend mainly on the heaviness of your flow, which is different for every woman. Therefore, using larger tampons will NOT alter the shape or size of your vagina.
Tampons Contain Dioxins and Asbestos – These are highly toxic pollutants that can lead to cancer, reproductive problems, and damage to the immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the “fibers used in FDA-cleared tampons sold today are made with a bleaching process that is free from elemental chlorine, which also prevents products from having dangerous levels of dioxin.” Additionally, the FDA has found NO evidence of asbestos present in any tampon sold in the U.S and has reported that asbestos is not an ingredient in tampons.
Tampons Affect Virginity – Using tampons does not impact virginity status. The cultural concept of ‘losing your virginity’ is based on breaking your ‘hymen’ through penetrative vaginal sex. Tampons are big enough to absorb blood, but small enough to fit perfectly within the vagina without affecting the hymen. The hymen is not like a mesh; it is a ring. If it is a mesh, visit your doctor to have it corrected.
Tampons Get Lost in your Body – Some people believe that tampons can travel up your vagina into the cervix or uterus and that tampon strings can disappear into the abdomen. Thankfully, this fear can be debunked! At the end of the vagina is the cervix, which has a small opening to allow blood and semen to pass through; a tampon cannot go through your cervix as it will not fit.
Furthermore, the vagina does NOT connect to the abdominal cavity, which means that a tampon cannot get into the abdomen. In the event that a tampon is forgotten and pushed in deeper with another tampon, it will simply remain in the vagina rather than travelling to the uterus or abdomen.
If you lose a tampon string, do not panic. Instead try this quick hack: squat down, try pushing a little – like you are about to poop – reach inside your vagina (with clean fingers), grab the string, and gently pull it out. If the thought of this is too daunting, you can purchase tampons without strings! That being said, be mindful that this type of tampon may be messier to remove. In short, the tampon string is a convenience, but not a necessity.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) – TSS is one of the greatest fears associated with tampon use. This condition is caused by strains of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which can get into the blood and release toxins. TSS is very rare and only 1 in 100,000 menstruating people develop it in the U.S.
However, it should still be taken seriously. A best practice in TSS prevention is proper tampon usage – changing a tampon every four to eight hours depending on the heaviness of your flow – in order to stop bacteria from accumulating. Do not keep a tampon in for more than eight hours at a time and use the lowest absorbency option possible.
What are tampons made of? – Tampons are made out of cotton or rayon while applicators are made of plastic or cardboard; the FDA reviews all tampons to ensure that they are safe and effective before they are sold. Although some controversy exists concerning tampons made from bleached cotton, the bleaching process is free from elemental chloride and does not contain dangerous levels of dioxin.
How to use a tampon – Tampons should be inserted into the vagina in order to absorb blood during one’s menstrual cycle. For more specific instructions on how to comfortably use a tampon, check the back of the package.
Other uses for tampons that are not related to blood – There are several additional scenarios in which tampons can come in handy. For instance, they are excellent substitutes for tissues, Q-tips, and even packing peanuts.
How often should a tampon be changed? – A tampon should be changed every four to eight hours unless blood starts to soak through. If that happens, change it sooner. Going to sleep with a tampon in is okay, but after eight hours, you should take it out.
Why are tampons such a great feminine hygiene option? – Unlike pads, tampons stop the blood where it originates. This prevents blood from oozing out of the vagina and onto panties, bed sheets, etc. While the thought of having something in your vagina may sound scary, many women do not notice they have a tampon in when it is inserted properly. On the contrary, a pad is typically more noticeable, as it tends to feel soggy and can even result in chafing on the inner thighs as period blood is released.
How to choose the right tampon size? – Start with the smallest size and increase from there if leakage is occurring too fast or too often. Tampons come in a range of sizes in order to provide protection during both heavy and light periods; also, different days may require a different size. This is both normal and common!
When shopping for tampons, what are some details to look for and avoid? – While each individual should have the autonomy to select tampons based on their specific needs, newbies may want to try brands that offer plastic or pearl applicators, as these are typically easier to insert.
Money + Menstruation
Bleeding every month for a third of your life is annoying enough but how much does having a period cost you over a lifetime? Dealing with periods involves buying and using several sanitary products like pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. Tampons are popular, as they provide convenience, comfort, and a greater sense of security (a.k.a. a lower chance of staining your favorite bottoms). Simply put, it’s not right for tampons and their users to be subject to shame and judgment.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and encourage conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health. This article was written for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.