Tampons & Vaginismus

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Tampons, Menstrual Cups & Vaginismus

Tampons can be a pain!
Don't worry, it's safe to nod here. We KNOW that it's not always as easy to insert one as tampon companies want the world to believe.
We understand that it may not be easy for you to say out loud to your friends that you can't wear one especially when everyone around you seems to be wearing them no problem and will make you feel a freak for saying that you can't or that you don't.

Well, the truth is: a LOT of girls and women find tampons impossible, painful, uncomfortable or simply too annoying or unsafe to be bothered with them, and they can have very good reasons for that!

Reasons why tampons may be a pain for you


If your menstrual flow is light and there is not much blood usually on your pads, then this could be a very understandable reason why tampons could hurt you or why you may actually be better off not using them ever.
Tampons were designed to absorb blood and they do that very well. Problem is, if you don't bleed much in the first place, the tampons will absorb everything else they will find inside the vaginal walls, making them very dry by the end of those hours and making it very hard for you then to take them out. (See more on taking them out later..).
So, if your flow is light, you may want to consider only using pads or natural re-usable pads or well, go natural ! :) ( See the article below)

If you still want to be able to use tampons on those days, for whatever reason, make sure you insert them only the first days or when you bleed the most and only remove them when they are soaked so you may want to leave them in a bit longer (but never longer than the hours suggested by the manufacturer you're using, which is usually around 8 hours)

2. NO APPLICATOR or wrong one

Some tampons come with applicators, others don't, and not all applicators will be the same either.
You may not be able to wear tampons or insert them painlessly simply because you may have been trying with tampons that come without an applicator and that can make first insertions much more difficult.
We recommend you try inserting tampons with applicators, it makes the experience much easier, so you may give them a try but be careful which one you decide to try:

- Cardboard Applicators: they seem to hurt and not be that great.. It's cardboard afterall, not the smoothest material to ever be placed inside your vaginal walls! Also they can get stuck a bit or make the tampons get a bit stuck and you may hurt yourself while attempting insertion, so we would not advise them.
- Plastic Applicators (with rounded tips): they seem to be women's favourite between the two kinds. They slide in better and if you have vaginismus, you can also use them as dilators as you self-treat it.


Some women can't stand the thought of inserting their fingers inside their vagina or even touching themselves in that area. Inserting a tampon can involve a lot of touching there (especially if you never used an applicator) so that's what could turn you off to the idea of wearing them and it's fine. Women should be respected and not pressured to overcome their phobia just so they can use something there are plenty of alternatives for that don't involve the use of fingers or penetration. So, if you or a friend of yours should feel this way, just validate those feelings and if instead tampons are something you badly need to use, then try to use an applicator and see our tips in the next paragraph. Hope they help...


After unsuccessful attempts, you may understandably believe you don't have a normal opening down there or that you don't have one at all!
Although that can be the case, it is SO rare (and we are talking REALLY rare here) that a better explanation may be that you have a hard timing finding the vaginal opening or that you may lack knowledge of your vulva.

Even if you don't have vaginismus, the article on finding the elusive opening could help you with this step. See here for more information:
Finding the Elusive Vaginal Opening
If you can find the opening instead and can get past it but cannot go further than 'the entrance', then it could mean your hymen is in the way. Although that again is usually not the case (especially if you are using the smallest brand of tampons available), it is possible that some hymens may not be as stretchy as others and they require a bit of "work" (Stretching) before you can insert tampons.
Check our page on the Hymen to see if any information there is helpful to you.


Some brands may just not be right for you. So before feeling hopeless about wearing tampons, you may want to try out a few before giving up or thinking that something's wrong with your vagina.
We can't really advise a brand more than another one here, but for example, we know that some women find Tampax to be too absorbent. This means that they leave the vagina drier and therefore the tampon can stick a bit to the side of your vagina and this can make removal painful or a following insertion after the first one impossible.
Instead, OB, Kotex and Playtex Gentle Glide seem to be very appreciated because they don't absorb as much and they come with plastic applicators too.

But see for yourselves.. Also, the smaller the tampon the better at first insertions, so choose a brand whose tampons are the tiniest.
Watch out, sometimes an OB super tampon may actually be smaller than a Tampax regular one. Check out the actual dimensions!


