Have tampons gotten longer or has my vagina gotten shorter?
May 20, 2014 2:43 PM   Subscribe

For the past several months I've been having problems using tampons.

No matter how far I shove the applicator up in there, the tampon itself almost always ends up sticking out a bit and rubbing my labia in an uncomfortable, abrasive way. It's so uncomfortable that I've reverted to using pads almost exclusively, but I'd like to have the option to go back to using tampons if possible because pads are also uncomfortable in their own way.

I'm using the same brand (Playtex Gentle Glide) as I've used for many years.

I'm 35 years old and have been menstruating and using tampons for 23 years so I doubt that it's user error.

No major events have occurred in my vagina lately. I've never been pregnant. My husband and I are monogamous.

I'm on various medications now, but this problem started months before the medications did so I don't think they're linked.

So... what gives? Anyone else experience tampons suddenly becoming uncomfortable like this, and how did you solve it?

And can anyone recommend a different tampon brand that is shorter? A comfortable applicator is also a must for me.

Regarding the DivaCup and similar solutions: I made a good effort to make the switch about a decade ago and found that it just doesn't work for me, sorry.

Please advise, thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Jacqueline: "A comfortable applicator is also a must for me."

Have you tried applicator-less tampons and found they didn't work for you? If not, I have found ob tampons to be more comfortable to insert than any tampon with applicator. Placement is also more precise when you're doing it directly.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

Have you tried o.b.? They're hard to get used to but now every time I use applicators, I find them slipping.
posted by jabes at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I cannot speak to whether tampons have grown longer, but in my experience OB are a lot shorter than other brands. Like half as long.

They're applicator-free, though, so you do have to be, er, kind of comfortable with your body. Which you probably are, if you gave DivaCup and so on a whirl? But definitely no stabby plastic bits, which is nice.
posted by Andrhia at 2:48 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know the answer but I do have the same problem. I used to use tampons and then they just started falling out. I asked my GYN and he had no clue, he couldn't see any abnormality that might cause it. Now I just use incontinence pads, and adult diapers at night (normal "overnight pads" is a lie, they barely work in the daytime.) I don't find them nearly as uncomfortable as tampons and cups.
posted by bleep at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: I'm plenty comfortable with touching my menstrual blood but when I use applicator-less tampons I usually end up scratching myself and sometimes the scratches get infected and then there is much unpleasantness.

If I go slowly and carefully enough to not scratch myself, I can't propel the tampons up there with sufficient force for them to insert fully so they end up sticking out even more than the ones I use now.

For every o.b. tampon I've semi-successfully inserted, I've probably wasted 2 or 3 that I could only get in halfway and had to pull back out. So unless there's some magic finger insertion technique that I'm missing, I don't think those will work for me either.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, for those of you who also have this problem, do you mind please disclosing your approximate age? Because I'm wondering if maybe this is just something that some vaginas do later in life...
posted by Jacqueline at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2014

This is most definitely in the go see your doctor category. Seriously. If there's a change in your gynaecological situation, it's important to find out why. There's no window in there and this could be the only sign you get that something needs attention. Please don't ignore it.
posted by taff at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

This sounds like a talk to the gynecologist type issue, then. Tampons of any kind are not intended to require that kind of force to insert.

It is possible that your (totally within the range of normal) topology just doesn't jibe with tampon design, and that some other option might be your best bet.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:57 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

35 would be considered early to be experiencing what you're experiencing as an age related thing. Please see a doctor.
posted by taff at 2:57 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm unsure which applicator tampons would be shorter than o.b. tampons, but a tiny bit of lube does provide most of the benefits of an applicator and should help with scratching issues (as will making sure you're using the smallest tampon sufficient to do the job for you, and this can change over time.)

