The Vagenda

How Teen Magazines Have Made Me Terrified Of Tampons

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I’m in my mid-twenties and I’ve never properly used a tampon. Well, I did once, on holiday when I was fifteen and I thought I might be pregnant. My mum was getting tired of me going on about it (imagine the phrase ‘muuuuum, what if I aaaaam?’ whined repetitively at you while you’re trying to Dead Famous by Ben Elton on a lilo, and that was my mother’s holiday), so I thought I’d put one in to you know, maybe tempt the period gods to be bit more forthcoming. Unfortunately I decided to do it while ensconced in the filthy toilet of a small Greek cruise ship, and I took it out pretty sharpish because despite what every magazine ever and all my friends had told me, I could feel the thing up there the whole time. I’m a pretty sensitive person (if I’m reading about someone having a gross medical procedure I’ll start feeling all dizzy and ‘aware of my body’ – my boyfriend calls me ‘the Victorian lady’) but my pussy is not a total pussy, if that makes sense. Stuff has gone up there. Smear tests are a doddle. Hell, after a colposcopy, where they raise your fanny up to face level, look up it through a big pair of binoculars, and then basically burn off all your cervical pre-cancer using a laser, all casual and chill as the radio plays in the background, rendering the Coldplay track ‘fix you’ not only startlingly appropriate but also even more painful (if that’s even possible), a smear test is nothing. I had one yesterday, actually, and the nurse walked in to see me spread eagled on the table and ready to go, (‘sup’) having already assumed the necessary position. Let’s get this show on the road, lady, I need to home by five. 
So my aversion to tampons isn’t what my ex-flatmate referred to as ‘vaginaphobia’, because it only really applies to tampons (though I’m not big on fingering, tbh). For this, I FULLY blame Shout magazine for its mid-nineties preoccupation with Toxic Shock Syndrome (I never saw the episode of 999 on this topic, or the Casualty where the girl gets it at the fairground, but readers have reliably informed by that they also were fairly effective at putting paid to teenage tampon use). The disproportionate coverage given to TSS by teenage magazines instilled the fear of god into me, and ensured that I would never feel confident about using tampons. Every time an inexperienced thirteen year old would write in to a problem page about that brown stuff in her knickers, she’d be pointed towards a helpful guide (sponsored by Tampax) accompanied by the massive caveat of: ‘LEAVE IT IN TOO LONG AND YOU’LL DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH’. 
So, yes, I do blame Shout (and Mizz and Sugar and J-17). Plus the time my school gave the girls little paper bags full of free tampons. That afternoon, during French class, while the boys were busy swinging lilets soaked in Fanta around their heads, Laura O’Sullivan knocked on the door and announced that all the tampons that they had given out were past their sell-by-date and needed to be recalled. ‘If you’ve put one in already, you should go and take it out’, she announced through her Hubba Bubba, as several pale faced teenage girls fled the room. 
So, really, excepting the Greek episode, I’ve never used a tampon. A penis went up there way before a little cotton plug did. This is a huge source of shame to me (not the penis bit- SPOILER ALERT: I wasn’t pregnant). By not using tampons, I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing out on a huge part of being a woman. Friends are always all, ‘but tampons are amazing! They make your life so much easier’, as though they were a fucking Palm Pilot circa 1993, or a magimix. So much of female experience seems to be related to the existence of the tampon, to being able to partake in the oh-so-casual lavatory conversation of ‘do you have a tampon?’ Never have I ever been able to write in to ‘cringe confessions’ about the time they all came tumbling out of my bag in the cafeteria. Never have I been able to spontaneously stop a stranger’s nosebleed, like a menstruating Florence Nightingale. 

Tampons are an initiation to femininity which feel I’ve missed. 
You might say that I’m reading too much into this, and you’d be correct. But it really does bother me. I’m nearly 30 and yet, when I’m on the blob, I use Always Ultra, the same pads I’ve been using since I was fourteen. I waddle around like I’m wearing nappies for five days a month, and it feels gross. Not long ago, Bodyform launched these sanitary towel tins which, by announcing in curly font that ‘I wish two wrongs made a Mr.Right’, made it perfectly clear who their target market are. Not me. Teenage girls. I should not be using the kind of product whose makers think I need a fluorescent tin with a ‘witty’ slogan on it to make menstruating less embarrassing.  

