How to Avoid Discomfort When Inserting a Tampon, According to Ob-Gyns
While a lot has changed since I was younger, a lot has also stayed the same. I still believe Kelly Clarkson’s album “Thankful” is a work of art, I still think bright blue eyeshadow is beautiful, and I still hate tampons with a fiery, burning passion.
I remember the first time I ever attempted to insert a tampon. It was a daunting task. I consulted my mom, my cousin, and a couple of my friends beforehand, asking them, “do tampons hurt?” But even when they assured me they wouldn’t, I still didn’t feel prepared.
After a few attempts the first time, I threw it away and opted for a pad instead. I didn’t try again until I felt like I had to, which was some months later when tragedy or fate or coincidence brought me my period on a beach day. Even then, I was uncomfortable, and it took me 15 minutes to figure it out.
To this day, I choose pads over tampons whenever possible, but when I hear others express their preference for tampons, it makes me feel weird – like maybe I’m still not doing it right or that I’m simply not built for tampon use.
However, that changed a couple of months ago, when a friend told me that she also hates tampons. She explained they always seem to cause her discomfort, no matter what she does. Our conversation proved I wasn’t the only one, so I decided to do some research to learn more about this phenomenon and how to solve it.
Below, experts explain why does it hurt to put a tampon in and whether using tampons make cramps worse.
Why Does It Hurt to Put a Tampon In?
If you find tampons uncomfortable, it’s possible that one of the following reasons is why you your tampon hurts:
You haven’t inserted the tampon deeply enough. “A tampon should never hurt if properly inserted inside the vagina,” Sherry A. Ross, MD, author of “She-ology” and “She-ology, The She-quel: Let’s Continue the Conversation,” tells POPSUGAR. “If the tampon is not inserted deep inside the vagina, it can be halfway in and halfway out, causing discomfort, especially at the vaginal opening.” Thus, the first step in avoiding any discomfort is making sure you’re guiding the applicator in until the finger grip is flush with the vaginal opening. This should ensure proper placement.
You’re approaching it from the wrong angle. If you can’t put in a tampon in or you’re finding it uncomfortable to do so, you may be trying to push it straight up instead of at an angle. “Aim back,” explains Heather Bartos, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn. “Not up. Never straight up.” Gynecologist Alyssa Dweck, MD, agrees that the angle of application is key. “Insure you are in a comfortable position – most people squat, sit on the toilet, or put one leg up on the tub, for example – for ease of insertion,” she tells POPSUGAR. If you lift one leg up, “this allows the angle of the vagina to be more parallel to the tampon, which makes insertion easier,” she says.
The tampon itself is the problem. It’s possible the tampon you selected may simply be too absorbent for your flow. “It’s best to choose the lightest absorbency tampon appropriate for your flow; otherwise, there can be a drying out of the tissue inside and discomfort,” Dr. Dweck says. For beginners, it’s best to start with “Regular” flow tampons, which can hold six to nine grams of menstrual blood. But if you find that you are bleeding through them often, you can move to “Super” or even “Super Plus.”
There’s fragrance in the tampons. This can lead to allergic reactions and irritation in some. Look for fragrance-free tampons (or even organic tampons) instead, if you suspect this is the issue.
The applicator could occasionally aggravate the vaginal opening. This is especially true for plastic applicators if one of the ‘petals’ is bent or protruding.” If any of these issues apply, try a new tampon, a new tampon brand, or tampon absorbency, and see if that eases the discomfort.
You need more lubrication. It’s easier to insert a tampon when your flow is at its heaviest. When it’s not, Dr. Bartos recommends adding lubrication, using either coconut oil or lube. Lightly apply either one to the tip of the applicator before inserting the tampon to make for a smoother experience.
Do Tampons Make Cramps Worse?
No, tampons do not make cramps worse, confirms ob-gyn Sameena Rahman, MD. “Period cramps are due to contractions in the uterus,” she says, and tampons do not come into contact with the uterus or have anything to do with the contractions that may come from the uterus. However, if you leave your tampon in for a dangerously long period of time, this could result in toxic-shock syndrome, which could result in cramps feeling worse, says ob-gyn Michael Green, MD. You can avoid this by changing your tampon every four to eight hours, as recommended by the FDA.
Could Your Struggles With Tampons Be a Sign of Larger Problem?
If you spend any time googling questions about vaginal discomfort, you’ll find sources – some legit and some not – that suggest there’s a link between tampon-induced pain and painful sex. “Some people have a condition called vaginismus, which is like a chronic involuntary muscle tightness. This can make tampons and sex both very painful,” Dr. Bartos explains. However, she’s quick to point out that “tampons and sex aren’t always painful together,” for all the reasons listed above.
There are however certain conditions, like dyspareunia (persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs before, during or after sex), that can result in pain with penetration, including tampon use, per Mayo Clinic – and endometriosis which can cause pain or discomfort during sex and tampon insertion.
Dr. Dweck notes that there can be other physical causes of painful periods and sex, too. “Occasionally, pain at the vaginal opening could be due to an imperforate hymen – a residual membrane at the opening that you are born with – which can make for painful or impossible penetration with a tampon or sex,” she says. “This should be addressed by your gynecologist.”
If you’re experiencing painful sex, it’s important that you talk to your gynecologist about it. “There is a long list of causes of painful sex unrelated to tampon use,” Dr. Ross tells POPSUGAR. If you try the advice here and still find using tampons outright painful, that’s worth a discussion with your doctor, too.