How to Insert a Tampon and Commonly Asked Questions

The tampon is one of the most convenient menstrual products on the market. If you are just getting used to having a period, the thought of inserting a tampon into your vagina may be intimidating. But tampons are a very popular way to manage your menstrual flow. You just need to understand how they work and get comfortable with the idea of using them.

Tampons soak up menstrual blood internally before it leaves your vagina. The convenience of tampons has been recognized for centuries. In fact, it is thought that the ancient Egyptians were the first to use tampons to manage their menstrual flow. Historical records suggest that these original tampons were made out of softened papyrus plant.

Woman holding a tampon
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Parts of the Tampon

Tampons generally have multiple parts: an applicator with a plunger, the tampon itself, and a string for removal. Not all tampons come with applicators, but if you're new to tampons, an applicator can make it easier to insert them into your vagina.

The first few times you insert a tampon may be awkward, but when placed properly, tampons provide comfort and security about menstrual hygiene. Some women also use a pad, pantyliner, or absorbent period underwear along with a tampon for extra protection against leaks.

What They're Made Of

Tampons are typically made of pressed cotton, rayon, or a combination of the two. The absorbent fibers used in tampon production go through a chlorine-free bleaching process. They are meant to be single-use products, meaning they're thrown away after they become soaked with menstrual blood. Tampon applicators may be made of cardboard or plastic. Always make sure to remove the tampon applicator from your vagina after inserting your tampon.

Choosing the Right Size

Tampons come in a variety of absorbencies, from light to super (heavy). When selecting the size of tampon to use, always choose the lowest absorbency necessary for your menstrual flow. Tampons should be changed every four to eight hours, so if you're able to wear a tampon for up to eight hours or more, the absorbency is likely too high.

When you first start using tampons, it may be more comfortable to start with a light or regular tampon, which is more slender. Most women need different sizes for different days of their period, such as regular at the beginning and end of their period and super or super-plus on heavier flow days.

Never wear a single tampon for more than eight hours. For safety, change your tampon every four to eight hours at minimum, even if it isn't showing any leaks.

How to Insert a Tampon

Before you insert a tampon, wash your hands to prevent any harmful bacteria that may be present on your hands from entering your vagina.

  1. Unwrap the tampon and throw the wrapper in the trash. Make sure the tampon string is secure by gently tugging on it.
  2. Before inserting the tampon, check that it reaches the tip of the applicator by gently pushing the inner applicator tube so that the tampon almost begins to come out of the applicator. If you are not using a tampon with an applicator, see the instructions in the next section.
  3. Decide if you want to sit or stand during tampon insertion. If you choose to sit, the toilet is a good place. If you’d rather stand during tampon insertion, prop one foot on something so that leg is higher than the other leg (the side of your bathtub is a good place to prop your foot).
  4. Hold the tampon in the center, at the end of the outer part of the applicator. Place the tampon applicator tip into the opening of your vagina at an angle and push it towards your lower back. Continue pushing the tampon and applicator back until you can feel the end of the outer applicator tube just at the opening of the vaginal canal.
  5. Next, while holding the outer applicator tube, push the inner applicator tube into your vagina until the tampon inserts fully and the inner and outer applicator tube ends meet. For proper tampon insertion, make sure the two ends of the applicator meet just at the opening to your vagina.
  6. Gently pull the applicator out of the vagina, while making sure that you can feel the string hanging out from the bottom of the tampon.
  7. When you’re ready to remove or change a tampon, relax and gently pull on the string attached to the end of the tampon until the tampon is out. Used tampons should be disposed of in a trash receptacle, not flushed down the toilet.
  8. Wash your hands after inserting or removing a tampon.

How to Insert a Tampon Without an Applicator

Some people may prefer to use tampons without an applicator because they use less plastic and are smaller and easier to carry. Start by washing your hands and check to make sure the tampon is fully sealed.

