It’s wild to think that tampons were invented nearly 100 years ago, kickstarting a menstruation revolution. While tampons didn’t take off with consumers until closer to the mid-20th century, there is no doubt that this little piece of compressed cotton made a huge difference in our comfort during that time of the month. 

Since tampons are inserted internally, allowing for discreet absorption of blood flow, activities like swimming and various other sports were no longer off-limits while “Aunt Flo” was in town. 

woman grabbing a tampon from her purse

Unfortunately, with all the physical freedom tampons provide, there remain staggering education gaps about how they actually work – decades after these popular menstrual products first went on the market. For example, according to Rescripted’s State of Sex Ed Report, 32% of women think they can’t pee while wearing a tampon. Other common questions include whether or not you can shower with a tampon or if it’s even safe to sleep with one.

So if you’re still not quite sure about what you can and can’t do while wearing a tampon, read on for our expert answers. 

Can you pee with a tampon in?

Yes! Here’s the deal in case this wasn’t covered in your middle school health class (and it may not have been!): Females have two holes in their vulva — their urethral opening and their vaginal opening. The vaginal opening is connected to the uterus, which is where period blood originates. A tampon is inserted into the vaginal opening to absorb menstrual blood. Urine comes out of the urethra, which is connected to your bladder. So when you pee, the urine comes out of the urethral opening, a completely separate hole from where the tampon is. Isn’t the human body fascinating?

Can you shower with a tampon in?

You sure can! Considering tampons make it possible to participate in water activities like swimming while on your period, all the same guidelines apply when it comes to taking a bath or shower. Tampons prevent leakage by design, so you can get your body squeaky clean without worrying about fresh menstrual blood ruining your scrub-down. 

woman getting out of the shower

Can you sleep with a tampon in?

This is by far the more complicated tampon-related question, primarily because of the Toxic Shock Syndrome factor. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious condition where certain bacteria cause toxins to spread into the bloodstream, leading to potential organ damage or death. Symptoms can include a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, feeling faint, dizziness, or a rash resembling a sunburn. 

TSS isn’t exclusive to tampons, but they’re associated with the condition because bacteria can grow on tampons if they’re not changed often enough. Increased education about TSS, however, has led to a decline in tampon-related cases. 

“It’s important that you use the right tampons associated with your menstrual period length and flow,” advises Ila Dayananda, M.D., MPH, OB/GYN and Chief Medical Officer at Oula Health. To avoid the risk of TSS, she says “it’s best to choose a lower absorbency tampon that is best suited for your flow, even if that means possibly needing to change tampons more often”.

Since we sleep (or at least try to sleep) for eight hours or more a night, the idea of going to bed while still wearing a tampon has been taboo for a few decades now — certainly since the TSS scare of 1980 (yep, it was a real thing).

The good news is, that wearing a tampon to bed is safe, with a few caveats:

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"As long as you're tuned into your menstruation length and flow, sleeping with a tampon in is safe,” says Dr. Dayananda. But, “if you're getting 12 or more hours of sleep, you'll want to sleep with a maxi pad [instead of a tampon] to avoid the risk of TSS.” Dr. Dayananda also recommends wearing a “lower absorbency tampon if your flow is slower or lighter to ensure proper absorbency and ease of tampon extraction”.

It’s also a good rule of thumb to insert a new tampon before going to bed and changing it as soon as you wake up. The same goes for the daytime: Change your tampon every four to six hours, and don’t leave it in for more than eight hours. 

woman picking up a pink tampon

When should you avoid wearing tampons?

Although tampons are considered safe menstrual products, there are a few instances where Dr. Dayananda recommends switching to maxi pads: “If you have a vaginal infection,” she says, you should use pads until the infection is cleared to avoid pushing bacteria deeper into the vaginal canal.” Also, for those experiencing postpartum bleeding, Dr. Dayananda suggests using pads instead of tampons, “in order to allow yourself time to heal and to avoid the risk of infection”.

Sarene Leeds holds an M.S. in Professional Writing from NYU, and is a seasoned journalist, having written and reported on subjects ranging from TV and pop culture to health, wellness, and parenting over the course of her career. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, Vulture, SheKnows, and numerous other outlets. A staunch mental health advocate, Sarene also hosts the podcast “Emotional Abuse Is Real.” Visit her website here, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.