Considerations and Tips for Tween Tampon Use

 Two teenage girls looking at a tampon
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When tweens get their period, they may ask questions about menstrual products and whether or not they should use tampons. While many preteens opt for menstrual pads when they first get their periods, some may prefer to use tampons instead. 

Some tweens are afraid of using tampons and if your child is one of them, try not to push the subject. They’ll decide if and when they want to use them. If they ask about using tampons, they might be ready to give them a try.

Tampons vs. Other Period Products

Tampons are cylinder-shaped or oblong and are made of compacted, soft, cotton-like material. Tampons are used internally and once inserted, the vaginal walls hold the tampon in place. A string attached to the bottom of the tampon is used to remove the tampon when it's absorbed or for when it's time for a replacement.

Tampons are regulated as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA-approved tampons are made of cotton, rayon, or a combination. They are bleached using a process that prevents them from having dangerous levels of dioxin.

Pads

People often begin using menstrual pads when their periods first start. Menstrual pad usage is pretty straightforward. In the case of disposable pads, you simply remove the pad from the packaging, peel away the paper covering the adhesive, and place it in your underwear. For reusable cloth pads, in place of adhesive, there are usually wings with velcro or snaps to secure them in your underwear.

Since pads are approachable and easy to use, they are often a good place to start.  Adolescents who are active in sports, want to swim at summer camp, or feel self-conscious that pads may be visible through their clothing, however, may be interested in using tampons.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are bowl-shaped cups that you insert into the vagina. They are made from silicone, rubber, or plastic. They work like tampons in that they sit inside of the body. However, rather than absorbing blood, cups collect liquid, which, when removed, you need to dispose of. 

People who use cups commonly enjoy the fact that they are reusable, making them a cost-saving and environmentally-friendly option. Learning how to use them can have a bit of a learning curve, and they are generally messier to insert and remove than pads and tampons.

You must routinely sterilize menstrual cups in boiling water after each cycle.

Period Underwear

Period underwear (and swimwear) is just like regular underwear except that it contains extra, absorbent layers of fabric to absorb menstrual blood. Like pads and tampons, period underwear comes in different absorbency levels. They can be used as a backup for tampons and cups or used on their own. 

How to Use Tampons

Learning how to insert and remove a tampon will take time, and it's normal to be nervous at first. Reassure your tween that it’s normal to feel uncertain but that eventually, they will get the hang of it. For first-time tampon users, it's typically easiest to begin with tampons that come with plastic or cardboard applicators rather than those that come without.

Typically, information is provided in each package of tampons, explaining how to easily insert the tampon, remove it, and throw it away often with helpful illustrations. Go over these instructions with your tween and ask if they have any questions. 

It's not a bad idea to offer your tween a small hand mirror to use so that they can look at and find the vaginal opening before attempting to insert the tampon. People often insert tampons while sitting on a toilet, but when you are learning, different positions like squatting, standing with one leg elevated (such as on a stool), or lying on the floor may make it easier. Applying lubricant to the applicator can also help.

Steps for inserting tampons:

  1. Wash your hands: Before and after inserting a tampon
  2. Find the right fit: Choose the smallest absorbancy at first
  3. Insert the applicator: Slide the applicator into the vagina, aiming toward the back
  4. Insert the tampon: Gripping the applicator with your thumb and middle finger, push the smaller tube of the applicator with your index finger to move the tampon into the vagina
  5. Remove the applicator: Remove the applicator and discard it in the trash

Steps for removing tampons:

  1. Wash your hands: Before and after removing a tampon
  2. Relax: Tampons are easier to remove when you are not tense
  3. Pull on the string: Carefully grab the string between your fingers and guide the tampon out at the same angle you inserted it
  4. Discard: Wrap the tampon in toilet paper and discard it in the trash

How Long Can You Wear Tampons?

Like pads, tampons need to be removed and replaced every few hours, depending on how heavy the flow is. Someone with a heavy flow may have to replace their tampon every two to four hours. Tampons are single-use—they can only be used one time and then must be thrown away.

Never leave a tampon in place for longer than eight hours, as it increases the risk of a rare but serious condition, called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Are Tampons Safe?

When used correctly, tampons are safe. Before tampons can be sold, the FDA must review them to determine if they are safe and effective.

People with sensitive skin may develop a rash or itching from menstrual products—this is especially true for scented products. Encourage your child to avoid scented menstrual products. Not only might they cause irritation, but they can also disrupt the balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina.

If your child notices itching or irritation after using a tampon or other menstrual product, discontinue using the product. If the symptoms persist beyond a day or two, call your doctor.

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

A serious disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is associated with using tampons. The condition is rare but can be fatal. A toxin in Staphylococcus bacteria causes TSS. 

TSS was first found in people who used tampons, but today tampon use accounts for less than half of cases. Even so, tampon use is still a risk factor for developing TSS. The link between TSS and tampons isn’t fully understood, but one theory is that naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina can overgrow in the presence of a tampon.

Symptoms of TSS often come on very suddenly. They include:

  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Widespread sunburn-like rash

To minimize the risk of toxic shock syndrome:

  • Avoid high absorbency tampons
  • Change tampons frequently
  • Alternate between pads and tampons

Finding the Right Tampons

There are many tampons on the market, so choosing one may be overwhelming to your tween. Helping your child understand the differences between brands and types can help.

Applicators

Some tampons come with cardboard or plastic applicators that help the tampon move up the vagina and into place. Other tampons have stick applicators or none at all. Users must insert their fingertips into their vagina to guide the tampon in if there is no applicator. Compact applicators allow for smaller, more discrete packaging.

Absorbency

Like pads, tampons are sized according to absorbency. 

Absorbency levels include:

  • Ultra: Absorbs 15-18 grams
  • Super Plus: Absorbs 12-15 grams
  • Super: Absorbs 9-12 grams
  • Regular: Absorbs 6-9 grams
  • Light: Absorbs 6 grams

Light tampons are good for beginner users because they are smaller and easier to insert, remove, and manage. In addition, higher absorbencies are linked with TSS, so using the smallest absorbency required for your flow is safest.

Frequently Asked Questions

How old should you be to use tampons?

There is no minimum age for tampon usage. If adolescents want to use tampons, they can usually begin using them as soon as their menstrual cycle starts.  

How do you use compact tampons?

Compact tampons come with the plunger part of the applicator pushed inside of the applicator so that it is shorter and more discrete. Each brand’s compact tampons may work slightly differently, so be sure to read the instructions on the package. Most of the time, you just need to pull out the inner tube until it clicks into place and then insert the tampon as you would any other tampon with an applicator.

How do you use sea sponge tampons?

Sea sponges are plant-like organisms that grow in the sea. When harvested, you can wear them to absorb menstrual blood. They are worn inside the vagina like a tampon. Menstrual sponges are highly absorbent and can be reused for 3-6 months.

To use a sea sponge, wet the sponge, squeeze it out, and then use your fingers to insert it into your vagina.

A Word From Verywell

Which period product to use is a personal choice. Some tweens may never want to use tampons, while others may be interested as soon as they begin their period. Some may want to know more about period underwear or menstrual cups. 

Arm yourself with information about the various products so that you can help your tween navigate their options. With your help, your child will be able to determine which menstrual products work best for their body. 

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The facts on tampons—and how to use them safely. Updated September 30, 2020. 

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Tired of tampons? Here are pros and cons of menstrual cups. Published 2020.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Are scented tampons and pads bad for you?. Published 2021. 

  4. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Toxic shock syndrome. Updated June 15, 2020. 

  5. Victoria State Government. Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)