How exactly does a tampon work? Is it gonna get swallowed up inside of me or fall out? Am I gonna die of toxic shock syndrome?!?
A tampon is a little cotton plug with a string. It sits inside a little tube, with a littler tube inside that acts like a plunger to push the tampon into your vagina. (They also come tubeless, but I would wait till you are really comfs with using them before you switch to no-applicator tamps.) Here is a quick tutorial for beginners:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Assuming you’re inserting your tampon in the bathroom, it helps if you stand up with one foot on the tub or toilet (it changes the angle of your vagina so it’s easier to slide the tampon in).
  3. The applicator tube has little ridges on the side to make it easier to grip. Hold the applicator with your index finger and thumb right at those ridges.
  4. Position the applicator so the end of it (where the tampon is) is touching the opening to your vagina. Oh, wait. A Quick Note on Your Anatomy:

    Your vagina is the passageway that leads to your internal reproductive organs—your cervix, uterus, et cetera. It’s just that tunnel, and not any of the stuff you can see from the outside, like your labia and clitoris. The external organs make up the vulva, which no one ever talks about even though that’s what they’re usually referring to when they say vagina.

  5. Slide the applicator into your vagina until your thumb and index finger are touching your vulva. Then grab the end of the smaller tube (the one with the string hanging out of it) with your other hand and push it (gently) all the way into the larger tube. This should be a fairly smooth operation. If it hurts going in, stop. Pull the tampon and applicator out, put a pad in place, and make a doctor’s appointment.
  6. Once you’ve pushed the whole thing in, gently pull the applicator out. The tampon should now be in your vagina, with the string hanging there where you can see it. If you give the string a li’l tug you’ll see the tampon is pretty solidly in there. If it comes out easily, take it out and use a NEW ONE and try again.

The tampon won’t get swallowed up inside you, and it won’t fall out. It’s also not likely to cause toxic shock syndrome, which if you’ve heard of it, it was probably from a warning in the instructions that came with a box of tampons. TSS, which is a serious kind of blood poisoning caused by a certain unfriendly bacterium, used to be strongly associated with tampon use, but then tampon manufacturers changed the way they make their products, and the incidence went way down, from really rare to really really super rare. Nowadays, fewer than 1 in 100,000 menstruating people get TSS per year. But to make extra sure you’re not one of those people, don’t use a higher-absorbency tampon than you need on a given day, and be sure to change your tampon every six to eight hours. (If your flow is super heavy, you might wanna change it sooner. And if you’re in a situation where you’re having to change it like every hour, see a doctor. There are lots of treatable conditions that might be causing this; you don’t have to live with it forever!)

To remove a tampon, I recommend sitting down on the toilet, grabbing the string, and pulling downward. Do this BEFORE you pee, or you will just have to pull on a peed-on string. (If you can’t find the string, reach into your vag with your thumb and index finger, grab the end of the tampon, and pull.)

If you’re not into the idea of tampons, there are lots of alternatives, including disposable or cloth pads, sponges, and the Diva Cup.