Swim season, sleepovers, and summer sports camps — many tweens and teens are asking about tampons. It’s time for a refresher.
1. It’s OK for her to use a tampon. Using tampons is normal and safe, even from the very first period. In other words, there is no medical reason that a young girl cannot wear a tampon. Using tampons do not imply “sexual maturity” or advanced sexual interest. Tampons are just another form of hygiene product — simple as that. With some technical instruction, her experience should be straightforward and positive. Your support in the process will only make it easier.
2. Buy the right stuff. Tampons come in lots of shapes and sizes. Girls are more successful with a slim, “slender,” or “junior sized” tampon. Choose a tampon for light flow. Finally, a tampon with a plastic applicator will allow increased comfort and easier insertion. With all the different options, you may want to grab a couple of different brands or styles for her to try out.
3. I Googled “female anatomy,” so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. You can’t be successful at putting in a tampon, until you know where it goes. Most girls have not thought about their female anatomy since watching “the video” in 5th grade, but understanding anatomy is clearly crucial to tampon success. All tampon brands include an instruction sheet in the box with the basics, but here is an additional anatomy diagram of the vulva to help explain where a tampon should go. Feel free to pass it along, and then …
4. Offer other helpful tools. The only way to learn anatomy is to look at it. I recommend offering a small hand mirror. Using a diagram as a guide, she can visualize her own body in private. For additional help, there are also some videos she may want to use to learn about the tampon, and demonstrations on how to insert it. Here is a nice video for the basics. Alternatively, here is a more comprehensive video from Boston Children’s Hospital using a realistic model (NSFW).
5. A few practical tips to pass along. Wash your hands. This is not a race, take your time. Practice when your flow is medium to light, not in between periods — when more natural lubrication is present. When inserting, aim towards your low back, not towards your head. If the tampon is correctly in place, it should not hurt. Finally, some water-based lubrication applied to the applicator may make the first few tries a bit easier.
6. Using tampons is just part of the story. Just because a woman uses tampons, does not mean she has to (or should) use them all the time. Tampons can be used for day or night wear (8 hours max.) Some women prefer to also have a pantyliner in place when wearing tampons in case of leaks, offering extra security for the first few experiences. Most girls continue to use pads when outfits better allow, and when sleeping at night. Alternating tampons with pads is the best way to prevent a rare complication of tampon use, toxic shock syndrome. More information about TSS is available from KidsHealth.
7. Dads — you need to know about tampons, too. What if mom is out of town, or you have the girls for the weekend? Generally, most girls seek help from another woman on this one, however, a quick review of the basics will serve you well. Be sure that you know where the supplies are located to avoid urgently awkward trips to the pharmacy. Be respectful and available, but don’t demand a lot of dialog – many girls are thankful for calm support and some privacy.
Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.