Reviews of different tampons, might be handy for comparing brands.
posted by asperity at 2:59 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have plenty of tampon uncomfortablness. It may be tension related. If so trying a lower strength ( light instead of heavy) may help. I find playtex to be shorter than tampex so those are a no go. I find plastic applicators work better.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:59 PM on May 20, 2014

Are you scratching yourself with your nails or the tampons? OB Pro-Comfort with Silk Touch are much easier to insert than the OB styles that do not have the Silk Touch (it's some kind of cover over the cotton).
posted by jabes at 2:59 PM on May 20, 2014

Also it helps if I'm not completely dry from a previous tampon so waiting a few minutes helps lubercate so it goes in furthur.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:00 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm 25 and this has started happening to me too. Maybe we're getting sloppy in our old age...
posted by stoneandstar at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2014

Do you have a tipped uterus?
posted by brujita at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2014

Also, I hate using applicator-less tampons too, for the same reason (scratching myself with my nails, which I keep short). Trying to use them makes this problem 10x worse for me. I have a hard time pushing it up sufficiently far too, and I don't actually enjoy the act (for reasons other than blood, though the blood is messy).
posted by stoneandstar at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: a tiny bit of lube does provide most of the benefits of an applicator and should help with scratching issues

Ah, lube might be the answer. My husband I usually use some for sex so maybe I just run dryer than most?

I will definitely try lube and see if it helps but please do keep other ideas / suggestions coming in case that doesn't work.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Are you scratching yourself with your nails or the tampons?

With my nails. Even when I trim them. I would make a terrible lesbian. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 3:03 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lube helps me with placement, too. Although I understand you've tried and don't care for o.b., I have occasionally had the problem of them not inserting properly and this has been 100 percent resolved with a little lube. You need to make sure that the finger pad of the finger you are using to insert the tampon reaches just past the pelvic shelf, if that's the right word. It seats there, is comfortable (i.e., you can't feel it), and it does not eject. I can't imagine how awful it would be to have a tampon that is sticking out of my vagina. Ugh, I really feel for you.
posted by janey47 at 3:05 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: For those of you urging me see a doctor: I'm due for a pap smear and exam soon anyway, so I promise that I'll schedule that as soon as I get my health insurance reinstated (or will schedule one with Planned Parenthood if I don't).
posted by Jacqueline at 3:19 PM on May 20, 2014

Several years agoI had a few lesions removed from my cervix and immediately lost my ability to comfortably use tampons. I had mostly been using OB but that and everything else I tried just hurt. Eventually I discovered that Tampax Pearl tampons worked well, even though the actual tampon is larger/longer than OB. They have a pretty elaborate plastic applicator that gives me a little pang of environmental guilt but oh well.
posted by kate blank at 3:21 PM on May 20, 2014

Best answer: I know you're not a rookie, but when you tried the ob, were you aiming towards the small of your back rather than straight up?
posted by kate4914 at 3:23 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: were you aiming towards the small of your back rather than straight up?

You're supposed to aim towards the small of your back??? o.O

Is that for all tampons or just o.b.?

(Maybe it's user error after all...!)
posted by Jacqueline at 3:26 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

OB tampons are designed for you to insert your finger into a little depression at the end. Your fingertip shouldn't have to come into contact with your vagina at all. You just pull the string in all four directions to spread the back end of the tampon open a bit and create a shallow hole, where you place your finger. If you have a tilted uterus, you might have to point it more towards your back. Holding the string taught against your finger can help you direct the tampon. And yes, definitely try a bit of lube.

Glad to hear you're getting checked by a doc.
posted by moira at 3:28 PM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

As I got older (37 now), I had trouble too. Nothing wrong with me. I was told by one dr that I had a tipped uterus. Another one told me I didn't. Anyway, I have to literally bend over to insert them now. But, it works. I use the same brand as you.
posted by MayNicholas at 3:29 PM on May 20, 2014

Small of the back for all tampons.

OP, are you on the pill? I'm 37 and noticed a definite reduction in my flow over the last few years, which has sometimes made tampon insertion more difficult because I'm generally "drier" even with my flow. Switching to light days tampons (I use the tampax pearl brand and they're comfortable) has helped. Also, with insertion, do you remember to keep sort of pushing up and in as you go? I found that sometimes I was pulling my hand down too quickly before the tampon had fully cleared the applicator chamber--so I was semi yanking the tampon back down as I moved my hand. Going a bit slower and keeping the up-and-in pressure has helped.
posted by TwoStride at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2014

Toward the back is an anatomy thing, so that applies to tampons/cups in general, and possibly more so if you're tipped.

