It’s that time of the month again. You’re at the store, standing in the menstrual product aisle, and all you’re thinking to yourself is, What do all of these different colors and sizes actually mean?

Don’t worry. We’re right there with you.

Ultimately, what you need to know when it comes to different tampon sizes is that the size refers to its absorbency, not the actual length or width of the tampon body.

Still have questions? Keep on reading.

Your flow typeLight/junior tamponRegular tamponSuper tamponSuper plus tamponSuper plus extra/ultra tampon
LightEvenly soakedLight white spaceSome white spacePlenty of white spaceMajority white space
Light to moderateEvenly soaked to some overflowEvenly soakedLight white spaceSome white spacePlenty of white space
ModerateSome overflow on stringEvenly soakedEvenly soaked to light white spaceLight white spaceSome white space
Moderate to heavy Some overflow on string or underwearEvenly soaked to some overflowEvenly soakedLight white spaceSome white space to plenty of white space
HeavyHeavy overflow on string or underwearHeavy overflow on string or underwearOverflow to evenly soakedEvenly soakedEvenly soaked to light white space

Not all periods are created equal. The flow that some people experience can differ greatly from the next.

But there’s more. Your flow might change throughout your period. You might find your flow is heavier the first day or two of your period and lighter toward the end (or vice versa!).

Because of this, some tampons are made to absorb more fluid than others to protect from leakage.

That’s a good question.

If you’re menstruating for the first time, it might be best to use the lowest absorbency tampon (usually labeled as thin, light, or junior). These sizes are typically more comfortable and can be easier to insert for those who are newer to the process.

If it’s not your first time, there are a few ways to know what absorbency to use.

If there’s still quite a lot of white space on the tampon after removing it between 4 and 8 hours, then you might prefer a lower absorbency tampon.

Lighter tampons also have a lower risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

If you tend to bleed through the entire tampon or leak onto clothing, you might prefer a heavier absorbency.

That’s entirely up to your personal preferences.

Some people prefer to keep a stock of different sizes to tailor their tampon size to their flow.

Others might prefer to always use regular- or light-sized tampons, because they know their flows aren’t particularly heavy.

If you’re still unsure, you can always ask your gynecologist what they recommend during your next visit.

That depends.

Most tampons are generally the same length. Some may be slightly shorter in order to be better sized for travel or on-the-go use.

However, depending on their absorbency level, some tampons might be wider than others. Light or junior tampons might be smaller in width because there’s not as much material.

On the other hand, super or ultra tampons might be wider or thicker in appearance. This is why they’re generally not recommended for first-time users.

This is a bit tricky. Some brands market their light or junior tampons as “slim” tampons. However, not all do that.

Some brands use the word slim or slender to describe a variety of different tampon sizes because it makes the tampons sound more appealing to insert.

To find out whether your tampon is a light size, always read the sides or back of the box for more information.

Active or “sports” tampons are usually made for people who are playing sports or might be more lively during their periods.

To provide secure protection, these tampons typically have leak-guard protection on the strings or a different method of expansion that covers more surface area.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to wear active tampons while you work out. If you prefer regular, nonactive tampons, they should work just fine.

On the flip side, you don’t have to be an athlete to use an active tampon. Some people prefer the feel or level or protection.

All tampon sizes come in a variety of applicators. It’s up to you which type of applicator you prefer. But it’s important to note that one type of applicator isn’t considered the best.

Plastic applicators

These applicators might be more comfortable or easier to insert. However, because they’re made of more expensive material, they can also be more expensive than cardboard or applicator-free alternatives.

Extendable applicators

This variation of plastic applicators is made for more discreet storage or travel. A bottom tube extends out and clicks into place before insertion, offering a shorter profile.

Cardboard applicators

These can be much cheaper than plastic applicators. You might encounter them in tampon vending machines in public restrooms. The applicator is made with rigid cardboard. Some people find discomfort while inserting this type of applicator.

Digital tampons

These types of tampons don’t have an applicator at all. Instead, you simply insert them by pushing the tampon into the vaginal canal with your finger.

This is a topic of hot debate.

Many doctors say scented tampons are unnecessary because the vagina is self-cleaning. External scent or cleansing can disrupt your natural pH balance and eliminate the good bacteria.

Because of this, a lot of doctors recommend unscented tampons. It’s always best to do your research before buying and read the tampon box to avoid added chemicals.

You’re menstruating for the first time

You might feel confused or scared by an overload of information. Know that you’re not alone.

Many doctors recommend light absorbency tampons for your first menstruation. Others recommend starting with pads first, then moving to tampons once you’re comfortable.

If you’re nervous, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider about your reservations and what your best move is.

You’re using tampons for the first time

If you’re ready to ditch pads, you might want to start out small at first. Try a lower absorbency tampon for your first time. Then, once you have a better gauge on your flow and insertion, you can move around to a higher absorbency.

You’ve never engaged in penetrative vaginal sexual activity

You may have heard that tampons will “break your hymen” if you’re a virgin.

Tampons can certainly stretch the hymen, but this isn’t always the case. Not all people are born with intact hymens, so plenty never “break” or “pop” at all.

Others can tear their hymens during nonsexual activities, like dancing, jumping on a trampoline, or horseback riding. And even if people do tear their hymen, they might not even know it happened.

That said, it shouldn’t deter you from using a tampon if you’ve never engaged in penetrative sexual activity. Try starting out with lighter absorbency tampons, and work your way up from there.

You experience pelvic pain

Try opting for a slim, light absorbency tampon if you tend to have pelvic pain.

If you haven’t received a diagnosis, it might be a good idea to seek out a professional’s help, and use a pad in the meantime. There could be something more serious going on, like an infection.

It might take a lot of trial and error to find the size of tampon that’s right for you and your period. What works for one person might not work for the next.

Try buying a few sizes. Experiment with options during different times of your monthly flow.

You might even find you prefer to use menstrual cups, period underwear, or pads instead of tampons altogether.

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.