Tampon FAQ and TSS

How to Use, Absorbency Levels, Info on TSS, and more…

Using a tampon for the first time can make you a little nervous. That’s ok. Try to relax. Inserting a tampon is much easier if you are relaxed. It usually takes a couple tries to learn how to comfortably insert a tampon, so don’t worry. Once you get the hang of it, inserting a tampon will be easy and shouldn’t cause you any discomfort.

STEP 1 – WASH YOUR HANDS: Your don’t want to introduce and harmful bacteria, dirt, oils, etc into your vagina. You should always wash your hands before and after inserting or removing a tampon.

STEP 2 – GET INTO A COMFORTABLE POSITION: Most girls and women find that sitting on the toilet with your knees apart, squatting slightly with your knees bent, or standing with one foot on the toilet seat are the most comfortable positions for inserting a tampon.

STEP 3 – OPEN THE TAMPON AND GET IT READY: Take the tampon out of the wrapper. If you are using a “click” or “compact” style of tampon, then pull the plunger down until you hear it click into place. Make sure that the tampon string is hanging out of the bottom of the applicator. If the tampon is damaged in any way, throw it out and use another.

STEP 4 – INSERT THE APPLICATOR: Hold the applicator by the finger grip using your thumb and middle finger (diagram 1), then insert the applicator tip into your vagina at a slight upward (45 degree) angle. The insertion should not be painful, but you may need to practice to learn to right angle to insert a tampon comfortably. Now gently slide the smooth applicator all the way into your vagina, until your fingers that are on the finger grip are touching your body (diagram 2).

STEP 5 – PUSH THE TAMPON INSIDE: Now that the applicator is in, push the plunger (the part of the applicator that the string hangs out of) upwards toward your body until the plunger is all the way up to the finger grip area (diagram 3). This will push the tampon out of the tip of the applicator and into your vagina. Keep your two fingers on the finger grip and gently pull the applicator out of your vagina (diagram 4). The tampon will remain inside and the string should be hanging outside your body. If the tampon is inserted correctly, you should not feel any discomfort. If there is discomfort, then the tampon may not be far enough inside. If this happens, just remove the tampon and try again with a new one. With a properly inserted tampon, you shouldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. Throw the applicator and wrapper away, do not flush applicators or wrappers down the toilet.

STEP 6 – REMOVAL: When it comes time to change and/or remove your tampon (every 4-8 hours)… relax your muscles to make removal easier. Gently pull down on the tampon’s string at the same angle you used to insert the tampon. The tampon should slide out easily. If you feel discomfort while removing the tampon, it most likely has not yet absorbed fully. You may want to go down one size/absorbency level (see more on absorbency levels in the next section). Throw the used tampon away in the trash. Make sure you don’t leave the same tampon in longer than 8 hours. Never put more than one tampon in your vagina.

Tampons come in several different absorbency levels (or sizes). The “size” of tampon you should use has nothing to do with your vagina, it is all about how much menstrual blood the tampon can absorb. These absorbency levels (sizes) are marked on the tampon boxes and also on each individual tampon wrapper. The absorbency levels are actually regulated by the FDA, so all major tampon brands have the same absorbency levels based on the tampon’s rating. You’ll see several options to choose from, including:

  • L: Light – Light tampons are designed to absorb up 6 grams of menstrual blood. Light tampons usually work best for the last days of your period, when your blood flow is typically at its lightest.
  • R: Regular Regular tampons are designed to hold between 6 – 9 grams of menstrual blood. Regular tampons are what many girls and women find is the best absorbency level for most days of their period.
  • S: Super Super tampons are designed to hold between 9 – 12 grams of menstrual blood. Super tampons can be useful on the first day or two of your period if your flow is heavy.
  • S+: Super Plus Super Plus tampons are designed to hold between 12 – 15 grams of menstrual blood. Super Plus tampons are usually used by women who experience extra heavy bleeding at the beginning of their periods.
  • U: Ultra Ultra tampons are designed to hold between 15 – 18 grams of menstrual blood. Most girls and women will never need to use an Ultra absorbency tampon.

With so many options, it may be confusing which absorbency level you should choose. The best rule to follow is to always use a tampon with the lowest absorbency rating possible during your period. A tampon should be changed every 4 – 8 hours to reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome. A good piece of advice when figuring out which absorbency level you need is: if the tampon leaks after just a few hours, then go up one size… If the tampon is uncomfortable to take out, then go down a size.

You DO NOT want to use larger absorbency tampons (Super Plus, Ultra) for the purpose of being able to leave them in longer! You should never keep the same tampon in your vagina longer than 8 hours. Keeping the same tampon in longer than 8 hours will increase your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which can potentially be fatal.

As you go, you will learn how your period usually progresses and you will be better able to predict which absorbency levels are going to be best for each day of your period.

Yes! For those that enjoy swimming, you can continue to enjoy this activity even while you are on your period by using a tampon. If you were using a pad, the pad would very quickly absorb water and be completely ineffective. However, since a tampon is inserted into your vagina, it will still be effective at absorbing menstrual blood while you are in the water.

After you are done swimming, you may want to change your tampon. The bottom of the tampon may absorb a little bit of water while swimming.

Symptoms and signs of TSS may include a sudden fever (usually 102°F or more), vomiting, diarrhea, fainting or feeling like you are going to faint when standing up, dizziness, or a rash that looks like a sunburn. If you have any of these symptoms during your period or soon after your period, stop using tampons and seek medical attention immediately. 

To reduce your risk of TSS, use the lowest absorbency tampon necessary, wear a tampon for no more than 8 hours and then throw it away, and use tampons only when you have your period.

There is no minimum age to start using tampons. You can start using tampons with your very first period if you prefer. Tampons are ok to use whether or not you are a virgin. The only things you need to do is make sure that you’ve chosen the proper size (absorbency) and learn how to insert and remove a tampon correctly. See the other sections on this page for more info on both of those topics!

Yes, you can sleep with a tampon in. Just remember that the longest you want to keep the same tampon in is 8 hours. For that reason, you should put a new tampon in just before bed and then change it once you wake up.