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Tampons on pink background

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As we live in a time of great options in terms of feminine hygiene products, from menstrual cups and discs to herbal sanitary pads, you would think that people would be more open than ever to some of the more basic options, like tampons. However, according to wellness influencer and Chicago-based OB/GYN Dr. Kiarra King and Tampax, they’re still looked at skeptically by women of all ages who weren’t brought up to consider tampons. A survey done by the brand found that 38 percent of Black women who use tampons wish they started using them sooner, while one in four who do prefer pads only use them because they never learned how to use tampons. That, according to King, has a lot to do with misinformation, people believing that such products aren’t safe or comfortable to use. That also has to do with a stigma surrounding periods in general. When you feel like you can’t be open about your period, you are, in turn, not forthcoming about your personal hygiene needs.

“I think now with the era of social media, people are a lot more open to having the discussion. That may be why you’re like, ‘Wait, there’s a stigma?’ But I think there’s definitely still period stigma for sure,” Dr. King said during a phone conversation. “I have women come into my office, as far as patients, who aren’t even comfortable talking about their own body parts, let alone what’s happening on a monthly basis.”

“You’ll ask them if they’ve ever used tampons and they’ll say, ‘I don’t want to put anything down there!'” she added. “They won’t use anatomical terms and it’s almost like it’s a foreign part of themselves.”

Granted, this isn’t every woman. Plenty are comfortable using tampons of all sizes and find them convenient for all sorts of activities, as well as just for comfort overall. But King says that Black women especially have an aversion to tampon use, and she’s heard reasons (and seen them via the Tampax survey) from patients including everything from growing up believing that if you used them you were promiscuous, to them being painful.

“They associate them with being painful, unsafe and then additionally, the myth that you’ll lose your virginity if you wear tampons,” she said. That latter myth is especially troubling to the OB/GYN.

“We have to stop sexualizing girls’ bodies. Having a period is something that happens to every woman outside of a woman who has an anatomical issue where they don’t,” she said. “Other than that, every young girl is going to start having periods and we can’t sexualize that. It’s a normal bodily function.”

She also noted that patients have told her that tampons are more so attributed to white girls and women, while pads are the preferred product of Black girls and women.

“I think that also goes back to just upbringing. So if your mom, your grandma or your aunties had any particular beliefs, it can be passed down,” she said. “If they had an issue with tampons, they didn’t think they were safe or thought they were associated with being ‘fast,’ whatever else you can possibly name, then they’re not going to tell their daughters to use tampons. They’re going to tell their daughters to use what they use and what they’re comfortable teaching her and telling her about.”

Other concerns include that for women with fibroids, they feel tampons can make clotting worse, and if you have a heavier flow, that they won’t be able to keep up.

“Every woman is going to have to do what makes the most sense for their particular period and their particular flow,” she said. “In terms of your period and fibroids, you can still use a tampon, there’s no contraindication to using them. Now, if your flow is such that you’re changing the tampon every hour, for that person it may not work best for their particular flow, but they may choose a different product and use tampons for their lighter days if they like the comfort, the less bulky feel. They’re definitely okay to be used with a heavier flow, a woman might need to just go up in absorbency.”

As mentioned, in the survey, women in their 20s and 30 reported that they wished they learned about using tampons earlier in life so that they could have been more comfortable using them sooner. With that in mind, King is hoping to provide education to consumers and dispel myths so that everyone has the power to choose whether or not such products are for them. They will be able to do so because they’ll know how to use them safely, how long to leave them in and that such product usage won’t perpetuate any negative myths.

For today’s mothers of daughters, she suggests those who are open go about helping girls learn how to use them by starting when they’re not on their period.  And if you haven’t tried tampons as an adult but are interested, do the same, and perhaps, use a little lubrication to help the process along.

“You want the experience to be a comfortable experience. You don’t want it to be stressful, so do it during a random time of the month when not on your period,” she said. “You’re not worried like, ‘Oh my God’ is this going to work? Did I put this in right?’ You don’t have to be on your period to practice inserting a tampon. But for younger girls I would probably recommend using a smaller one, a light or slim one based on the packaging of the particular line. Everyone should start getting comfortable with opening them, taking them out of the wrapper, seeing how the applicator works before you get to the point of trying to put it inside the vagina.”

“If you break down the barriers ahead of time, it makes it so much easier,” she added. “There’s no fear. It takes away the shame some women carry about their bodies and this normal, natural function.”

While King and Tampax laud tampons for being convenient, readily accessible, safe and comfortable, she encourages people to choose what works best for them. Being able to have the knowledge to do so though, is her focus.

“They should not cause pain, which is a myth that they are painful so women don’t use them because they think that,” she said. “With all that being said, people are going to choose what they want to choose, but if they don’t even know tampons are safe and comfortable and can be picked up at any drugstore, they may not be thinking about that as an option. So if we can provide that education to say, no, they’re safe, they’re comfortable, you won’t get an infection, this doesn’t mean you’re not a virgin anymore — all of those things, these are all reasons why they’re still a great option for women to use.”

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