  1. Remove and discard the wrapper according to package directions and unwrap the string.
  2. Place your index finger in the bottom of the tampon, and hold the sides with your thumb and middle finger.
  3. Stand with one leg up (rest your foot on the toilet or bathtub) or sit on the toilet, take a deep breath and relax.
  4. With your free hand, gently hold open the skin around the vaginal opening.
  5. Take the tampon, and with the full length of your index finger, ease it into your vagina, aiming toward your lower back.
  6. When the tampon is in the right place, you won’t feel it. If you do, push it a little further in. Leave the string hanging outside of your body.
  7. Wash your hands after inserting or removing a tampon.

What If It’s Difficult?

A tampon should not be difficult to insert, or cause any discomfort once it's properly inserted. Make sure to follow the instructions for tampon insertion that come in each package. But to increase your comfort, follow these tips:

  1. Relax. Try not to worry about inserting the tampon right the first time. If you are tense, it will likely make insertion harder.
  2. The best time to practice inserting a tampon is during the heavy part of your period. The tampon should glide inside your vagina easily without any discomfort.

If the tampon feels uncomfortable, it is probably not inserted far enough into your vagina. Try again with a new tampon. Do not practice when you don't have your period. Removing a dry tampon can be extremely uncomfortable.

If you feel as though you need lubrication, use a small amount of water-based lubricant. Do not use petroleum-based products in your vagina as they can create an environment where bacteria can breed.

A small number of people will continue to struggle with tampon insertion. If you are unable to use a tampon because insertion is painful or continues to be very difficult, you should discuss this with your doctor. It is possible that you have a minor structural anomaly of your vagina called a vaginal septum.

How Do I Know If I Inserted It Correctly?

When a tampon is inserted properly, you shouldn't feel it. If it is improperly placed, you may feel discomfort or even pain. Be sure to insert your tampon at the right angle, and be sure to push it in far enough.

What Do I Do With the String?

The string of the tampon is critical to proper removal. It should hang freely outside the body so that you can easily remove the tampon. Do not tuck it inside your vagina.

How to Remove a Tampon

When you are trying to remove a tampon, remember that you need to relax the muscles of your pelvic floor. Sitting on the toilet or standing and placing one foot on the edge of your bathtub are tricks that could make tampon removal easier.

All tampons come with a string on the end that you pull on to remove your used tampon. Some people worry that a tampon could get lost in the vagina, or that it could slip into the uterus.

Don’t worry, tampons cannot get lost in the vagina or slip through the cervix and into the uterus. The small cervical opening allows menstrual blood to pass through into the vagina but is not large enough to allow a tampon to enter the uterus. Also, your vagina ends at the cervix and doesn't open to the inside of your body.

If you can't find the string to easily pull your tampon out, don't panic! When you put a tampon in your vagina, it will stay there until you take it out.

When Do I Need to Remove It?

Tampons should be changed at regular intervals, but should never be left in for longer than eight hours (including while sleeping). Don't ever forget to remove the last tampon at the end of your period.

What If It's Been Over 8 Hours?

If you overslept, or forgot your tampon for more than eight hours, the first thing to do is to remove it right away. If you have trouble removing your tampon, contact your doctor. They'll be able to help you remove it.

In the event you've left a tampon in for more than eight hours and begin to experience signs of infection (such as fever, rash, headache, vomiting, or diarrhea), contact your doctor right away.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are tampons uncomfortable?

They shouldn't be, if they're inserted correctly. The key to comfortable, secure protection during your period is the proper insertion of the tampon. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time; it might take a few tries before you get a comfortable fit.

If inserting a tampon causes pain or leaving it in causes pain, speak to your doctor. Some women with dyspareunia (painful sex) may find it difficult to insert a tampon comfortably.

Can I pee with a tampon in?

Yes! A tampon goes into the vagina. Urine is released through a smaller hole near the top of the vagina known as the urethra, but not from the vagina itself. Both the vagina and urethra are covered by the labia majora, or the vaginal lips. A tampon does not block the flow of urine.

