Tampon use is commonplace today. Women just love them because they are easy and convenient to use. But, how many of us tampon users really understand how to use them safely and correctly?
There is a serious lack of information regarding the insertion and removal of tampons, and how to choose a tampon according to your flow. It’s also critical to know when to remove a tampon and how many hours is it safe to wear them. And this, more than anything else, makes these menstrual hygiene products extremely dangerous.
So, if you are a woman who wants to use a tampon correctly and safely, this article is for you.
The goodness of tampons
Convenience is the most alluring attribute of tampons. You have a small soft cotton bundle to insert inside your vaginal opening, and the bundle absorbs all your menstrual blood. And, you have a neat thread to pull it out at ease.
There are no stains if you change the cotton bundle in time. You also don't need to be confused if you're inserting it right if you are doing it for the first time as you can’t insert a tampon into the wrong opening- it only enters your vagina.
It also cannot go far above or fall out, when you sneeze or laugh out loud - your body and the tampons are designed that way.
Furthermore, you can buy a tampon according to your flow.
Once the tampon is settled/ locked in its position in the lower vaginal canal, it won't stick out or make you feel conscious about its presence.
It just quietly absorbs your menstrual flow. Neither does it hinder the process of peeing or pooping or physical movement. You can swim, do yoga… but no sex though.
The tampon is also eminently portable. It’s small in size and you can carry it anywhere.
You can barely feel anything. Nope, no nastiness at all.
It leaves no odour or rashes and is very, very travel and adventure-friendly.
That’s the goodness of the tampon.
Now the downsides…
The biggest downside to tampon use is incorrect usage.
Here are a few other things that you should absolutely be aware of for using a tampon safely:
1. Tampons should be inserted only when you are menstruating, and not when you have a discharge.
Why? Because the cotton becomes soft after absorbing blood and is easy to pull out. A dry tampon, on the other hand, remains hard and is difficult to remove from your vagina.
A discharge means that you have an infection and inserting a tampon will worsen the infection.
2. Though tampons come for heavy, medium, and low flow, you should try to always use the ones with the lowest absorbency, as you will be forced to change your tampon more often. This will help prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and other infections.
3. You must change your tampon at least every four to eight hours. And do remember that you are not supposed to wear your tampon for more than eight hours at a go as the wet tampon can harbour pathogens and cause infections including the lethal TSS. Change your tampon if you feel any wetness or if the cord is stained as this means your tampon is no longer absorbing blood and is saturated.
4. Changing a tampon too often, when it’s still dry is not recommended, as it can cause pain and discomfort. If the tampon won't move or it is painful to push even after eight hours, your vagina is too dry and you should switch to a tampon with a lower absorbency.
5. Check your tampon after insertion. If you have inserted it correctly, you should not be able to feel it. If your tampon feels uncomfortable, it means it’s too low. Just push your tampon further up into your vagina with a clean finger. This can also mean that your tampon is not of the right size. It may be too large for you - try a smaller size.
6. Lots of women face the problem of leakage when using a tampon even when they change their tampon very often. This simply means that you need to choose a higher absorbency or larger tampon as your flow is heavy.
7. You can sleep while wearing a tampon, but not if you plan to sleep longer than eight hours as this can cause TSS. It makes sense to set the alarm for early in the morning to change your soiled tampon if you wear one at night. If you don’t want to do this, wear a pad. Mixed use of menstrual hygiene products is better than using just one product all the time. You could also try menstrual cups as they are equally easy-to-wear.
8. You should never have penetrative sex with a tampon inside your vagina. This will push the tampon further up into your pelvis leading to a tricky situation.
9. Never put a new tampon in without taking the old one out first. It’s always a good idea to check if you have removed the old one before inserting a fresh one.
10. This may sound like a no-brainer, but do remember to wash your hands before inserting your tampon or removing it to reduce the risk of dangerous vaginal infections.
11. Avoid tampons if you’ve just given birth. The postpartum recovery period can last anywhere between three months to a year. There is swelling, pain, stitches and your undercarriage is extremely prone to infections and disease during this time. Thus, don’t even think of inserting a menstrual hygiene product like a tampon or a menstrual cup into your vagina now.
Similarly, if you’ve had a surgery down under or have an RTI or UTI, stay away from tampons too as they may breed more bacteria and fungi.
12. The correct way to remove a tampon is to just pull the string at the end of the tampon to slide it out. If you lose the string, don’t worry. Just check with a clean index finger inside your vagina and pull out the errant tampon out using two fingers.
Peeing always relaxes the muscles and makes it easier to pull out a tampon.
13. What we know about tampons right now can be written on the back of our hands. This lack of ingredient disclosure is a longstanding problem for all menstrual hygiene products including tampons and it has to be tackled now.
‘Women’s Voices for the Earth’ in the US has tested six varieties of tampons being used in America for the presence of VOCs (or volatile organic compounds) in 2018 and has found that all the varieties of tampons containing rayon fibers have carbon disulfide, a known reproductive toxin, exposure to which has been associated with menstrual disorders and reproductive problems.
A few brands of tampons tested have also been found to contain methylene chloride, a carcinogen commonly found in paint strippers. Tampons also contain hazardous ingredients like dioxins and furans due to the chlorine bleaching process, pesticide residues from the cotton, and unknown chemicals in the fragrance used for preventing menstrual odour. Exposure concerns due to these include cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, and allergic rash, amongst others.
As a woman of reproductive age, I find the presence of reproductive toxins and carcinogens in menstrual products like tampons to be an issue of huge concern. There is not much available research on ‘chemexposure’ due to these popular menstrual hygiene products in India so I suggest that all of us- those using tampons, or planning to switch, should demand more information about the ingredients in these ‘Chemfatales’ so we can make informed choices about our health.