March 11 2021 | Written by Maria Toru (She/Her)
My friend Shireen confided in me one day in class, “Pray I don’t die during this period”.
“Nobody dies during history class”, I said brushing it off as a joke.
“No, you don’t understand!! I mean during this Period.” The seriousness on her face and urgency in her tone, alarmed me to some extent. “You mean this period, as in this era?” I further asked, trying to get some clarification.
She launched into an angry tirade, which soon made me realise that this particular “Period’ had nothing to do with timelines and everything to do with something a sixth grader like me in Pakistan, studying in a Catholic Missionary School - had no idea about.
Both of us were extremely confused, concerned and scared. For I genuinely thought she would bleed to death and so did she. It was thus mutually decided by two little sixth graders, to raise our hands to get the attention of our history teacher and confess to her our little dilemma. She immediately sent Shireen to the infirmary, while I waited anxiously for the prognosis.
While I have learned a lot since that little incident, it is no laughing matter to experience first-hand what ignorance breeds. To read further into cultural differences regarding menstruation, check out our blog post on this topic! Daily progress is being made in leaps and bounds over research, knowledge dissemination and awareness campaigns, but there are still myths surrounding the use of certain or all menstrual products.
Today, we’re looking into myths related to the use of tampons.
Myth No. 1: I will lose my virginity if I use a tampon
This myth is a front-runner, especially in the South Asian community, where the use of tampons is directly associated with losing your virginity. Due to the fact that so many people immigrate to North America with this same concept, these are the myths they perpetuate to their social circle and eventually children, if it is even discussed.
Virginity is a cultural phenomenon, which can be attributed to the physical breaking of the hymen (a membrane that covers your vaginal opening). According to scientific research, specially by Anna Knöfel Magnusson of the RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) in her booklet Vaginal Corona: Myths surrounding virginity; some women are born with stronger hymen membranes, some with weak ones and some without. In either case a hymen can break by daily physical activity, intercourse, swimming, horse-back riding or other tasks. Virginity is a social construct that is defined by whether you’ve had sexual intercourse, not by a broken hymen. To summarize: you cannot lose your virginity from using a tampon.
Myth No. 2: Tampons Cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
This myth is a close runner-up and one you’ve often likely seen as a warning label on the side of every tampon box one buys. There is an extensive article written by the Marlow team diving deep into TSS and explaining the whole phenomenon behind it.
The article and our research surmises that TSS is rarely caused by the regular use of tampons. Fact - TSS only affects about one in 100,000 individuals per year. TSS is caused by a strain of bacteria called staphylococcus aureus which breeds in the vaginal canal under certain conditions. It enters the bloodstream and releases toxins. It is good to be aware of TSS and extreme cases like the story of model Lauren Wasser in 2012, who lost both her legs to TSS serve as distinct warnings about the safe use of any product. But it is hardly any reason to give up the use of tampons. Gynaecologists agree on how low the chances of contracting TSS are due to tampons.
Safe product practices to avoid TSS:
Use the lowest possible absorbency for your flow.
Changing your tampons frequently - preferably every 4-6 hours, and always before the 8 hour mark.
Wash your hands thoroughly before inserting your tampon.
Be mindful of the warning signs like foul smelling discharge. And if there is a rash, fever, pain or vomiting then immediately go to a doctor. TSS is very rare but also treatable, especially when identified early.
Myth No. 3: Tampons Increase Your Risk of Endometriosis
What is Endometriosis? As mentioned in our previous blog on the topic, endometriosis is a painful disorder that occurs “when tissue that somewhat resembles the lining of the womb (endometrium) is found outside the womb.” Symptoms include extreme pain throughout menstrual cycles, surrounding both ovulation and menstruation. Pain in endometriosis can also commonly be experienced with intercourse (dyspareunia), with bowel movements (dyschezia), and can occur chronically without necessarily being linked to the menstrual cycle. It is important to note that this pain is not just cramps, it is often associated with cysts and lesions that have developed overtime causing serious harm to the body.
Tampons do not cause Endometriosis. The medical community is still learning about the causes of endometriosis, but one major reason is retrograde menstrual flow. This means the menstrual blood goes backwards out of the fallopian tubes, instead of out the vagina. Some people attribute this to tampons. They think that tampons can block the cervix and send the period flow backwards into the uterus and out of the fallopian tubes. Tampons are not capable of blocking the cervix, and if they are at full capacity, the extra blood just leaks out the vagina.
Myth No. 4: The tampon will get lost inside me
Your vagina is not a blackhole where things can get lost forever. You can certainly misplace your tampon as it moves upwards, or it may be difficult to pull out if the string gets tucked in alongside the expanded tampon. Your vagina has two openings, one is the vaginal opening and the other end is the cervix as is clearly shown in the diagram attached. The vaginal canal is only 3-5 inches long and the cervix is narrow enough to only allow blood and semen through, essentially making the vagina a dead end.
If you are having trouble locating or removing your tampon, try relaxing your muscles, sit in a squatting position, put your fingers up your vagina and feel around for the tampon or string. It is usually stuck somewhere high-up and at the back. If that doesn’t do the trick then enlist the help of your mother, partner or doctor. But at all times, remain calm!
Myth No. 5: My tampon will fall out of my vagina
When a tampon is properly inserted, the muscles of the vaginal canal naturally hold the tampon in place. Tampons are made to be worn in the upmost part of the vagina, which is far from the vaginal opening. So even if you are an active person, running around all day, your tampon will not fall out. In fact, it is for this very reason that women prefer it while swimming. The only time your tampon may fall out is if you push hard enough to poop. In that case, it is always advisable to insert a new one, since you do not want fecal bacteria to go up the string and cause infections.
It can be surmised that since the topic of menstrual cycle and products have been taboo for so long, it is bound to breed myths the size of the Lochness Monster. Some are born out of fear, others out of capitalist marketing ventures, some out of good intentions, yet others out of ignorance. And they have all been unequivocally perpetuated forward by our hushed tones and word-of-mouth. It is only through continuous and dedicated awareness campaigns on all platforms that we can shame these myths into submission and let menstruating people be free of the burden to hide what comes naturally as part of their biology. To place them in a position to make informed and open choices about the best options available to them, without having to put their dignity and self-respect through the ordeal of ignorant judgement.