It made me realise that, apart from the whole aversion to fingering thing, I’m basically a fifteen year old girl. Period wise, I have not progressed. I am a period failure. 

I just know that one of you is going to sidle up to me in the comments and be all ‘mooncup – just sayin”, so let me nip that shit in the bud right now. It might work for you, oh imaginary laid-back internet girl. You have flowers in your hair and toe-rings on your toes. All your fashion is ethical and the quality of your weed is second to none, and of course it works for you. But, although I have wanted to be you for a very long time, it just isn’t meant to be. I’m too uptight, too mainstream, too belt-through-the-loops. Plus, I’ve realised that I feel about mooncups the same way I do about tampons and that time I found my mum’s diaphragm, namely, ew, get that away from my area.

In fact, writing this has made me realise exactly what the nature of the problem is. Basically, I’m fine with stuff going up there as long as the stay isn’t semi permanent. That rules out tampons, diaphragms, coils (I have always imagined these as gigantic, slinky-like springs), etc. However, anything that fancies a quick in-out is pretty much cool by me (I know how this sounds, so I will use this parenthesis to reiterate that yes, consent means asking every time). 

Not that being able to go for a swim when I’m on wouldn’t be amazing, but it looks like now would be a good time to accept that my disdain for tampons is probably here to stay.

Thanks, magazines. This is another thing that you have done to mess me up. 

And thanks internet, for the free therapy. 

32 thoughts on “How Teen Magazines Have Made Me Terrified Of Tampons

  1. I relate to pretty much ALL of this. I nearly passed out in my school’s ‘Tampax talk’ because it all seemed so gruesome and I just wasn’t ready for all that blood and the idea of being fertile at twelve years old. Putting one up there has always been an oddly terrifying thought ever since, so I also limp on with my Bodyform, convinced that I’m the only woman over 20 who’s still using pink wrapped sanitary towels. This made me feel better, so ta very much :)

  2. Seriously, Lunette menstrual cup. best thing ever. check their website ( and there are tons of youtube videos and helpful online forums. Let your inner 14 year-old realize it’s not scary and is truly the best alternative. Good luck! Your period shoukd NOT be a gross sticky nightmare.. and pads cost too much. :)

    • Try Ruby Cup! Its a menstrual cup sold internationally, although based in Kenya. Each cup sold means a cup is distributed to a girl who comes from a vulnerable, impoverished background – to keep her in school (along with the education necessary to know what exactly a period is, what the reproductive system is, and how to use the cups)

    • Although I’m sure that all of these replies referencing the different types of menstrual cup come with the best of intentions, they are also completely ignoring the entire post. If the writer can’t bear the thought of tampons because they hang around up there for several hours, then the same can obviously be said for the mooncup and its many variations. That’s not to say that they aren’t lifechanging for some women, but please show a bit of respect for the author who actually took the time to say “I’ve realised that I feel about mooncups the same way I do about tampons and that time I found my mum’s diaphragm, namely, ew, get that away from my area.” Did any of you read the article at all?!

  3. Honestly, if pads are what you’re comfortable with, then you’re fine. I’ve used pads, tampons and the mooncup and I love my cup, but obviously it’s not for everyone. I agree that the sanitary product world world is full of unnecessary bullshit (especially those tins, ugh), but it’s nice to know we at least have the choice.

  4. *Sigh*. Using tampons has never appealed to me so I just don’t, no big deal. I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything or that I haven’t completed a rite of passage, I use whatever does the job. I’m certainly not a ‘period failure’ either. Washing blood from re-usable cloth pads (before throwing them in the washing machine) isn’t a problem for me, I’m not too squeamish for that. Just do whatever’s comfortable for you and don’t worry about what you should be doing at what age and what others are doing, it really isn’t that much of a big fucking deal.

