Aunt Vadge: pinching feeling when I try to insert a tampon

Aunt Vadge DiagramHello Aunt Vadge, 

I am a virgin who has recently started to use tampons over the past few days. When inserting, there is a little discomfort, something like a pinch, inches within the vaginal opening. Once beyond that point, I can insert the tampon easily. Only once have I been able to insert correctly (where I couldn’t feel the tampon), but I am assuming this will come with more time/practice. 

Is this pinching feeling the tampon moving beyond my hymen?

I did notice some bright red blood the last time I inserted a tampon, closer towards the end of my period. Because my period was light, I used the lowest absorbency. I still experienced discomfort removing the tampons, again like a pinching sensation, but I did notice it wasn’t completely saturated. The last tampon was yesterday, and 24 hours later, I still feel some external dryness and some burning of the labia. I don’t feel any internal discomfort within the vaginal canal itself. 

I have researched vaginismus and am unsure if this is what I am experiencing.  While I initially felt uncomfortable with inserting a tampon, I feel I have gotten used to a better angle that makes it easier. I was still able to relax/contact my PC muscles when the applicator was within the vagina. I feel that I have learned that beyond the pinching sensation, the tampon can move further back.  I am also unsure if the dry tampon has potentially hurt the vaginal walls, and perhaps this is causing some burning? 

I have fingered myself in the past, as a way of exploring and getting to know my body better. I notice some stinging or burning afterwards, but not while my finger is inside.  I thought this was maybe some ingredients in the lubricant that my body found irritating. I purchased a lubricant with different ingredients but the stinging and burning still occurs. This is usually just on the vaginal opening. 

When I look at my vagina in a handheld mirror, I see no growths, swelling, or cuts. I do not notice any discharge. So I am unsure if I have stretched my hymen somewhat (if that is possible with a tampon) and this is the discomfort I am feeling, or if I have something such as vaginismus. Only this past month have I inserted items within the vagina (tampon, fingers).  I am incredibly anxious and embarrassed about this, which is likely making the situation worse for me. Any help would be appreciated! 

Thank you. 
Age: 25 
Country: Canada

Dear Anxious,

The area on the outside that is dry and painful is the vestibule and entrance to your vagina, but that does not explain the pinching on the inside. Your hymen is found very close to the vaginal entrance, which most people don’t know. Read our article about the hymen so you understand what it is and where you find it. I do not think what you are feeling is your hymen – it’s too far in.

I also don’t think you have vaginismus either – vaginismus is where you can’t get anything in at all due to pain or clenching. You are getting the tampons in, and seem to understand your vaginal and PC muscles, so it doesn’t seem applicable. Additionally, vaginismus is simply a description of a symptom, not actually a condition or an illness in and of itself. It is the name for a very tightly clenched vagina, nothing more, nothing less. A description of a symptom that has no official cause (or many different causes).

Learning how to put in tampons is tricky, but you sound like you are getting there. It does take some time. I would recommend perhaps trying to insert the applicator by putting a little bit of lube on the outside of the applicator. It can help slide it in more easily and get it past that place that is pinching. Think about what it feels like is happening – it probably is. If it feels like a pinch, then it is probably pinching, which you need to figure out how to avoid, based on what it feels like. Wiggle the applicator around where the pinch occurs and see if you can change the feeling.

The pinching feeling may just be the applicator and tampon hitting a funny angle – the vagina goes backwards on an angle, and that can be difficult to understand until you see a diagram that explains that, but more so, that you can feel it.

We’ve got a whole section on tampons, so read through and get some tips. I think actually you just need to practice – getting to know your vagina can take a little while, with a few mishaps in the meantime! Inserting a little tiny thing into a hole in your body that you can’t see is something that needs practice. It’s not supposed to be easy.

The burning and dryness you speak of could be a reaction your body is having to the tampons themselves, like contact dermatitis. It could be useful to get hold of a menstrual cup and try those and see if the problems are the same. Menstrual cups are silicone cups of different sizes (to suit different vaginas) that sit up near your cervix and collect menstrual blood, and although they are a bit tricky to get the hang of using, women who love them swear by them. They are reusable and hypoallergenic.

It’s also possible that you have an internal structure (like a transverse vaginal septum) that is causing the pinching feeling, and while this is less common, it is not impossible. If you have been vaginally examined before, then this is unlikely (they would have seen it), but it could be worth looking into if your pinching feeling doesn’t go away after lots of practice. That means going to be examined by a doctor to check everything is normal. It probably is, but it can be really reassuring to be told by someone who can actually see it. Find a female doctor you trust (ask around for a good one) and start your ongoing relationship with her. She will be useful to ask questions of and be your ally in all things vagina.

It’s important to understand your anxiety and embarrassment so that you can overcome it. Feeling anxious and embarrassed about our vaginas is basically a national sport for women – we all do it, especially when our vagina, our ‘most shameful possession’ (according to the world), develops a problem that we have no tools for solving without asking someone. Remember that the whole world has tried to make us feel embarrassed about our vaginas, and they have succeeded, so you are not alone in your anxiety and shame (sadly).

We need to reverse engineer this, and feel more free to have open conversations with relevant people (our doctor, our close friends) without it feeling mortifying. Our vaginas are mysterious because we are never taught about them in any meaningful way. The vagina is the great unknown.

Getting more information and learning about your amazing, interesting vagina is a good way to spend some time, which it sounds like you are doing. Learn how to masturbate, check out your own cervix, learn about your folds and crevices and check out diagrams of just how huge your clitoris really is. Honestly, the more you look into it, the more amazing it turns out your vagina is!

Everyone at some point has a problem with their vagina, and we all have questions that nobody wants to talk about. Well, here at All Things Vagina we do, so write to us anytime to talk about your vagina, ask questions, or get some advice, no matter how big or small the query.

You sound like you are on the right track anyway, so keep up the good work, and write anytime!

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge  

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