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A tampon is a product made of materials that are highly absorbent, and is placed in the vagina during menstruation to soak up blood before it stains underwear or other clothing. Sometimes tampons also refer to other absorbent material placed in wounds to stop bleeding, but this is less common. Tampons have been in use for a long time, and now are available in many varieties.
There is record of using materials in the vagina during menstruation thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, but the modern tampon got its start in the early 20th century. Two styles of tampons, made of cotton-like material, began to gain popularity during this time. One was the digital type, which is inserted into the vagina with the fingers only. Applicator versions of the tampon, which American women in particular prefer, were developed by the early 1930s. Tampons competed with the other feminine products, like sanitary napkins, and became more popular for some women.
Today, numerous styles of the tampon exist and they are aggressively marketed. Women who use this feminine product choose them because they offer the freedom to engage in activities that sanitary pads cannot, though alternatives like insertable menstrual cups might offer a similar freedom. For example, wearing tampons makes it possible to do things like wear a swimsuit and engage in water activities, which is much more difficult to do with most maxi pads. They’re also easy to insert, and easy to remove because they feature a string that sits outside the vagina which is pulled to bring the tampon out. Most tampons are also flushable, though this may not be the case if waste goes to a septic system.
Two types of the tampon are generally available. Some offer absorption by increasing in length as moisture comes into contact with them. Others expand outward in a parachute fashion. Both types are effective, but they also come in different sizes, and tampon size does need to be considered. Smaller sizes are generally designed for smaller built women and/or for low flow days, while larger sizes may offer greater absorption and be more effective for times when menstruation is heaviest. Some companies sell boxes of tampons in numerous sizes to accommodate for days when flow is heavier and for days when it is lighter.
Tampons are available in many different applicators, depending on brand. The traditional applicator is a simple cardboard tube, which is flushable and biodegradable. Others may be plastic and designed for more comfortable insertion.
There are health concerns about tampons, and the most significant of these is the risk of toxic shock syndrome. This risk is minimal, provided tampons are not worn for more than six to eight hours. Failure to remove them, or forgetting a tampon is in place and adding another risks this very serious illness. Additionally, tampons are not acceptable for use for other forms of vaginal bleeding, such as after childbirth, miscarriage, or abortion. In these instances, inserting anything into the vagina can risk infection.
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