Hand holding an applicator-free tampon by its string Share on Pinterest

It’s an overused analogy, but we like to think about inserting and removing tampons just like riding a bike. Sure, at first it’s scary. But after you figure things out — and with enough practice — it becomes second nature.

When it’s your very first time, it can be overwhelming to unfold and read every step of the directions included in a tampon box. It’s a great place to start, but sometimes everything can be a tad overwhelming.

So, where do you start? That’s what we’re here to help you with.

Before you get started, it’s important to get familiar with the parts of the tampon and applicator, because it’s not all one piece.

For starters, there’s the actual tampon and string. This is usually made of cotton, rayon, or organic cotton.

The tampon is a small cylinder that fits inside the vaginal canal. The material is compressed and expands when it gets wet.

The string is the part that extends outside of the vagina so you can pull it for removal (more on that later).

The applicator that surrounds the tampon and string is made of the barrel, grip, and plunger. Sometimes, if you have a travel-sized tampon, you might have to extend the plunger and click it into place.

The plunger moves the tampon outside of the applicator. You do so by holding on to the grip with the tips of your fingers and placing another finger on the end of the plunger.

Honestly, this can be up to personal preference. Some types of tampons slide in easier than others.

For starters, there’s the classic cardboard applicator. This type of applicator can be more uncomfortable because it’s rigid and doesn’t slide as easily inside the vaginal canal.

However, this doesn’t mean all people find this applicator uncomfortable.

On the other hand, there’s the plastic applicator. This type slides much easier given its slick material and rounded shape.

Not really. Usually, your menstrual fluid is enough to lubricate your vagina for tampon insertion.

If you’re using the lowest absorbency tampon and you’re still having issues inserting it, it might be helpful to add lube.

Now that you’re familiar with the parts you’re working with, it’s time to insert your tampon. You can certainly read the directions that come inside your tampon box, but here’s a refresher.

First, and most importantly, wash your hands. You want to make sure you don’t spread any germs inside your vagina, even if you think you won’t come in close contact with the labia.

Next, if it’s your first time, you might want a visual guide. Grab a handheld mirror, and get into a comfortable position. For some people, this is a squatting position with their legs bent. For others, it’s a sitting position on the toilet.

Once you’re comfortable, it’s time to insert the tampon.

Find the vaginal opening, and insert the applicator tip first. Gently push the plunger all the way in to release the tampon inside the vagina.

Once you’ve inserted the tampon, you can remove the applicator and discard it.

This is a slightly different process. Instead of inserting an applicator, you’ll use your fingers to push the tampon into your vagina.

First, wash your hands. It’s particularly important to wash your hands with applicator-free tampons, because you’ll be inserting your finger inside your vagina.

Unwrap the tampon from its packaging. Again, you’re going to want to get in a comfortable position.

Then, use your finger to act like the plunger, and push the tampon up inside your vagina. You might have to push it farther than you think so it stays secure.

The good news here? There’s no applicator to throw away, so you don’t have to worry if you can’t find a trash can.

This really depends. There’s no wrong way to deal with the string. It’s usually made from the same material as the tampon and doesn’t affect your vagina either way.

Some people prefer to tuck the string inside their labia, especially if they’re swimming or wearing tight clothing.

Others prefer to let it hang out on their underwear for easy removal. Ultimately, it’s up to what you’re most comfortable with.

If you decide to push the string inside your vagina — instead of just inside your labia — be aware that you might have a harder time locating the string for removal later on.

It might take some getting used to it if it’s your first time inserting a tampon. If the tampon is in the correct position, it probably won’t feel like anything. At the very least, you might feel the string brush up against the side of your labia.

If it’s inserted correctly, you shouldn’t feel anything. But if you don’t insert the tampon far enough, it might feel uncomfortable.

To make it more comfortable, use a clean finger to push the tampon farther up the vaginal canal.

With movement and walking, it might even move around and settle into a more comfortable position after a while.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it’s best to change a tampon every 4 to 8 hours. You shouldn’t leave it in longer than 8 hours.

If you remove it before 4 to 8 hours, that’s OK. Just know there probably won’t be much absorbed on the tampon.

If you find yourself bleeding through a tampon before 4 hours, you might want to try a thicker absorbency.

If you wear it longer than 8 hours, you put yourself at risk for toxic shock syndrome (TSS). While it’s extremely rare, TSS can cause organ damage, shock, and, in very rare cases, death.

The good news is that the FDA has reported a significant decline in TSS cases associated with tampons over the past 20 years. This doesn’t mean it’s completely gone, though.

To decrease your risk for TSS, make sure to not wear your tampon longer than recommended. Don’t use a more absorbent tampon than needed.

So it’s been 4 to 8 hours and you’re ready to remove your tampon. The good news is, since there’s no applicator necessary, some people find it much easier to remove a tampon than insert one.

Here’s what you can expect.

First, you’re going to want to wash your hands. You might think you’re not getting any germs near your vagina by pulling a string, but it’s better to be safe.

Next, get into the same comfortable position you chose before. This way, there’s a much more direct path for the tampon to release.

Now you’re ready to remove. Gently pull the end of the tampon string to release the tampon.

Once it’s out of your vagina, carefully wrap the tampon in toilet paper and dispose of it in a trash can. Most tampons aren’t biodegradable. Septic systems weren’t built to manage tampons, so make sure not to flush it down the toilet.

Finally, wash your hands again, and either insert a new tampon, switch to a pad, or continue on with your day if you’re at the end of your cycle.

It might feel like there’s a lot of misinformation about tampons. Don’t worry — we’re here to help clear up the misconceptions.

Can it get lost?!

It might seem like your vagina is a bottomless pit, but the cervix at the back of your vagina stays closed, so it’s impossible to “lose” a tampon in your vagina.

Sometimes it might get tucked between folds, but if you gently pull on the string and guide it out, you’ll be fine.

Will inserting more than one offer added protection?

Well, it’s not a bad idea. But it’s not exactly a good one, either. Inserting more than one tampon can make it more difficult to remove them after 4 to 8 hours. It might be more uncomfortable if you have a shallower vaginal canal, too.

Can you pee with it in?

Of course! The vagina and urethra are two separate openings. You’re free to go when you have to go.

Some find it easier to temporarily push the string out of the way before they pee. If you wish to do this, just remember to wash your hands before going.

What if you get pee on the string?

This is totally normal, and you definitely won’t spread an infection. Unless you have a urinary tract infection (UTI), your pee is completely bacteria-free, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Can you have penetrative sex with it in?

It’s best to remove your tampon beforehand. If you leave it in, you might push the tampon further into the vaginal canal, causing potential discomfort.

If you aren’t interested in penetration but want to be sexual, nonpenetrative sexual activities, like oral and manual stimulation, are A-OK.

Just like when it comes to riding a bike, inserting and removing a tampon takes practice. It might feel strange at first, but once you familiarize yourself with the proper steps, you’ll feel like a pro in no time.

Remember, tampons aren’t the only choice. There are other methods of menstrual care, such as pads, menstrual cups, and even period underwear.

If you ever feel consistent pain or unusual symptoms after inserting or removing your tampon, consult a doctor. There might be something else going on that requires medical attention.


Jen Anderson is a wellness contributor at Healthline. She writes and edits for various lifestyle and beauty publications, with bylines at Refinery29, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and bareMinerals. When not typing away, you can find Jen practicing yoga, diffusing essential oils, watching Food Network, or guzzling a cup of coffee. You can follow her NYC adventures on Twitter and Instagram.