Sure, it's a rare syndrome, and it is especially rare to die from it, but still, it exists. One of us experienced it and though she's still here to tell the tale, she wouldn't risk her life again only for the comfort of not having a pad a few days per month.

So, we're not saying you shouldn't wear tampons because of this syndrome BUT if you fear it very much, you're not a fool and you should not be pressured to believe you are and to just snap out of it. Your body may be trying to warn you that for you tampons may not be that good. One of the many ways in which vaginismus can be a good thing in fact...

For more information on TSS you may read this Wikipedia article on Toxic Shock Syndrome and/or read the instruction leaflets inside tampon packages before you handle them.


Women with Vaginismus may find it impossible to insert or wear tampons because the PC muscles surrounding the vagina can clamp tight and make it hard, painful or impossible for tampons to be inserted.
Not being able to wear a tampon or finding it very painful to do so, is actually one of the first symptom many girls will notice and that can lead them to a diagnosis of Vaginismus .(Click on the word to read more about what it is or on Diagnosis if you want to take a self-test).

But don't worry: Vaginismus is a highly treatable condition and on this site you could find all the information you may need to self-treat it, or you can talk with your gynaecologist about your worries and see what options they can give you.
After treating it, you may be able to finally use tampons. However, you may still not like wearing them or not want to and that's fine. There are women who were able to have painfree intercourse after treating vaginismus and who still couldn't wear tampons for whatever reason or didn't like it, so please don't feel that in order to be a fully developed grown-up woman you HAVE TO be able to insert one of those cotton buggers ! You don't.. There's more to womanhood than that..


First of all, since tampons are usually the first approach a girl may have to inserting something into her vagina and finding out things hurt, some of us believe that tampon makers have a certain responsibility regarding the silence around vaginismus and its prevention... If they were to finally mention the word Vaginismus on their instruction leaflet, many more girls could be diagnosed so much earlier and could be spared a lot of further painful attempts at sex or painful gynecological exams.

We understand that they may not mention it in order not to "scare" girls, but if it was described without much drama and it was stated that Vaginismus is not rare and it's treatable too, then it's hard to believe that a girl could get more scared than she will when finding out that tampons hurt like hell and that she just can't get them inside no matter how hard she tries (and remaining in the dark for years about WHAT that could be!).

So, we are currently trying to think of ways to approach these companies for support preventing vaginismus. We want to urge tampon makers to take this issue more seriously and use their power to spread correct knowledge about vaginismus. If you have any ideas, feel free to contact us..

General Tips to insert tampons (and take them out!) painlessly

So, if you decided to give tampons a try now that you have a better understanding of what may have caused you to fail in the past, we hope these tried and true tips will be able to help you a bit.


This may sound silly but the first time I tried out a tampon, I was as dry as can be and had no idea I had to wait for my period! Nope, my mom had never told me anything !! So unless I am the only genius out there, for sure there will be other girls who will try a tampon to see if it fits when they are NOT menstruating.
This can be problematic because your vagina will be very dry then, so unless you are also aroused or use some form of lube on it, it may hurt you or leave tiny paper cuts inside the walls of your vagina or worst still, you may insert it but then find it impossible or very painful to get it out because it will be so dry and so rough.
So, please make sure you either have your period (and quite a heavy flow too) or use plenty of lube if you're just experimenting. But we don't recommend experimenting out of your period days...


It doesn't hurt to add lube to a tampon (unless the lube you're using is one that's not good for you, see more on Lubricants in this section). Lube can make it so much easier for you to insert (and remove) a tampon, and not just the first times, so apply generously on the tip of the tampon or at the entrance of your vaginal opening if you can. It can make a big difference.

c) EXHALE - BREATHE OUT as you push it in

This will relax your PC muscles and just like doing reversed kegels, it can help your opening to dilate a bit and make insertion easier.


We can't stress this enough: tampons are not meant to fit just inside the vagina. They should actually stay as far up the vagina canal as you can place them. (Just don't exaggerate with the pushing!)
That way you won't feel them much, they will be lodged comfortably and not cause you discomfort.
Basically, you should be able to still insert the tip of your finger in your vagina when the tampon is inside, the tampon shouldn't be right at the entrance.
So, make sure you insert them as deep as you can. If you fear they may go too deep, well, they can't really be 'too far' in because that would be beyond the end of the canal which is impossible, at some stage the tampon will get to a halt because the cervix will stop it :) But you don't need to go THAT far ! As long as it's inserted past the ring muscle at the entrance of the vagina (the first third), it should be fine.

