Tampon Terror in the Philippines: Why are Filipinas afraid and discouraged to use tampons?


“Women can swim while on their periods?” This is a fairly common question overheard while enjoying the sun, sea, sand, and surf in the Philippines. Many Filipinas are often surprised to see other women hitting the beach or pool even at the peak of their flow. We’re astonished that these “modern girls” don’t have a deathly fear of creating a literal red tide.

Little do many Filipinas know that those other ladies have a “secret weapon”: the tampon.

If you're one of the "modern girls" it's important to note that many Filipinas, especially those from rural areas, have never heard of or seen a tampon at all. When shown one, some even assume they are used to stop nosebleeds due to their shape and almost perfect fit into our nasal cavities. If you wonder about tampons, were discouraged by what someone said about them, or are afraid to use them, this article is perfect for you.

Written by: Celine Francisco

So, what are tampons?

tampons and flowers on the tableA tampon is a sanitary product, a plug tiny enough to sit comfortably inside the vagina. The word tampon comes from the French word for plug or stopper. It   is usually made of soft absorbent cotton, rayon, or a combination of both, and is shaped like a cylinder to make it easy for you to insert it inside your body. Like the sanitary pad, tampons absorb menstrual blood to prevent period leaks. 

Tampons are available in a variety of shapes and sizes; the larger the size, the more menstrual blood it can absorb. You may only need a smaller tampon at the start and end of your menstrual cycle and a larger-capacity tampon for those days when you have heavier flows.

Generally, tampons either come with or without an applicator — a thin barrel made of cardboard or plastic — which allows menstruators to more easily insert a tampon into their vaginas. The barrel has a thin tube or plunger which is used to push and release the tampon inside the vagina, making them easier to insert than a digital tampon (one without an applicator, which is typically inserted and pushed using your fingers).

 

Why are Filipinas reluctant to use tampons?

MYTH #1: The tampon is going to tear my hymen

Given that more than 86% of the population are Catholics, most of us are raised in a conservative culture where sex and menstruation are taboo topics. Many Filipinas are not comfortable to even talk about anything related to their sexuality with anyone except a close friend.

Also, the shame of losing one's virginity before marriage leads to  an obsessive worry that we'll accidentally break our hymens. And so it comes naturally that many would avoid using tampons because they think that these little plugs can actually tear the hymen. 

But can a tampon really break the hymen? The short answer to that is no. But before we explain why, let’s first define what a hymen is. The hymen is a thin, ragged mucosal tissue that surrounds or covers part of the opening of the vagina. It is often torn during first sexual intercourse, sometimes causing pain or light bleeding. Not all hymens are created the same, though, and some women are even born without one.The state of the hymen is not a reliable indicator of virginity.

Hymens vary in size, elasticity, thickness, and shape, and normally stretch and get thinner over time.. Inserting a tampon may cause it to stretch out, if inserted properly, should not tear the hymen.

MYTH #2: Tampons are uncomfortable

Using a tampon can be a breeze. Not everyone may get it right the first time, though, so the key here is cautiousness, relaxation, and practice.

So, how do you properly insert a tampon? First, you have to wash your hands, especially if you will be using a digital tampon. You definitely want to avoid getting bacteria in your vagina.

Next, you need to find a comfortable position. You may sit on the toilet with knees apart, squat, or put one leg up.

Once you are comfortable and relaxed, it's time to insert it. Sometimes, you may feel slightly uncomfortable when inserting the tampon. That usually happens when your vagina is dry or when you are feeling a little nervous, stressing your muscles down there. To make slipping in the applicator less difficult, you may apply a small amount of water-based lubricant on the applicator tip.

If it is inserted properly, you should not feel anything at all. Push it up and back until it can't go further. Inserting it too shallow into your vagina could be the reason you're experiencing some discomfort. But make sure the string is still outside, so it's easy for you to pull the tampon out when its job is done! If you push it all the way in and continue to feel vaginal pain or discomfort, discontinue using the tampon and consult with your doctor.

