Pads and tampons
The two most common products to absorb the blood during your period are pads (also called sanitary pads, sanitary towels, sanitary napkins, or maxi pads) and tampons.
Both pads and tampons absorb blood during your period. You wear pads in your underwear, and they soak up the blood when it comes out of your vagina.
You put tampons inside your vagina, and they soak up the blood before it comes out. They both work well, so it’s up to you to decide what you find most convenient.
Pads come in different shapes and sizes which you can use depending on how heavy your menstrual flow is. Some pads come with ‘wings’ or side tabs that offer extra protection against leakages.
Examples of different pads:
Light flow (or back up for a tampon): Thin pad
Names: Pantyliner, thong liner, pad labelled thin, or slender
Normal flow: medium pad
Names: Regular, Regular with wings, long
Heavy flow: bigger pad
Names: heavy, super, or overnight
How to use a pad:
- Take the pad out of its packaging
- The side where the paper peels off the pad will be sticky
- Press the pad, sticky side down, into the crotch of your underwear
The pad will be under your vaginal opening when you pull up your underwear and will absorb the blood that comes out.
Change your pad every three to four hours, or more often if your menstrual flow is very heavy. This is important to prevent smells, stains on your clothing, or possible vaginal infections.
Avoid scented pads – they may irritate the vulva or the vaginal opening.
Wrap used pads in toilet paper or tissue and put them in the rubbish bin.
You insert tampons into your vagina, so they’re right out of the way. They’re particularly useful for swimming or doing sports.
To help you put them in, tampons may come with an applicator. This is a plastic or cardboard tube around the tampon with a thinner tube inside it to push the tampon up into place. Tampons also come without an applicator, and then you just push them up with your finger.
They come in different sizes (slender, regular, super, super plus) which you can use depending on how heavy your menstrual flow is.
Examples of tampons
Light flow: Slender, junior, mini, or light
Good for girls who’ve just started to use tampons or light menstrual flow.
Medium flow: Regular
Heavy flow: Super and super plus
Avoid scented tampons because they may create irritations that lead to yeast infections.
Tampons usually come with instructions in the box, which you should read carefully the first time you use them.
You have to replace tampons regularly – every four to six hours or more often if you have a heavier period. If you don’t change tampons regularly, there’s a chance you could get toxic shock syndrome.
If it’s your first time using a tampon, it’s a good idea to start with the smallest size. Also, it’s easier to insert a tampon when your menstrual flow is moderate to heavy.
Don’t worry if it takes more than a few times to get the hang of putting a tampon in. The more you practise, the easier it gets.
Most girls who wear tampons don’t feel them. If you do, it may mean that your tampon isn’t properly inserted, so you should take it out and try again.
Guidelines for inserting a tampon with an applicator
1. Wash and dry your hands (you don’t want to introduce unwanted germs to areas that are very sensitive)
2. Unwrap the tampon.
3. Most tampons have two tubes around them. A thinner inner tube and a thicker outer tube, which make up the applicator. The thinner tube is used to push the tampon into the vagina.
4. Hold the middle of the tampon – where the inner tube meets the outer tube. Make sure you can see the string dangling out of the inner tube.
5. Sit or stand in a comfortable position. Some girls prefer to place one leg up on a toilet seat or bathtub, while other girls prefer to squat.
6. With one hand, open your labia.
7. Using the other hand, direct the outside tube of the tampon into the vaginal opening. Aim for the small of your back.
8. Gently push the tampon into the vaginal opening until your fingers touch your body.
9. Still holding on to the middle of the applicator, use your index finger to push up the bottom half of the applicator – the inner tube with the string dangling out of it. You will feel the tampon pushed through the applicator.
10. Once the inner tube is in all the way, and the string is hanging out of your vaginal opening, pull the applicator out.
It’s harder to put in a tampon if you’re nervous or tense. Try to relax when you insert it – though this can be hard if you’re feeling nervous about it. You can also try using a bit of lubricant on the top of the tampon applicator or the tip of the tampon.
How to remove a tampon
1. Hold the string hanging out of your vagina
2. Gently pull it down
3. Wrap the tampon in toilet paper or a tissue and put it in the rubbish bin.
4. Put in a new tampon if necessary
Toxic shock syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a disease caused by bacteria. It can be fatal, but it’s very rare. One way you can get toxic shock syndrome is by leaving a tampon in too long.
You should change your tampon regularly every three to four hours. You should also use the least absorbent tampons you can – so don’t use a ‘super’ tampon if you’ve only got a light flow.
Possible symptoms of TSS:
- Sudden high fever
- Aching muscles
- Faintness and tiredness
- Passing less urine than normal
- A rash like a sunburn appearing within 24 hours
- Bloodshot eyes
If you’ve had a tampon in for a long time, perhaps because you forgot to change it, and you get any three of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Stop using tampons and switch to pads.
Can I pee with a tampon in?
Yes. There are different openings for urine and menstrual blood to leave the body. Urine comes out of the urethra and menstrual blood comes out of the vaginal opening.
Can I use a tampon if I’m a virgin?
Yes. Some women who have not had vaginal sex may have a thin skin that stretches across part of the vaginal opening, called a hymen (see the section on the Hymen). Sometimes this makes it hard to put up a tampon. To make it easier, you can try putting a finger or tampon in your vaginal opening and moving it from side to side to stretch the hymen a little.
Will I lose my virginity if I use a tampon?
No. Most people agree that you only lose your virginity when you have vaginal intercourse (penis inside the vagina). Some people think you also lose your virginity if you have anal intercourse (penis inside the anus) or oral sex (penis in the mouth). But to lose your virginity you have to have sex, not just use a tampon. See the section on the hymen and virginity.
Can I sleep with a tampon in?
Some health care professionals say it’s best not to use tampons at night because of the rare risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Can I have sex with a tampon in?
You can’t have intercourse with a tampon in. Wearing a tampon during vaginal sex can be painful and dangerous. The penis could push the tampon too far inside the vagina. It could go right up inside the cervix, and be difficult to remove. You can have any other kind of sex with a tampon in, as long as nothing goes inside your vagina.
What happens if I can’t find the string to pull out my tampon?
Sometimes your tampon and the string can accidentally get pushed further into your vaginal opening.
Try squatting down and put your index finger and your thumb into your vaginal opening. Move your fingers back and forth to feel for the string of the tampon. If you feel the string or the tampon, grab it and pull it out.
If you can’t feel the tampon, go to see a healthcare professional straight away. You should never leave a tampon inside you for more than eight hours because of the risk of toxic shock syndrome.