You may also fear that you will no longer be able to take it back out after a few hours. That's a common fear but if it can reassure you, the string won't break or get lost and if you couldn't easily use your fingers, there are a few other ways to pull out a stubborn tampon. See our paragraph about that at the end of the page.

Pushing tampons in

1st: Remove the tampon from its plastic wrap!
Doh, but we don't take anything for granted!
We know of girls who inserted them WITH the plastic still wrapped so we wanted to make sure that bit was covered too :)


- One leg up on the toilet seat
- Lying on the bed on your back, knees pulled up
- Lying or standing, keep your knees bent, this helps you and your muscles relax and not tense too much

2nd: Take the whole thing (tampon within applicator, in its extended position) and insert it in your vagina. This can be tricky if you have vaginismus, because of the muscles clamping in anticipation of pain and out of fear. If that's the case, you can put this off until you have solved vaginismus or you may decide that you'll be fine without using tampons after all. Just try not to hurt yourself, that can be very counterproductive if you have vaginismus and if you're trying to have painfree intercourse too. As soon as it should hurt, stop. There should be no rush or need to keep trying.

3rd: Picture a syringe: There are 2 tubes, one larger on the outside and a smaller one in the inside. First you insert the applicator as far as you are supposed to, according to the instructions. Then you hold the applicator in place, so it doesn't slide out, and you push the tampon out the end of the applicator. The tampon will go in farther than the applicator. The tampon needs to be in completely past the PC muscle ring. Otherwise you will feel it and it will be annoying.
Mind you: the tampon goes in farther than the applicator as it is released from the applicator.

4th: Find the right angle:
That can make a big difference. Wiggle the applicator from side to side a little, and move it until you find an angle at which the tampon slides into place.
If you placed it correctly, you will probably hardly feel the tampon going in, because it goes in past the muscle ring. Once it is lodged up there (remember, as deep as you can) it wonīt move by itself. If you should feel it and if it was uncomfortable, it MAY be because you didn't push it as deep inside as you can.
So don't remove the applicator the instant you think the tampon is fully inserted. Push it in just a fraction of an inch deeper. That will insure that the tampon is fully inserted.

Pulling tampons out

A soaked tampon is always easier to remove, so try not to remove it before having either waited a few hours of menstrual flow or having applied lube on the vaginal wall at the entrance.
Pull the tampon out gently in the opposite direction of insertion. Youīll need to apply a little strength to the string but it wonīt hurt.
If it feels like it wonīt come out, donīt panic! It happens to everyone. You just have to learn how much strength you need to apply or wait until it's more soaked.

Try to push those muscles out, like when youīre peeing and exhale. That will help the muscles relax.

Tampons do expand, it depends on how long they've been inside you but they usually expand within 2 to 3 hours and you'll feel wet, so it could just slide out easily then.
Or try a bath, the warm water will somehow get inside there and wet the tampons and then it will be easier to remove it.

If you're stuck, try pulling the tampon out while you're urinating. That way, you know the muscles will be relaxed. The worst that can happen is that you'll pee on your hands and wash them!


Hold the string tightly near the vulva. The nearer it is, the better. When you pull at the end you canīt direct it. The string is fairly long and there is no way you'll lose it!
Even if you should lose the string. there isn't anywhere else for the tampon to go, and it will always be within finger-reaching distance. So don't worry!

Using Tampons as Dilators to self-treat Vaginismus

Tampons are made of cotton. They donīt slide easily in and out, on their own, unless there's blood or lube or an applicator around, so if you should use them as they are, the feeling will be like a large cotton swab rubbing on your vagina walls.
It can be painful or it may irritate you and scratch you. Not an experience you want to have when your aim is to solve vaginismus
So, if you just want to practice, insert only the applicator. Donīt push the tampon in.
Or use a lot of lube on them though, just like with any other dilator, and see our Guide to Dilating for more tips on how, when and where to move them.
Using tampons or applicators as dilators can be helpful for the first stages of the dilating process, cause they are not too big or scary. Also, if it works and you manage to insert a tampon, it can give you the confidence to move on and start you off on the other bigger ones.
Plus it's quite cheap and handy to use the applicators :)