    • Hello there! Could you tell me where you got these re-usable cloth pads? Are they just something you knocked up yourself or did you buy a specifically absorbent material for such purposes? I have been thinking I should go Mooncup for environmental reasons but I just … can’t, so this sounds appealing to me. Blood doesn’t make me squeamish or anything so your advice would be much appreesh.

  5. As a young ‘un I dived right in there and use my mothers super-maxi-nuclear-strength Tampax the first time I got my period and nearly fainted with pain. Turns out they made tiny 12-year old friendly Tampons. Couldn’t do without them now though. And yes, I am still scarred by TMS phobia, thanks Shout.

  6. How interesting. Whilst I thank fuck I don’t have to worry, I always wondered why my wife doesn’t use tampons. I really feel it’s too personal to ask her, but I reckon this is probably why. Thanks. :)

  7. so down with this article – thought I was the only one! and most of the scariness does root from the toxic shock thing and then having something something in my vagina for a prolonged sense of time. Power to the pads.

  8. I definitely relate to the 90′s magazine TSS phobia – I once took myself off to A&E when I had my period and a hangover at the same time (yes really) – but don’t give up on tampons forever! I first tried using them when I was about 13 and found it uncomfortable and difficult, but persevered and eventually got the hang of them when I was about 18, it was the biggest revelation ever! Swimming! Sleeping with just tiny pants on in summer! At the risk of repeating everything you’ve already read in the teenage magazines, if you can feel it, then it’s not in far enough, they have to go in pretty far and it’s easier to do at first with the applicator ones. If you haven’t tried since you were a teenager, I would really recommend giving it another go especially as you are unhappy with pads and probably have a lot more years of periods to go…

  9. I remember only two things about Shout – girls getting their hair stuck in hand-dryers in the bathroom (ohmagahhd saaah embarrassing), and a crippling fear of TSS. However I am definitely one of those girls who says to everyone ‘I thought only twelve year-olds used pads, tampons are the bomb, what is wrong with you?’ and after reading this I will probably stop doing that. Soz.

  10. I tried to use a tampon when I was 14 or so and seriously thought it was stuck up there. It took a colossal amount of effort (and, embarrassingly, my mum’s help) to pull it back out and I didn’t touch them again until I was 19 and had had sex, convinced I’d put it in the wrong place or something – and that I’d give myself TSS! They are better than pads, but I still won’t sleep with one in…

  11. No thanks, tried a tampon once or twice and it had to come out after 5 seconds. No can do. Still pads for me, even though they are extortionately priced, especially abroad

  12. I think it really is personal preference, I use tampons occasionally (swimming, tiny pants occasions etc) but most of the time it’s good old sanitary towels. I just prefer them. I’ve toyed with the idea of mooncups since I like the eco-friendliness in principle, but they seem like they’re impractical for use by someone who, due to my job, has to use public loos fairly frequently. Suspect popping out to give it a rinse in the open in front of other loo users might be inappropriate (ditto re-useable sanitary pads)!

  13. All it took for me was one sentence during sex ed to ensure I never even tried tampons: “If you happen to put one in upside-down by accident, then make sure you go to A&E to get it taken out”.

  14. Three cheers for pads!

    I know what you mean, entire environment always tampons, tampons, never a word about pads, everyone always tampons (except my mum, who also does not ever use ‘em, but that’s hardly a role-model for “modern-living”). I started feeling weird about it in high-school… so I tried once, and I couldn’t even put the darned thing in! Back to pads. A year or two later, tried again, got it in… but I thought I’d never get it back out. Did, luckily, without any external help, but owie, and next try was definitely more than two years later. In the end, after more experience in putting other stuff in my vagina, I did manage to put one in, keep it in, and I guess use it like you’re supposed to.

    Thing is if I put one in I can still kind of feel it all the time (and I know it’s in right, because I it felt way differently when it was in wrong). And I leak. When I don’t leak, I don’t bleed enough to feel safe with a tampon (TSS phobia! hurray! my brain thinks if I bleed on it more than it rubs on me I’m safe though ;p).

    I’ll just stick with pads. Maybe in case of emergency. But given choice… pads.

