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BLOODY HELL:
HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR PERIOD, TAMPONS, AND GETTING TO KNOW THAT PART OF YOUR BODY

Some rights of passage, like getting your driver’s license or turning 18, are milestones that we obsessively dream of. Getting your period isn’t one. So when it finally happens, it can not only be annoying and confusing to deal with, but embarrassing to talk about.

What’s more, there are choices that come with menstruation that every girl must figure out for herself: tampons or pads.  The concept of a pad is pretty self explanatory–stick it on your undies and go. But tampons can be trickier to figure out–especially if you feel shy about talking about how to use them with others.

So we thought we’d talk to Executive Director and Founder of the Chicago-based Women’s Health Foundation, Missy Lavender, who’s working on a book entitled Below Your Belt: How To Be Queen of Your Own Pelvic Region, A Pelvic Primer for Adolescent Girls, about how the heck tampons are supposed to work and why it’s important to get to know that part of your body, whether you choose to use tampons or not. Here’s what she had to say:

SOME GIRLS AREN’T USED TO TOUCHING THIER BODIES BELOW THE BELT. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE A GIRL WHO IS INTERESTED IN TYRING TAMPONS, BUT FEELS UNFAMILIAR WITH TOUCHING THOSE PARTS OF HER BODY?

The most important first step is to get a mirror and  something to navigate with, like an anatomy diagram. There are lots of great pictures on the internet that show a diagram of the different openings down there. (Ed. Note: Check these at WikiHow.) So, while everyone gives this advice these days, it really is helpful to sit in front of the mirror and explore the different openings in your body–the urethra, the anus and the vagina. Once you understand the large opening is the vagina is, the idea of inserting a tampon makes more sense.

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Don’t worry about it being an unhygienic thing to do. There’s a perception that it’s a dirty place down there. You definitely want to wash your hands first. And remember, urine is sterile–so it’s a perfectly acceptable and important thing to check it out. Have a map of what you’re looking (like this diagram) so you know which body parts you’re looking at.

FOR SOME, GRABBING A MIRROR AND CHECKING OUT THEIR PRIVATE PARTS CAN SEEM SCARY, EMBARASING AND DEFINITELY LIKE SOMETHING THEY DON’T WANT THEIR FAMILY SEEING THEM DO. HOW CAN A GIRL GET IN THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND FOR THIS KIND OF EXPLORATION?

Anytime you’re unclothed make sure you have privacy, and that relaxed and comfortable. So don’t pick a time to do this when someone will be knocking on your door, for example.  Hopefully you look at armpits, breasts, and other parts of your body every day–this is no different. It’s important to get to know yourself and understand that the vagina and urethra  is the quintessential thing that makes us a woman.

Remember, this isn’t about sex. It’s about understanding there’s a lot going on down there. It’s important they understand the urethra is above the vagina and the vagina is near the anus. And once you see how close the vagina is to the anus, then it suddenly makes sense that you don’t want to wipe from back to front, because you don’t want to risk transferring anything from the anus area to the vagina.

Secondly, once you know where the different openings are, it better informs where you’ll put a tampon.

It’s healthy and helpful to approach this kind of exploration with a sense of wonder and to realize that everybody’s body is different, so it’s important to get to know your own.

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WHAT IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN USING TAMPONS? WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR A GIRL TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE TERRAIN DOWN THERE?

We don’t talk about this stuff so much. So there can be a lack of information for girls about their bodies and how things work. If you don’t know what’s going on down there, then it can be hard to put a tampon in comfortably and to know how to take care of your body.

Knowledge is power, power is control. Remember, this is the place that separates us from men. It’s not our breasts that are different–it’s our vagina and urethra and there are interdependencies in all of those places. All of those openings have an important function. If you don’t take care of one, it can affect the health of another.

Kotex recently did a survey and asked women how many openings they have down there. And many women guessed two. But there are three. Many women don’t know that there is a urethra or what it does (it’s the place where urine comes out). These parts don’t need to be mysterious. It’s about what makes you special as a woman or a girl.