Going with the flow! or
Other alternatives to Tampons and Pads

Some women do love tampons and some of you may soon be able to wear them and love the feeling of freedom they can give you, some women won't like them but are glad that they can use them when they want to go swimming or do other things. They set them a bit freer and that's brilliant. Some women instead, whether or not they can wear them, will not want to or won't be bothered to wear them ever, and that's fine too. So here are some alternatives to pads.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are an eco and pocket-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. They come in two sizes: before vaginal childbirth, and after vaginal childbirth. A cup is shaped a little like a little squishy egg-cup, and does look rather large in its natural state. This is where the squishy-ness comes in: you fold it together in order to insert it, and push it into the vagina, where it 'pops' open just above the vaginal muscles, and sits there to collect the menstrual fluid.
As with tampon use, a cup will allow you to go swimming, and you can use it overnight. There have been no reported instances of Toxic Shock Syndrome with cups - the bacteria finds it hard to grow on the smooth sides of the cup (although obviously it's good to be cautious, and take extra precautions if you have ever suffered from TSS before).

Menstrual cups can be tricky for vaginismic women, but it is definitely possible to use them! Insertion is relatively simple - a cup squished for insertion is only about 25-30mm in diameter (this does depend on how you have folded the cup - browse the LiveJournal community linked to below for further information). It can be awkward to ensure that the cup has opened fully, since you will often need to insert a finger alongside an opened cup, and removal can also be difficult since you cannot fold the cup down as much as you did for insertion. The way a menstrual cup works is to form a seal with its rim and the vaginal walls - this seal must be broken before the cup will move, and so there is a two-part process to removing the cup: breaking the seal, and then squishing the cup as much as possible.

This description sounds challenging, and it is true that even non-vaginismic women can struggle initially with using a cup. However, it is possible to use a cup in the later stages of vaginismus - I was dilating at 35mm when I started using my cup. If you can insert 2 or 3 fingers then you'll probably be fine. The best way to approach it is to be comfortable with your body and to be able to cope with twinges of pain. If you know you can cope with the discomfort of a strong stretch then you'll definitely be able to get it out! And remember: it does get easier, and the benefits are amazing!

Mooncups are said to last for 10 years, and cost around Ģ18.99 in the UK. A price comparison for those not in the UK: a pack of 14 disposable pads is about Ģ1.89, and the average woman needs around 2-3 packs per month.
A Mooncup works out at Ģ1.89 A YEAR.
There are four main brands of reusable menstrual cup*:

I have a Mooncup (UK) - as do a lot of my friends. I'd definitely recommend them! It's made of silicone.

There is also the Divacup, from Canada www.divacup.com

The Lunette cup, from Finland www.lunette.fi

And the Keeper, from the US. The Keeper is made of rubber:

* 'Instead' cups are disposable menstrual cups and are used in a slightly different way to the reusable cups. Instead cups are a lot more like diaphragms than the reusable cups.

You can find loads more information on this LiveJournal community: http://community.livejournal.com/menstrual_cups/

~ BM.

(I've been using my Mooncup for two cycles as of writing.
using a menstrual cup was my ultimate goal when diagnosed with vaginismus, and I am still slightly surprised that I have achieved it so quickly :)

REusable, washable Pads

A great alternative to regular pads that you may want to consider, are washable reusable pads with insertable liners.
They are great for a number of reasons, mainly because they save you money and are very eco-friendly. Also, they are SO comfortable it is worth the extra washing. If anyone is interested in checking them out, here are a few sites that sell washable and reusable pads and here is an article that dispells myths about them ( Scarleteen: Myths on washable menstrual pads dispelled ):

Also, here is how to make your own washable pads if you can sew:

Many Moons

Lunapads (Canadian)

WeMoon (Australian)

Mother Nature (USA)

Free bleeding !

There is an interesting, challenging article in the ALL ABOUT MY VAGINA website, about the idea of not using anything and going "free bleeding"!!!

Before you go "yuck! gross!", as some of us did, please give it a look. She actually has a great point to make.. Free Bleeding

Either way, Happy flowing :)

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DISCLAIMER: This site is not designed to provide medical advice. All material is gathered from the experience of hundreds of women who experienced vaginismus but it is for information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Please review the information contained on vaginismus-awareness-network.org carefully and confer with a health care professional specialized in vaginismus, as needed.