It all began with adolescent me, a bathroom and a box of tampons. After hearing my friends laud the various desirable qualities of tampons (so discrete, so grown-up, so easy!) and lament the years they had spent wearing pads, I decided to try them for myself. They seemed to be the height of sanitary sophistication. As my friends had said, “Pads are good for when you start. But tampons are just so much better.” That settled it then. I would be a real woman, marked by my transition from pads (the apparent training wheels of sanitary products) to tampons, those ultra-chic, ultra-sophisticated, mysterious bullet-like things I had first encountered in my mum’s purse as a child. Well, mystery no more! I was about to take my relationship with tampons to a very intimate place.
I triumphantly put the box on the bathroom bench and unwrapped one. I positioned myself and felt around a little bit, just to make sure I knew exactly where to put it and the right angle. Confident, I attempted to push it in and…nothing. It was like there was no hole down there at all; just some tender and sore spot that hurt when I pressed against it. Slightly perturbed but still determined to make the transition, I tried again, remembering my friends’ cautioning that it could be a little tricky the first time, but once you got it, it should just slip right in.
I tried again. Nothing but a slight burning and uncomfortable sensation. Whispers of doubt began curling through my mind: Why can’t you do this? All your friends can stick a piece of cotton up their lady parts, why can’t you? There must be something wrong…
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After a frustrated hour, I threw the whole box in the bin. Keeping them would only have felt like a mockery to myself and what I now believed to be my abnormal vagina.
I returned to using pads and promptly tried to forget the whole humiliating ordeal.
A few years later, I found myself sitting on an examination table, feet in stirrups. After letting slip to my GP that I had never successfully inserted a tampon and had never had penetrative sex, she referred me to a specialist.
The gynaecologist came in to the curtained off area.
“Now, I’m just going to look, ok?”
She sat down, her head between by feet.
“Just part your legs for me.”
I didn’t even realise that I had been pressing my knees together.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, prying them apart, bracing for the discomfort.