So knowing these parts of your body gives you the power to take care of yourself and make good choices where it comes to other things later in life. (Editor’s Note: For example, once  you see how close the anus is to the vagina, it’s easier to understand that you CAN get pregnant from anal sex.)

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THE INSTRUCTION SHEET INSIDE A TAMPON BOX CAN BE TRICKY TO DECIPHER SOMETIMES. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR HOW TO PROPERLY INSERT A TAMPON?

One thing that many girls don’t understand is the direction that you want to insert the tampon. If you try to stick it straight in, you will hit a wall. Instead, try upward and diagonal aiming. Since everyone’s body is different, your angle will be a special angle. And you have to play with it and discover it. The tampon should go in and feel comfortable when you’re done.

Also, it’s super painful when when you’re trying putting in a dry tampon in and you’re not menstruating all that much. If it hurts when you try to put a tampon in because it doesn’t slide in well, you’re probably too dry. Instead, put a pad on wear it for awhile, then try again later when you have more moisture there.

Here’s a great trick for trying to figure out exactly where to put the tampon: if you have your period, you can wipe things off with toilet paper and a little clean water and then blot the area with toilet paper and see where the blood is coming from. Then, you can aim for that spot when putting a tampon in.

Also, like with any type of product, explore your options. It can help to experiment with different types of tampons, since there are many types of applicators and shapes–some are rounded, some are small, some have no applicator. Some are comfortable taking out and some are more comfortable putting in.

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Finally, it helps to start with an appropriate sized tampon. Most teens who are first starting to menstruate won’t need a super size tampon. Instead, try a slender or smaller size tampon, which can be more comfortable.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE COMMON WAYS THAT GIRLS AND WOMEN MISTAKENLY USE TAMPONS WHEN FIRST TRYING TO FIGURE THEM OUT?

Some girls will notice that it feels wet after they pee. If you don’t have the tampon in all the way, and you urinate, then it will get wet and bulge out–and that can be super uncomfortable.  It’s OK to pee and not change your tampon if it’s not ready for a change. But when you do urinate, make sure when it’s in all the way and move the string to the side so you don’t soak the string. When wiping, wipe around the opening of the urethra and make it contained there.

Like I said before, it’s important (for comfort’s sake) to use the right size. You also want to make sure you change your tampon appropriately; as a rule of thumb, you don’t want to keep in more than three or four hours at a time.

WHAT’S UP WITH TAMPONS THAT HAVE NO APPLICATOR? WHY MIGHT A GIRL WANT TO GIVE THIS STYLE OF TAMPON A TRY AND SEE WHETHER IT’S RIGHT FOR HER?

Tampons without applicators are really popular in France and around Europe. They can be more environmentally friendly, because you’re not throwing applicators away, but they’re also really handy because they’re travel sized and pocket sized, so they’re great to use when you’re camping or heading to the beach or pool.

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And as long as you wash your hands before you insert an applicator-free tampon, it’s not dirty. When using an applicator-free tampon, you have to insert it by pushing it up into your body. And don’t worry about pushing it up too far. There’s a backstop! You’re not going to push the tampon all the way up into your body or into the bottom of your stomach or anything. Just push it up until it feels comfortable. As long as there’s a string attached and you can pull it out, then it will be very comfortable and not go in too far once it’s inserted.

WHAT SHOULD A GIRL DO IF SHE STILL HAS QUESTIONS ABOUT WHETHER SHE’S USING A TAMPON CORRECTLY OR WHETHER THEY’RE RIGHT FOR HER?

Talk to a woman you trust. It’s important to remember that every woman you know has gone through this. If you’re trying to use tampons and you’re not comfortable, you can talk about this stuff with a woman you trust. You might have a mother, cousin, aunt or abuela that you can ask. Most other women and girls are so happy to share about these things. By talking to each other–that’s how we girls teach everything to each other.

There’s also tons of stuff online. Kotex has a great site for teens. I also like Go Ask Alice.

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