Oh, and wiggling a bit side-to-side may help.
posted by moira at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2014

In my humble experience, being an older woman, this very well may be a later-in-life problem. I unlike you did give birth to three children, and I assumed my difficulties had to do with that.

For me, the brand you use was the only brand I could tolerate and I still had issues with placement. Those recommending lube are on the right track.

I'm coming up on my one year anniversary of last cycle (yay menopause!) but in my final year of dealing with menstruation I discovered the wonder that is Always Infinity, and I only wish I had discovered that brand of pad sooner.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: OP, are you on the pill?

I've had the copper IUD (no hormones) for 10 years. (Crap, just realized that I'm due to switch that out, too.)
posted by Jacqueline at 3:33 PM on May 20, 2014

Glad you've got an appointment lined up already. Here's a video showing (with illustrations) the correct insertion of an applicator-less tampon (the voiceover's in Dutch, I think, but it's not necessary to understand the visuals). The motion is really kind of up, then back—but if you're only doing the "up" part of the motion, and not the "back" part, that could be the problem.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm 56*, and I assume my insertion difficulties are caused by my fibroid. (It's in a funky location.)

*I've had two periods since November; I'm not sure if I'm out of the woods yet.
posted by jgirl at 3:41 PM on May 20, 2014

Yes. Tipping toward your back is a thing. It helps a lot as that's how your vagina slopes. Start pressing the tampon in slowly and you should allow the tampon to guide itself along your slope toward your lower back. If you get resistance then you're at too much of an angle either up or down (or to the side. They don't always slope straight!). Push gently until it's all the way in. The end of the tampon part where the plunger meets the tampon sheath should be in. Then push the plunger - without pulling out the applicator - until it's all the way "applicated" in. Then pull out the applicator.

You can also try other positions such as putting one leg up on the tubs edge while standing.

Seconding asking your doc but try proper or different teqniques first. (I am 24. Have been sing tampons since I was 14. I prefer tampax pearl.)
posted by Crystalinne at 3:42 PM on May 20, 2014

I used Vaseline at the top at first - don't remember where I read about it. Try that if lube doesn't do much? I'm usually anti petroleum jelly, but it worked and a little bit probably won't kill us. After I got more comfortable, didn't really need it. But OB was such a great change.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:43 PM on May 20, 2014

The only time I ever had that problem was when I didn't push the applicator push tube in far enough, or the tampon might be getting stuck on the claws of the tip and dragging back down. Are you able to push the inner tube up all the way?

Another thought is to check and see if you have a tampon stuck up there (it happens) from a previous time. Giving you less room for another. If you have a problem with your fingernails, put on a cheap rubber glove (they sell them at the dollar store) and use some lube.

And yes, tipped uterus is a thing, try putting your foot up on the toilet seat or edge of a tub and inserting at an angle toward the small of your back. You should not feel any pain or tampon sticking out unless it is an extra large and completely soaked... maybe. But otherwise it should go all up in there and rest snugly.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:55 PM on May 20, 2014

Scratching yourself doesn't make sense to me. To insert the o.b. tampon, you put your finger inside the tampon. Kinda burrow your index finger next to the string until the finger is inside. Then, push your tampon-wrapped finger inside yourself. Your fingernail should not be exposed at all.

(I'm 43, with no problems using the o.b. tampon.)
posted by Houstonian at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

In re: lube. Please don't use Vaseline, but rather use a water soluble lube. There are many reasons not to, among them that (i) it's just really bad for your vagina and (ii) it decreases absorption by the tampon.
posted by janey47 at 4:04 PM on May 20, 2014

2nding Houstonian. Pull on the string and kind of circle it around to open up the middle, then just insert using one finger in the center of the tampon (I use my middle finger because I can reach the farthest) and brace the rest of my hand with my pointer and ring fingers outside my body. The first o.b. of the month is sometimes tricky but after that it's a breeze.
posted by jabes at 4:07 PM on May 20, 2014

