What would you do if your menstruation started the day before going swimming? I faced this dilemma the day before a trip with a group of my college friends. I considered giving up swimming, but it felt unfair. So, for the first time in my life, I bought a pack of tampons.
Note: You may learn something new
When the day came, I woke up with all kinds of worries. I had no experience regarding any ‘internal’ menstrual products. Can I angle it correctly? What if it gets stuck in my vagina? On the web, I’d read about someone who got a tampon stuck for several days and had to visit a gynecologist to remove it. That would be terrible.
But there was no problem. My first tampon was in a cylindrical plastic tube slightly thicker than my finger. When I put its round tip against my vaginal opening and pushed it gently, it went in smoothly. Then I pushed the small, handle-like thing, called a plunger, with my thumb and the plastic tube came out, leaving the tampon in the vagina. There was no discomfort. Actually, I didn’t feel any difference. The only clue that I had a tampon in my vagina was the string, a couple of inches long and hanging down from the vaginal opening.
I had a great time at the pool. Right before swimming, I changed my tampon, wore non-absorbent leakproof (period) underwear, and put an overnight-sized pad in it in case a single tampon was not enough. I was in the water with my friends for an hour, having a water gun fight and sinking each other, but there was no leak. I didn’t even see any evidence of blood on the pad. So I made the switch to tampons.
Pros: What? Am I menstruating?
Tampons provide a good balance between comfort and convenience. They also allow you to stay active during menstruation and are easy to buy. Insertion may be a barrier to entry, but once you get over that and get used to them you will feel the benefits.
❤️ Easy purchase Tampons are usually available at your local store. In some parts of Asia, there are not as many tampon brands as pads at offline stores, but you can still find a couple of representative brands everywhere.
❤️ Comfort; Staying active
Since tampons directly absorb blood in the vagina, using them eliminates the unpleasant feeling of wet, messy pads or passing blood clots. They are also a great option when you engage in physical activities as they never leak unless they are full. In addition, you can go swimming!
❤️ Convenient use
Tampons are usually disposable, so you don’t need to wash or store them after use. Thanks to the string at the base of a tampon, there is hardly any blood on the hands.
❤️ Stable cost
If you use tampons, it is easy to predict the total cost. They continuously cost some money as they are disposable. However, they don’t require any initial investment. Tampon cost slightly more than pads.
Cons: Being internal, both a plus and minus
As tampons absorb menstrual blood internally, they are convenient but also have limitations. They can be difficult to get used to, and you need to change them quite often.
💔 Insertion serves as a barrier
As tampons need to be inserted into the vagina, many people are hesitant to try them. There are myths about “losing virginity” or a tampon getting lost in the uterus. Even aside from these myths, it can be difficult and confusing to try using a tampon for the first time. When inserting a tampon for the first time, you may get nervous and tense your muscles. The tension can make it difficult to push the tampon into the vagina, and it may take a long time to insert it successfully. So I recommend trying it out in a comfortable place, such as your bathroom at home, with plenty of time. Some people give up using tampons after experiencing discomfort around the vaginal opening due to a too shallow insertion. In rarer cases, people need to visit a gynecologist after failing to remove a tampon themselves.
💔 You have to change your tampon quite often
Tampons are not very high in absorbency. I had to change my ‘super’ tampon every hour on heavy days. (At that time, there were only two sizes of tampons on the Korean market: Regular and Super.) When a tampon is over-soaked, blood may leak through its string. Even if your tampon isn’t full, you should change it in 4 - 8 hours, making it difficult to use a tampon overnight. There is an important reason behind this recommendation, discussed further below. On the other hand, when your tampon is dry, it may be hard to remove. As you should change it regularly, experts recommend using a smaller tampon when you have a lighter flow.
Toxic shock syndrome
To sum up the pros and cons of tampons discussed above, they are convenient but require changing frequently. Then what about developing a super-absorbent tampon that you can use for a very long time? You will only have to change your tampon once in a while! This is what happened in the US in the 1970s. Shaped like a tea bag rather than the traditional stick shape and made of highly absorbent materials, a Rely tampon would never leak until it absorbed nearly 20 times its weight. The brand’s advertisement said, “It even absorbs the worry.”
Shortly after the release of Rely, the number of patients with ‘toxic shock syndrome (TSS),’ characterized by acute shock and, in severe cases, death, dramatically increased. The vast majority of these patients were menstruating and using tampons.
Naturally, an influx of research around this phenomenon took place. Was it a matter of ingredients? Did it happen because Rely used absorbers made of chemical fibers? However, studies suggested that tampons with higher absorbency increased the risk of TSS, regardless of their chemical composition. It was later revealed that strep bacteria caused the problem. Tampons staying in the vagina for a day or even several days made an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
But you don’t have to worry about it too much. You can prevent TSS by changing your tampon regularly. TSS is not only caused by tampons. Wound infections or even nosebleeds can also cause it. Nor does it necessarily occur just because you use tampons. In the US, the incidence of TSS has significantly decreased since the FDA banned the use of highly absorbent synthetic ingredients in tampons. The annual prevalence of TSS in women aged 19 - 44 since 1986 is about 1 in 100,000. So if you think your tampon is too small, there is a reason. Changing your tampon every 4 - 6 hours can be annoying, but it is a must. Never exceed 8 hours.