MYTH #3: Tampons are not absorbent enough 

Small and compact as they are, tampons are great at absorbing menstrual blood and preventing leaks. They vary in their absorbency levels: light absorbency, regular absorbency, super absorbency, and super plus absorbency.

  • Light absorbency means that the tampon can absorb up to six grams of blood.
  • Regular absorbency tampons can hold up to nine grams of menstrual blood.
  • Super absorbency tampons can absorb up to 12 grams of blood.
  • Super plus or ultra-absorbency tampons can hold between 15 and 18 grams of menstrual blood.

On average, the amount of menstrual blood released in a typical period cycle is about 35ml or 2 - 3 tablespoons (28-42 ml) or 6 teaspoons (30 ml). About a teaspoon or 5ml of blood is present in a fully soaked normal-sized tampon or pad. Considering the usual duration of 4 to 6 days and an average of 35 ml of blood, the average use of tampons is 6 to 12 per cycle. Some women change their tampons more frequently, but it's important to make sure you don't leave it in for more than 8 hours, to avoid any bacterial build up. Try to change it every 4-6 hours.

PRO TIP: It's always better to use a lighter absorbency necessary and just change more often. Go up to find the right size for your flow. A lot of women think it's better to use "super" tampons even when they have a light or medium flow, but this could increase the risk of developing a bacterial infection. 

Not all women bleed the same. Some may experience menorrhagia — menstrual periods with an abnormally heavy flow or prolonged bleeding. This typically means more than 80ml per menstrual cycle, soaking up 13 or more tampons. As a result, some women may have a low blood count (anemia) or iron deficiency, and they may feel tiredness and shortness of breath.

On the flip side, hypomenorrhea, which is characterized by short, scanty, or very light menstruation, causes a menstrual blood flow of less than 25ml (5 or less tampons per cycle).

If you're experiencing extremely heavy or light flows, consider speaking to your doctor.

MYTH* #4: Tampons can make you sick

*This one is actually true.

As mentioned earlier, tampons should be changed every 4-6 hours. Leaving the tampon inside your body for a period longer than eight hours can cause bacterial infection and may lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is rare but can be fatal. It is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus or staph in the vagina and can cause the following symptoms.

  • Faintness
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure

If you experience any of these symptoms, remove the tampon immediately and call your healthcare provider.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is extremely rare and shouldn't be something to worry about if you use tampons properly. If you typically sleep over 8 hours or want to be extra cautious, opt out of your tampon or menstrual cup in the evening and use a pad instead. 

MYTH #5: You can lose the tampon inside your body

There is no way a tampon will slide further into your body or get "lost". That is because the cervix, the opening at the end of your vagina, is far too small for a tampon to pass through - unless you're pregnant, in which case you won't be needing a tampon at all.

Another concern some people have is that the string will get lost inside the tampon and they won't be able to pull it out. Although you should try to keep the string outside the vagina when inserting a tampon, having the string inside is generally not a problem. If this does happen to you, just insert your thumb and index or middle finger into the vagina, and pull the tampon (or string) out. 

Hand holding tampon against sky

To sum it up...

Tampons have been around for almost a century now. Yet, despite the tampon’s popularity in Western countries, women in many parts of the Philippines are either still oblivious to its existence or reluctant to even try it. 

It may be hard for this product to break through the barriers at first but with education, Filipinas may one day realize that many of their notions about tampons are unfounded. For first-time users, tampons may feel like it’s a little bit invasive or scary to try. But the longer you use it, the more you’ll appreciate how absorbent, comfortable, practical, and hygienic a tampon is.

Imagine being able to swim, play your favorite sport, or engage in any form of physical activity despite your period. Or how about saying goodbye to pad rashes, messy periods, and foul odors.

Tampons are so compact that you will not even feel it inside you. You don’t even have to worry about it bulging or falling out of place. That means you can go ahead and wear your favorite clothes or undies comfortably. Some kind of magic? You bet it is, thanks to the good old tampon! 

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