Ob-gyns want to set the record straight.

By Ashley Mateo
Updated: August 22, 2018

Tampons have been on drugstore shelves since the 1930s, and they're the go-to form of period protection for 70% of menstruating women. Considering how long they've been around and how popular they are, you'd think any misconceptions about them would have long been laid to rest.

But rumors and myths persist—when you can and can't wear them, whether one can get lost in your body, and if the organic kind is safer, among other things. Because tampon misinformation like this could pose a threat to your sexual health, we asked ob-gyns to lay out what's legit and what isn't. These 5 myths are among those they hear from their patients.

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You can lose a tampon inside of you

If you've ever fished around for that little string and come up empty, then you know how terrifying an MIA tampon can be, as you start to imagine all the places it might have wandered off to. Despite the urban legends, “items cannot be lost inside the vagina,” says Megan Pierce, MD, an ob-gyn at CareMount Medical in New York.

First, your vaginal canal is only about three to five inches long, and there's a limited amount of space in which an errant tampon could hide. The other thing is, your vagina ends at the cervix, and it's impossible for a tampon to get past it. “There’s no connection between the vagina and the abdominal cavity,” adds Dr. Pierce.

So what do you do if you really can’t find it? Don’t freak out. Insert a (clean) finger into your vagina, suggests Dr. Pierce, who adds that "lowering into a squat would help you better feel it or remove it.” If you really can’t reach it, you may have to enlist a partner to help or check in with your ob-gyn. Don't be embarrassed; they remove runaway tampons all the time.

You don't need to change your tampon when you go to the bathroom

Whether you're going number one or number two, It actually is a good idea to make a habit of changing your tampon whenever you hit the toilet. “If the tampon string gets wet from pee, then the string can act as a highway for infections to go up to the vagina and get seeded there,” says Adeeti Gupta, MD, an ob-gyn and founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York City. Fecal bacteria can also get into your vagina and cause an infection as well, as gross as it sounds.

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“So, yes, please change your tampon every time you go to the bathroom," says Dr. Gupta. Even if you don’t have to go, change it every three to four hours,” she adds.

You should never wear a tampon overnight

The general rule of thumb is to wear a tampon for no longer than eight hours straight. But if you clock in more snooze time than that, there’s no need to panic, says Dr. Pierce—just remove it as soon as you wake.

“All gynecologists have seen patients come in with a retained tampon that has been in place for days or weeks, and these women are almost always fine,” she adds. “The most common thing that would happen with a tampon being in place for too long would be an overgrowth of normal vaginal bacteria, likely causing discharge or an odor.” So if you get a whiff of something funky, think back—maybe you didn't take your tampon out when you thought you did.

Leaving in a tampon too long can land you toxic shock syndrome

Despite what you thought (and were probably taught) in middle school, it’s actually super rare to get toxic shock syndrome (TSS) from wearing a tampon for longer than eight hours. TSS is an infection that occurs when the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus gets into the bloodstream and releases toxins. Yes, it can be a life-threatening, but your risk of contracting it from a tampon is low. “TSS only affects about one in 100,000 individuals per year,” says Dr. Pierce.

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Still, TSS does happen—and the real-life stories of women like model Lauren Wasser, who lost both legs to TSS in 2012, can be downright terrifying. Rather than give up tampons, just be mindful of the warning signs, such as a foul-smelling discharge within a few days or weeks of using one, says Dr. Gupta. And if you also notice a rash, fever, pain, or even gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, get yourself to a doctor ASAP. Odds are good that something else is causing your distress. But it's better to play it safe.

Organic tampons are safer than the regular kind

Any food or product labeled organic has a health halo around it. But when it comes to tampons, no evidence shows that organic varieties are safer or healthier than the standard kind. The FDA regulates tampons as "medical devices," and a consumer update posted on the FDA website in June states that all tampons, whether organic or non-organic, go through a review process to ensure that they are safe and effective when used as directed.

Still, many women are iffy about using regular tampons. Tampons go inside the body, the thinking goes, so they could be potentially more risky than, say, using a pad. “While there are no documented risks to conventional tampons, many people have concerns,” says Dr. Pierce. 

“The vagina is a mucus membrane and could potentially absorb any chemicals used in tampons,” she explains. And because tampon manufacturers are not required to list all of the ingredients/components of the tampon, there may be traces of pesticides or other chemicals in them, she suggests. So if it gives you peace of mind to use organic tampons, there's no harm. Just note that no proof exists that they are safer—and they can still cause TSS, according to research published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

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