What happens if you leave a tampon in too long?

It's tempting to leave your tampon in place for as long as possible, but they should never be left in for more than eight hours. Because tampons "plug" the vagina and absorb menstrual flow, leaving one in for too long can create a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause infection. Leaving tampons in for too long also increases your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome, a rare complication of an infection.

Can a tampon get lost in your vagina?

No, a tampon will not get lost inside you, even if the string breaks. Tampons are held in the vagina. At the top of the vaginal canal is the cervix, which blocks the entrance to the uterus. While a tampon may get pushed up closer to the cervix, it will not go past it. In the very rare event that you may be unable to reach the tampon, see your doctor who can use a special tool to remove it.

Can I have sex with a tampon in?

It is best not to have vaginal intercourse with a tampon in place. Your partner's penis can press the tampon far up into the vagina and make it difficult to remove. Remove your tampon before having sex.

Can you go swimming with a tampon?

Yes. If you enjoy swimming, you can continue to enjoy the activity even during menstruation if you wear a tampon. However, it's important to change your tampon right after you swim even if it wasn't in for very long. Usually, your tampon will absorb some water and that will make it less effective in absorbing your menstrual flow and could even introduce bacteria into the vagina.

Are tampons dangerous to use?

If you decide to use tampons during your period, the most important thing you need to remember is to use the proper absorbency tampon. That means using a tampon with the lowest level of absorbency for your flow. All tampons manufactured in the U.S. use standard absorbency guidelines.

Most people can use tampons throughout their reproductive years without any problems. However, failure to change tampons often enough or using tampons with a higher than required absorbency label can put you at risk of developing toxic shock syndrome or TSS—a rare and dangerous disease.

How long can you leave a tampon in?

Tampons should be changed every four to eight hours. They should never be left in for more than eight hours.

What hole does a tampon go in?

Tampons are inserted into the vagina.

Who invented the tampon?

The concept of using wads of absorbent material in the vagina to absorb discharge or deliver medication dates back centuries. However, the first patent for a tampon with an applicator was granted to Chicago physician Earle Cleveland Haas in 1931.

How do you get a tampon out without a string?

In the rare case that your tampon does not have a string, or if the string moves inside your body and you can't find it, you may still be able to remove the tampon with your fingers. After washing your hands, move into the position you use to insert your tampon. Relax your muscles, reach carefully into your vagina, and see if you can pull the tampon out with your fingers. Try to avoid pushing it further into your vaginal canal.

Bearing down as though you were having a bowel movement can help shift the tampon closer to the vaginal opening if necessary. If you are unable to remove the tampon, contact your doctor immediately. Remember not to leave a tampon in for more than eight hours.

How much menstrual flow does a super tampon hold?

Super absorbency tampons are designed to absorb between 9 and 12 grams of menstrual fluid.

A Word From Verywell

There are plenty of myths and lots of misinformation out there about tampon use during your period. But the bottom line is that, when used appropriately, tampons are an effective and very convenient way to manage your menstrual flow.

While you have options, tampons have some significant advantages over pads. Without the bulk of a pad, tampons can make you feel more comfortable, especially when playing sports, swimming, or wearing form-fitting clothes.

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Article Sources
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  2. Williams CE, Nakhal RS, Hall-Craggs MA, et al. Transverse vaginal septae: Management and long-term outcomes. BJOG. 2014;121(13):1653-8. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12899

  3. Gossack-Keenan KL, Kam AJ. Toxic shock syndrome: Still a timely diagnosis. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2017. doi:10.1097/PEC.0000000000001310

  4. Haas, EC, inventor; Catamenial device. U.S. Patent No. 1,926,900A. September 12, 1933.

  5. Vostral S. Toxic shock syndrome, tampons and laboratory standard-settingCMAJ. 2017;189(20):E726-E728. doi:10.1503/cmaj.161479

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