Center for Young Women's Health

A Guide to Using Your First Tampon

You may feel nervous about using a tampon for the first time. It's normal to feel nervous, especially if you have any unanswered questions about tampons. Hopefully, this guide will answer your questions, address your worries, and make your first experience with tampons a positive one!


What are tampons and how do they work?

Tampons, like pads, are products used to absorb your menstrual flow. They are made of soft cotton pressed together to form a cylinder-like shape, so that they can be easily inserted into the opening of the vagina. A tampon absorbs your menstrual flow, or blood, before it has a chance to leave the body. Tampons come in all different sizes and absorbencies, and can be purchased at most convenience stores or supermarkets.


What size tampon should I use?

It’s a good idea to use the smallest size tampon when you are learning how to use tampons for the first time. It is also easier to insert it when your menstrual flow is moderate to heavy as this allows the tampon to glide in more easily.


I'm nervous; what should I do to make inserting the tampon easier?

By following the simple guidelines below, as well as the instructions that come with the tampons, your first experience with tampons should be easy. Remember, the more you relax, the easier the insertion will be. When you are nervous, your muscles tense up, which can make inserting the tampon more difficult.


Getting ready


Before you insert the tampon, let's review your anatomy so you know where to insert it.


Female Genital Area


It's a good idea to use a mirror to look at your vulva or outside area, which is all of your female genitalia (parts) that you can see. The urethra is where your urine (pee) comes out, the anus is where feces (poop) come out and right in the middle is your vaginal opening. This is where you will insert the tampon into your vagina.


Instructions for inserting a tampon with a built-in applicator:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water. With dry hands, unwrap the tampon. We understand that the first time you insert the tampon you’re going to be a little bit nervous. If you drop the tampon on the floor, throw it away and begin again with a new tampon.
  2. Sit or stand in a comfortable position. Some women prefer to place one leg on the toilet seat or tub, while others prefer to squat down. After you find a position that is most comfortable for you, hold the tampon with the fingers that you write with. Hold the middle of the tampon, at the spot where the smaller, inner tube inserts into the larger, outer tube. Make sure the string is visible and pointing away from your body.
  3. With your other hand, open the labia (the folds of skin around the vaginal opening) and position the tampon in the vaginal opening. (See picture 1 below).
  4. Gently push the tampon into the opening, aiming for the small of your back. Stop when your fingers touch your body and the applicator, or outer tube, is completely inside the vagina. (See picture 2 below).
  5. Once the applicator or outer tube is inside your vagina, use your index or “pointer” finger to push the inner tube (the tube where the removal string is visible) through the outer tube. This pushes the tampon into the vagina.
  6. Once the inner tube is all the way in, use your thumb and middle finger to remove the applicator or outer tube. (See picture 3 below). Make sure that the string hangs outside of your vaginal opening. Later, when you are ready to remove the tampon, hold the string and gently pull it downward until the entire tampon is out.

How to Insert a Tampon


If the tampon is inserted correctly, you should not feel it. If you feel uncomfortable in any way, you may have inserted the tampon incorrectly or the tampon may not be placed far enough into the vagina. If this happens, just remove the tampon and start again with a new tampon. Remember that practice makes perfect. If you don't get it on the first try, your second try will most likely be successful. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, relax and try again!


What if I still don't succeed?

If you are not able to insert a tampon after several tries, make an appointment with your health care provider. One reason for this is that you may have been born with a very small opening in your hymen, which prevents you from inserting tampons. This is true in only about 2% of teens, but it could be a problem.


A mirror is often helpful when you're trying to insert a tampon for the first time, so that you can see exactly where your vaginal opening is. You can also try using a small amount of vaginal lubricant (K-Y Jelly) on the end of the tampon to help it glide in.


What is TSS?

TSS stands for Toxic Shock Syndrome. It is a rare but potentially dangerous infection. TSS can affect anyone, male or female. However, it occurs most frequently in young women who wear tampons.


Tampons themselves do not cause TSS. TSS is caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. When a tampon is left inside your vagina for too long, it creates a perfect environment for different types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, to grow. You will probably never get TSS, but it's good to know what the symptoms are and how to avoid putting yourself at risk.


To avoid developing TSS, follow these guidelines when using tampons:

If you have the following symptoms while wearing a tampon, remove the tampon right away, and contact your health care provider immediately. These symptoms may seem similar to the flu. If they occur while you are menstruating and wearing a tampon, they may signal TSS. Otherwise, it might mean that you have another infection. Either way, you should see your health care provider.


Symptoms of TSS-Toxic Shock Syndrome include:

By following these simple guidelines, chances are you'll never have to worry about TSS. However, it is a good idea to recognize the symptoms, just in case.


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

Updated: 9/27/2012



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