Although I use a DivaCup, my comment is still about inserting things into the vagina, so I feel like it's still a valid answer. Anyway, positioning is everything. When I insert the cup, I sit on the toilet and insert basically in a horizontal direction. When I use the occasional tampon, I need to squat a bit and insert slightly more diagonal, but definitely closer to the horizontal axis then the vertical. Data points: I have a tipped uterus, and found tampons increasingly uncomfortable as I aged. I will be 35 on Thursday.
posted by Ruki at 4:11 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: Hey so I just tried the "aim towards the small of the back" trick and it went all the way in!!! :D :D :D :D :D

Now I just gotta wait and see if it stays put or migrates downward.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:24 PM on May 20, 2014 [24 favorites]

Your cervix does move up and down throughout your cycle, but I've never heard of it lowering permanently...

My first thought is you're getting position or angle wrong. If you are squatting, that makes tampons more difficult to insert. It should not require any force to get a tampon in. Try sitting with one leg up, and leaning your torso slightly back, then insert the tampon angled more back than up. Personally, I like O.B., or Kotex if an applicator must be present. I've always had problems with Playtex and Tampax applicators and feeling like they are in position. They just seem clumsier to use. As I recall, they taper off, so they're harder to hold, but don't have a set point that it's obvious you should insert them to. Kotex have a bit of a rim on the end that always seemed easier to handle to me, and you just push it all the way in and it naturally stops; also the applicators and tampons are shorter overall. Don't remove the applicator until the tampon is all the way into position. But I'm nthing trying O.B. again with a bit of lube. Like the others said, your nail should be covered by the end of the tampon, and the lube should help. Just experiment with the angle and how you position your body, and don't rush.
posted by catatethebird at 4:28 PM on May 20, 2014

I'm about your same age, same tampon history and use the same brand. I don't think the tampons have changed. This sometimes happens to me too--I just can't shove the thing any further up once I get the applicator inserted. (I give up and pull the whole thing out when this happens, but if I left the tampon there it would indeed feel "too long.") It happens when I'm trying to insert the tampon on the last day and my flow is light and I have just removed the prior tampon. I.e., it's a lot drier than normal. So lube would probably help, though I haven't tried it.

Oh and I haaaate OB, both in theory and practice, so I feel you there. They really don't work for everyone, despite their very enthusiastic fans!
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 4:28 PM on May 20, 2014

Until I did the aim for the back thing, not only did my tampons try to escape, but they gave me nasty back aches. Good luck! On I have been using tampons about 20 years, but never with an applicator. I'm 46 and I've not experienced any changes in tampon insertion.
posted by b33j at 4:53 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you insert the tampon past the muscle near the vaginal opening, it will not "fall out" or migrate. Inserting too shallowly is what causes migration. It has to "settle" against the inside muscle.

OB is the most intuitively inserted tampon, and the most successful brand I've ever used. It also seems to be the least likely to leak if properly placed.
posted by citygirl at 4:57 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I started having this problem as well over the last few years and eventually found out that aside from uterus problems that were making it 2-3x larger than normal with swollen tissue even in non-period weeks, it was also super retroverted which did weird shit wrt general vajeeper situations. You might want to get a transvag ultrasound to see if anything weird is going on.

I also could never successfully/comfortably use OB tampons and my nails are gay short.
posted by elizardbits at 6:00 PM on May 20, 2014

I started having issues with insertion when my period started getting irregular and light. Things were too dry and uncomfortable to insert the tampon deep enough. For a time I switched to Light, which can sometimes be difficult to find. (I'd buy the multi packs and only use the lightest). Eventually I switched to a birth control that turned off the flow completely.

Also, I don't think it was until I tried the Diva Cup, that it clicked to aim back, not up.
posted by politikitty at 6:06 PM on May 20, 2014

Best answer: Also if you lick the applicator first it will go in smoother.

Do not do this after eating thai food.
posted by elizardbits at 6:32 PM on May 20, 2014 [22 favorites]

Fibroids can be heavy and weigh down on your vagina and push a tampon right out.
posted by serena15221 at 8:03 PM on May 20, 2014

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