As you've probably noticed, puberty comes with all kinds of changes
- including the way your body looks and even the way you might think
it smells. These changes are a normal part of becoming a woman,
but lots of girls worry about them. You may wonder what you can
do to feel as clean as possible during your period, whether to use
a pad or tampon, and if you should use any feminine products like
douches or deodorant sprays.
Pads and Tampons
Super, slender, overnight, with or without wings, deodorant, maxi,
mini . . . what's the best one for you?
Once you begin menstruating, you'll need to use something to soak
up the menstrual blood - either a pad or a tampon. Pads are made
of layers of cotton, and they are sometimes also called sanitary
pads or sanitary napkins. Some have extra material on the sides
(called "wings") that fold over the edges of your underwear
to better hold the pad in place and prevent leakage.
Some girls have periods with heavier bleeding, and others have
lighter periods with less bleeding. Pads come in several different
thicknesses for heavier or lighter menstrual periods or for day
or nighttime use. Some pads come with a deodorant or deodorizing
substance in them. All pads have a sticky strip on the bottom that
helps them to adhere to your underwear.
Pads are easy to use: You peel off the strip that covers the adhesive,
press the pad into the crotch of your underwear (wrapping the wings
around and sticking them under the crotch if the pad you're using
has wings), and you're done. It's best to change pads every 3 or
4 hours, even when you're not menstruating very much. Why? Because
regular changing prevents buildup of bacteria and eliminates odor.
Naturally, if your period is heavy, you should change pads more
often because they may get saturated more quickly. Once you've removed
your pad, wrap it in toilet paper and put it in the trash can (or
if you're in school, in a special disposal box that's found in most
stalls). Don't try to flush a pad down the toilet - they're too
big and may back up the toilet and make a huge (embarrassing!) mess.
Another choice for feminine protection during your menstrual period
is to use tampons. A tampon is also made of cotton, but it's compressed
into a tiny tubular shape. Unlike a pad, which catches menstrual
blood after it leaves the body, tampons absorb blood from inside
the vagina. Like pads, tampons come in different sizes for heavier
and lighter periods, and they can also come in deodorizing scents.
Tampons are also available with or without applicators - they can
either be inserted into the vagina using a special cardboard or
plastic tube-like applicator or with just your fingers.
Tampons are also easy to use, but you do need to learn how to put
them in. Follow the directions that come with the tampons carefully,
and be sure to relax. Some girls find that using tampons with applicators
is much easier because the applicator tube gives them something
to hold onto and helps them guide it properly into the vagina.
Many girls who are using tampons for the first time worry about
things like whether the tampon will get lost inside them or whether
a virgin can use a tampon. Luckily, tampons can't ever get lost
inside you - the opening of the cervix (located at the top of the
vagina) is just too tiny for a tampon to get through. Most tampons
have a string attached to one end that stays outside a girl's body
and can be used to remove the tampon at any time. Virgins can certainly
use tampons with no problem - many girls do - and a girl who uses
a tampon won't lose her virginity that way.
A tampon needs to be changed every 4 to 6 hours or when it's saturated
with blood. Because you can't see it as you would with a pad, you'll
need to remember when it's time to change, or spotting and leakage
will occur on your underwear. Pull gently on the string that is
attached to the end of the tampon, pull it out, wrap it in toilet
paper, and throw it in the trash. Don't flush it in the toilet unless
it says on the box that it's flushable.
If it's time to change your tampon and you can't find the string,
don't worry! A tampon can't get lost inside you, remember? You'll
need to reach in with your fingers to find it. It may take a minute
to do because the string might be a bit hard to grab.
A final word about tampons: It's very important that you change
them every few hours and that you wear the absorbency type that
is right for you. Never put a tampon in and leave it in all day
or all night, thinking that you won't need to change it because
your period is so light. If you do, you put yourself at risk for
a rare, but very dangerous disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
TSS results from a bacterial infection that may occur when using
certain super absorbent tampons, especially if they are left in
longer than is recommended. Bacteria (certain strains of Staphylococcus
and Streptococcus) can grow within the tampon, enter the body from
inside your vagina, then invade the bloodstream, releasing toxins
that can cause a very severe, and occasionally life-threatening,
Symptoms of TSS include high fever, vomiting or diarrhea, severe
muscle aches, a feeling of extreme weakness or dizziness, and a
rash that looks like a sunburn. If you ever have these symptoms
while wearing a tampon, remove it and tell an adult immediately.
Have someone take you to the nearest emergency department as soon
as possible. Your body can go into shock with TSS if you wait too
long to seek medical treatment.
Remember, though, that TSS is very rare, and most women never become
ill from using tampons, especially if they follow the guidelines
for changing them regularly.
When deciding whether to use pads or tampons, it's really up to
you. Some girls like tampons because they can go swimming with no
problem, and they are easy to store in a purse or pocket. Another
advantage to tampons is that they can't be felt because they're
inside the body (unlike a pad, which may feel bulky to some girls).
Other girls like pads because they are easy to use, and you don't
need to remind yourself to change them. Many girls switch back and
forth: Sometimes they use tampons and sometimes they use pads, depending
on the situation, where they're going to be, and their menstrual
flow. Some use pads at night and tampons during the day. And some
girls with heavy periods use tampons together with pads or pantiliners
for added protection against leakage.
Douches and Feminine Sprays
Douches (from the French word for "wash") and feminine
sprays (or deodorants) supposedly keep a woman's vaginal area smelling
fresh and clean. Douching refers to washing out the vagina, usually
with a prepackaged mix of fluids. For a lot of girls who are just
starting to deal with menstrual periods and other vaginal secretions,
these products sound appealing - many girls wonder if they smell
or whether people will notice they have their periods. The truth
is, under usual circumstances, no one ever smells any odors from
a girl's vagina.
In fact, unless a doctor says so, you never need to douche - and
feminine sprays and deodorants aren't a good idea either. Feminine
sprays and douches are often heavily perfumed and can lead to allergic
reactions or even infections in the vagina. Your vagina has its
own natural cleaning system that flushes out bacteria, so you don't
need to add any chemicals to help it.
Some infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, can lead to an unpleasant
fishy odor (again, if a girl has an infection, it's unlikely that
people around her will notice a smell, even if she does). The treatment
for odors caused by infections is not a spray, but a prescription
medication that treats the infection rather than covering it up.
If you think you may have a problem, see a doctor or gynecologist
right away. As far as your periods go, if you change your pads or
tampons frequently and wear clean clothes, no one can ever smell
It's easy to keep your vagina clean without making it smell like
a flower shop. Washing every day with a mild soap and plenty of
warm water will do the trick. Warm bathing rather than showering
daily during your period may reduce menstrual cramps and give you
reassurance about feeling clean. During your period, change your
pads or tampons often and change your underwear if you happen to
soak through your pad or tampon.