Tampons & Cups
Tampons & cups are a great mystery to many men. When I was a teen I couldn’t really fathom what a tampon was or where exactly a woman put it. TV commercials didn’t give any hints. Gradually it dawned on me, “oh they put it in there…” I still didn’t really understand how a tampon was inserted or removed. Until I wrote this post I had never actually seen or touched a tampon outside of its wrapper.
As a adult I found out about the lesser known menstrual cups, which a woman also inserts into her vagina. When I first heard about menstrual cups they were only available in specialty stores and were quite rare. Now they are available for sale in the drug store down the street from my house so the market is growing and more women are considering them as an option.
This is the fourth and final post in my Dad Guide: Talking to your daughter about her period and menstruation series. The first post Dad Guide: Menstruation covered the basics of the biological process of menstruation. The second post Dad Guide: Your Daughter’s Period covers how to support your daughter and help her prepare for her first period. The third post Dad Guide: Pads & Pantyliners provides information about menstrual pads and panty liners. Combined with this post on tampons & cups you have enough information to help your daughter make an informed decision about what products are right for her.
This series is not sponsored by or affiliated with any maker of any menstrual products, and I am not promoting any specific brand or type of product. This post contains images of some of the available products. I’ve avoided specific brand names where possible. Any brand names or products shown should not be taken as a recommendation or endorsement.
I am now bundling the four posts together into an e-book along with content from my previous post on How to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health. The e-book will be exclusively available to newsletter subscribers. If you would like a copy when it is done, there is an opportunity to sign up for my monthly newsletter at the end of this post.
How Tampons Work
Tampons are available with or without applicators. The applicator is a plastic or cardboard outer tube (as seen above) that is removed once the tampon is inserted into the vagina. Some women find it easier to insert tampons with applicators.
Inserting a tampon, especially the first few times, can cause anxiety and be difficult to do successfully. Some brands offer slender tampons and your daughter may find it easier to start with these. It is important that she start with clean, dry hands before starting the process. Your daughter will need to find a comfortable sitting or standing position that will allow her to relax. If her vaginal muscles are tense, it will be very difficult, uncomfortable and likely painful to attempt to insert the tampon. She may find it helpful to use a dab of lubricant on the applicator.
It is important when a woman inserts the tampon into her vagina that she has the end with the string at the bottom, not the top. The string needs to be left hanging outside of her body. When the tampon has been used, she uses the string to pull the tampon out.
The tampon is made of a material, such as cotton or a synthetic fibre, that absorbs menstrual blood. Some women choose to wear a pantyliner as well, and it might be a good idea for your daughter to consider for the first several times she uses a tampon. If the tampon isn’t inserted correctly or if a woman has a heavy menstrual flow the tampon may be insufficient and the pantyliner will provide an additional source of protection and, likely, confidence.
Toxic Shock Syndrome
This is a sudden and potentially fatal condition caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The bacteria exists in many women’s bodies and is normally harmless. That changes with the right environment. If a tampon is left in for too long – more than 6 hours -and is saturated with blood, there is a risk that the environment will be created to enable the bacteria to grow and release poisons which get into the blood stream. The risk seems to be higher with superabsorbent tampons. More than 30% of cases of the syndrome occur in women under the age of 19 and 30% of women who have it are likely to experience it again. The condition can also occur in women using a menstrual sponge, diaphram or cervical cap.
If a woman is menstruating and experiences a rapid drop in blood pressure, a high fever and vomiting it is essential to remove the tampon and seek hospital care immediately.
How Menstrual Cups Work
Unlike pads, pantyliners and tampons, menstrual cups do not absorb the menstrual blood. They are generally made of silicone or rubber and are used to collect the blood. They can be cleaned and reused over many years. Some cups can last up to ten years. They are reusable and therefore have a significantly lower impact on the environment. They are however more challenging to use. They have no known connection to Toxic Shock Syndrome or vaginal infections as they do not contain any chemicals. Cups come in different sizes, with a smaller size for younger women and women who have not given birth. The sizes and sizing guidance is indicated on the cup packaging.
Similar to tampons, cups are inserted into the vagina, which requires the woman to be able to find a comfortable sitting or standing position and be able to relax her vaginal muscles. As with tampon insertion it is important to have clean hands prior to inserting the cup. There are a variety of ways that the cup can be folded for insertion and each woman will figure out which way works best for her. The opening end of the cup needs to be inserted first. Once inserted, the cup needs to be rotated to create a seal with the walls of the vagina. Pulling on the end will also help to create a vacuum seal.
Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours before removal. This will vary per woman and the intensity of her menstrual flow. It is a good idea for your daughter to wear pantyliners until she determines the maximum amount of time she can wear the cup before leakage occurs.
Removal of the cup will require practice. The cup is removed by pulling down on the tip and cup to break the seal. It is probably a good idea to remove the cup over the toilet until the user figures out the best way to remove it without spilling the contents.
Cleaning Menstrual Cups
Once a menstrual cup is removed and its contents poured out into the toilet, the cup can be rinsed with water – no soap. Soap can cause yeast infections if left on menstrual cups. The rinsed cup can then be reinserted for another 12 hours. At the end of the menstrual period your daughter can sterilize the cup by placing it in boiling water or wiping it down with rubbing alcohol.
Disposal of Tampons
Any discussion about tampons with your daughters should also include information about how to dispose of used products. Toilets and municipal waste water systems are not good friends with tampons. Some packaging will indicate that the tampon and / or applicator are flushable. While they may flush through the toilet, they can get caught in the toilet and in the municipal water system. These are not products that degrade easily in water. You and your daughter may be uncomfortable and embarrassed having the conversation about her period and tampons. She will be more embarrassed if she flushes the tampon down the toilet and the toilet gets blocked up and overflows as a result – especially if it results in a call to the plumber to resolve the issue.
In many public washrooms there are disposal containers for used pads and tampons. At home there isn’t typically a designated waste bin and there is no need for one if you already have a garbage bin in in the same room as the toilet.
Regardless of public or private toilets, the soiled tampon should be wrapped up and thrown in the garbage. Toilet paper and plastic bags both make excellent wrappers. Remind your daughter that soiled products contain blood and blood can contain pathogens which can be harmful to other people. It can also make an unappealing mess for other people to clean up if the tampons are not properly disposed of. If you have animals at home, you may want to consider placing a trash can in the bathroom with a lid that they cannot open. Animals may be attracted to the scent of blood and root through the bin to find and eat the tampon. This is not an appealing outcome. You may also want to keep a supply of small plastic bags in the bathroom that can be used for tampon disposal.
Hand washing after disposing of used tampons is of course very important.
Supporting Your Daughter
Your daughter is going to be anxious about her first period and puberty generally. The average age that girls have their first period is between the ages of 12 and 13 in North America and much of the world. Talking with your daughter before her periods start and helping her choose the right products to include in a kit that she can carry with her will help to ease her anxiety. Talking with her about how to dispose of those products properly will also help her be prepared.
Please let me know if you have any questions or topics haven’t addressed in this series. Submit them in the comments below or by email to dadgoesround (at) gmail.com.
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