    Also, for the longest time I thought there’s something abnormal in the way I’m built, and that’s why I couldn’t use ‘em. So there you go, feeling inferior for “still” using pads and like a freak! But now I don’t give a damn anymore. My menses, I’ll do what I want with ‘em!

  15. I feel the opposite – I’ve never liked pads and since the age of 13 (I’m 22 now) I’ve used tampons. I’m a big girl, and I don’t like the idea of walking around with what feels like a nappy in my knickers. I’ve never felt any fear about using tampons – although I did feel embarrassment when I was at school, as I seemed to be the only girl in the (large!) school that used them.

    I’m tempted by the idea of the cups, but I need to do more research as I’m worried about leakage.

  16. I’m not bothered by the thought of it (although I do recall being totally terror-stricken in my early teens – started mine at age 11) but I find I get terrible cramps if I use them when my period is full on, & if it’s almost over they’re too drying. So, end of the day, rather than being paralysed by insane period pains every month, I’ll spend the money & buy pads (but I go for Natracare because they’re organic cotton & no icky, thrush-inducing plastic backing.

    End of the day: your vagina, your uterus, your period: use what makes you comfortable. Who cares what anyone else thinks; they don’t live in your body.

  17. Thank you for this article! I too have to endure my friends telling me how wonderful tampons are. Thankfully my mum has always been on my side about them, she hates them almost as much as me. I can barely tolerate a smear tes, have tried tamposn two or three times since my teens but just can’t bear them, too uncomfortable. So glad I’m not alone with this!

  18. Mooncup = Fantastic. The reasons, 1. Clean for the earth and for you. 2. Never caught short it’s always there ready. 3. No TSS. 4. No horrid dryness or discomfort. 5. Can use for 12 hours absolutely fine. I would never go back to the alternatives they sound really gross to me now. I one hundred percent recommend and I speak as person who is afraid of needles, swoonish over blood and all hates things icky.

  19. My Mum was so paranoid about TSS that she bought me “organic” tampons from a special website the first time I wanted to go swimming on my period. Those things were so huge they put me off tampons for life.

  20. With me my problem is menstrual cups,I’ve tried them again and again over the years and it has been nothing but extremely painful. Like sometimes maybe it would be OK at first, but then it would suddenly dislodge and I would scream, eurgh, horrible.

  21. Mysterics – maybe it was too big for you, or did you trim the stem? My mooncup was uncomfortable before I did that. I switched a few months ago from tampons and pads (“double protection” as one doctor called it, the joy of heavy periods) and have not and will not look back. My period pains are less as I don’t have all the fibres left over from tampons stuffed up my jacksy, I get less leakage, and I don’t have to think about making sure I don’t run out of pads or tampons in any of my various stashes at work/home/in handbags. Also excited for this month (yes, really, actually excited) as I’ll be trying out my reusable pads for the first time – Yes!! No more sweaty crackly plastic almost giving me thrush and being itchy as hell for five days. if you’re interested. Wish I’d known about alternatives sooner, but anyway – each woman to her own, just find what works for you and ignore all the advertising crap :)

  22. Throwing this out there as nobody has mentioned it yet – reusable cloth menstrual pads. Yes, some of them are probably targeted at teens (in terms of the patterns on them mainly, I guess also the size of the pads), but some are not, and you’d be supporting small, female-led businesses rather than big multinationals. If you have an aversion to cups and tampons then cloth pads are probably the best thing for your period.

  23. I’ve never, ever related to anything this much in my entire life. I have the same issue. I’m scared of tampons because of the spooky stuff I’ve read about them and my aunt being a (now retired) health worker doesn’t exactly help, either. I think I actually have a phobia of THAT illness (see? I can’t even bring myself to type its name!) but I hate pads and I feel bad/ashamed/like a child for not using tampons. Like you put it, I feel like a period failure. Or a failure as a woman, maybe. Yeah, that too, probably. I’m embarradded to admit it, but seeking professional help crossed my mind a few times because I hate the determination-crippling fear-anger triangle every month. I remember how proud I was the handful of times when I managed to work up whatever little courage I had left to use a tampon. I felt jubilant, invincible and like a WOMAN…until I didn’t and started to panick. My record is a full 4 hours but that was one time only.

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