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2nd March, 20215 min read

How to use a tampon

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Kathryn Reilly
Last reviewed: 02/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If you’re about to try using tampons for the first time, you’re not alone – globally, around 1.9 billion people have periods.

And, although it might take a bit of practice at first, using tampons can become a straightforward part of your monthly period. Read on to learn how to use them safely and effectively.

What are tampons and what types are there?

A tampon is a tightly formed tube of absorbent cotton wool, which you put into your vagina to absorb the blood from your period. At the bottom, it has a cotton string you pull when you need to remove it.

There are 2 types of tampon – those that have an applicator and those that don’t.

Tampon applicators can help you insert the tampon correctly. Made from plastic or cardboard, they are 2 hollow cylinders that slot inside each other. The top cylinder is called the barrel and contains the tampon, while the bottom part is the ‘plunger’, which you use to push the tampon inside you.

With non-applicator tampons, you use a finger to push them inside you.

How to insert a tampon

There are several different tampon sizes – you’ll probably find it easier to try a ‘mini’ one first.

The first thing to do is to wash your hands – you don’t want to get any germs in your vagina. Then just relax and take your time. Read the instructions, make sure you have the privacy you need, and remember that most people have to try a few times before they get the hang of it.

Some people find it comfortable to sit on the toilet, while others like to stand – there’s no right or wrong way.

If you’re not sure where the tampon goes, try using a mirror and feeling the outside and inside your vagina. Remember, you’re aiming towards your back, not straight up or across.

If you’re using an applicator, gently push the tip into your vagina until your fingers touch your skin, then use the plunger to release the tampon into your vagina. Throw the applicator away afterwards.

For a tampon without an applicator, your finger acts as the plunger – gently push it in as far as your finger can reach.

Tampons have a string at one end, which should hang out of your vagina. You gently pull the string to take the tampon out of your vagina when you need to.

What should it feel like when a tampon is in?

How a tampon feels is key to knowing if you’ve inserted it properly. Basically, you shouldn’t be able to feel it inside you.

If you can feel it or it hurts, it probably isn’t far enough in. You can try to push it in further using your finger, or remove it and try a fresh tampon.

How often should you change a tampon?

Tampons come with different levels of absorbency that cater for different period flows, from light to heavy. You should start with the lowest absorbency tampon and work your way up if you need to.

It’s also important to change your tampon regularly. The instructions on the pack will usually recommend you change it every 4 to 8 hours, and avoid leaving it in for more than 8 hours.

This is not only to avoid leaks, but also because of a very rare condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). It’s unclear what causes it, but it’s associated with tampon use, especially if they’re left in for a long time.

Beyond this, how often you need to change your tampon will depend on your flow, and it may take a while before you work out what’s right for you. If you find you’re bleeding through a tampon in a couple of hours, you might need a higher absorbency.

If you’re wondering, ‘Can I sleep with a tampon in?’, you’ll find the answer here.

How to remove a tampon

Once you’ve done it once or twice, removing a tampon is even easier than inserting it.

When you get used to your flow – which will vary throughout your period – you’ll start to know when your tampon is likely to be full. To remove it, simply wash your hands, then gently pull the string to release it from your vagina.

For answers to more of your tampon questions, including ‘Can a tampon get stuck inside me?’, read Can you sleep with a tampon in? Your tampon questions answered.

Key points

  • tampons are small cotton tubes that you push into your vagina to soak up your period
  • you might find them tricky to insert at first, but you’ll get the hang of it with practice
  • you should always use the lowest absorbency tampon for your flow
  • it’s important to change your tampon regularly; you should only wear a tampon for a maximum of 8 hours – and remember to remove the last one at the end of your period
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