We've all heard tampon horror stories, whether its getting toxic shock syndrome, forgetting a tampon for days, or even leaving a tampon in during sex. Thankfully, your chances of having health complications because of tampons are pretty slim, and they remain a popular menstrual hygiene option — a 2015 study found that 70 percent of women use tampons. Still, I avoided tampons until I was out of college because I was terrified of doing something wrong. My fears weren't entirely irrational: If you don't know what size tampons you need, you may be facing unnecessary stress on your period. It can be overwhelming to look at the tampon aisle at a supermarket and decide whether you need junior, super plus or something in between. If you've bought one tampon size and sworn off tampons as a result, it may be time to try again. So what tampon size should you be using? It really does depend.
Tampons aren't supposed to hurt, and you shouldn't be able to feel them once they're inserted. According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, you should pick the smallest-size tampon available when you're just starting out. You don't have to use tampons when you're menstruating, and some people are simply more comfortable with other menstrual hygiene products like pads, menstrual cups, or even period underwear. But if you do want to use tampons, you can make the experience super easy as long as you do some research beforehand.
You Should Be Comfortable
We've already talked about tampons being comfortable, but I have to reiterate it: If you're using the wrong-sized tampon, you are going to feel pain when you walk, sit down or attempt any sudden movements. I had so much discomfort the first time I used a tampon that I wondered whether my friends who swore by tampons were trolling me. It turns out I was using a tampon that was way too big for my flow. Knowing how tampons work can also give you an idea of what size might work best for you. Your tampon sits in your vaginal canal and expands when it feels moisture. If you're using a tampon that's too big, it'll likely still be pretty dry when it's time for removal, which can lead to pain.
You Shouldn't Be Changing It All The Time
You've probably heard that you shouldn't leave your tampon in for more than eight hours, but how long should it stay up there? Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and Assistant Professor at Rowan University, told Bustle in 2016 that changing a tampon every four to eight hours is reasonable, although some doctors recommend changing it at least every six hours. If you're changing your tampon more frequently than that, you may be using a tampon absorbency that's too weak for your flow. Try moving up to a bigger size and see what happens. (If you're still changing your tampon every two hours or less, it may be time to talk to a doctor just to make sure everything's okay.)
You Should Be Leak-Free
According to Kotex, tampons leak if they aren't the right fit for your vagina or the tampon is getting full before you have a chance to change it. If you have a heavy flow, you may be more comfortable pairing a pad and tampon to avoid any leaking, or a tampon and period underwear to avoid stains, but a tampon that fits correctly should absorb all of your menstrual blood without leaks.
Going to the bathroom and seeing blood stains in your underwear is the worst, but being prepared for leaks can help you avoid any mishaps. If you go up a tampon size and you're still leaking, it may be time to wear a pad or check out another kind of period protection like a menstrual cup. Tampons may seem mystifying if you haven't found the right one for you, but all it takes is a bit of trial and error.