Why do tampons go sideways? Amanda Savage, specialist physio, explains

Why do tampons go sideways?

Have you ever had the experience of an uncomfortable tampon or one that looks as though only the side half of it has absorbed anything? So annoying.  Why do tampons go sideways?


The vagina inside is surprisingly wide and stretchy, leaving plenty of room for things to move about.  In our heads I think we picture it as a narrow tube rather like a hosepipe but actually, though narrow at the opening, inside it is quite a decent tubular space – it has to be to let a babies head out without damage to the vagina itself. 

why do tampons go sideways?

the vagina is shaped like a squashed tube

Imagine a  tube that has been squashed. This shape means that we are narrow top to bottom (termed anterior to posterior in medical terms) but have plenty of room side to side.  This is just like the shape of a mouth.  Even open wide the mouth has a surprisingly small opening top to bottom but plenty of room side to side, in the cheeks.

Keeping with the mouth analogy, at the back of your mouth you have an epiglottis dangling down, at the back of the vagina tunnel the cervix dangles down; more like the size and shape of a nose. The cervix is pretty solid and though it pushes up out of the way during sex, it is quite easy to end up with a tampon nudging against it.

You will recognise this sensation, though you might not have realised what it was.  Have you ever put a tampon in and then barely 5 minutes later you have an overwhelming desire to pull it back out ?  It is just not right, or downright uncomfortable, almost as if your body is rejecting it?  The cervix is the only bit inside with decent nerve endings  (so if you knock it during sex it you might get a short sharp mild pain) but if a tampon is pressing on it relentlessly you get this strong urge to bear down and feel that the tampon is pushing out.  Or alternatively the tampon itself comes up against the cervix as you insert it and as you keep pushing it tilts off sideways into the ‘cheek’ area giving you inadequate protection and that ‘half used’ look when you remove it.

Are you a visual person?  I use a 3D model (and a piece of paper!) in this video to explain to Stephanie Taylor from Kegel8 how our internal organs are supported by our pelvic floor:


  • Don’t rush the process (mums!   you know you do)
  • Visualise what you are doing.  Keep contact with the back wall of the vagina (the bowel side) as you are putting the tampon in and it will end up underneath the cervix rather than on it.  Aim for your back passage.
  • Not all tampons are the same – some types expand widthways but others expand lengthways so they can effectively push themselves out as they become elongated when full. If you can’t picture what yours do, drop one  in water and see what shape it becomes.
  • Applicator tampons give you a bit more option to position the tampon before you let go – nice to use for the beginnings and ends of periods when the vagina is a bit drier and less easy to slide tampons in
  • Pop a dab of lubricant (water-based) on the end of the tampon to help it slide in more easily
  • If you feel your cervix is sitting very low since your baby try using a menstrual cup (like a MoonCup  *) instead of tampons – these are designed to sit closer to the opening of the vagina rather than deep inside (more like the position of a cork in a bottle).   * use SUPPORTEDMUMS at checkout for a 15% discount

How have you got on with returning to having periods and using tampons and sanitary pads?  Any questions?

2 thoughts on “Why do tampons go sideways?

  1. Yikes says:

    My cervix is so low the last day of my period that a tampon can’t go in. It is painful. The rest of the time I can use a tampon no problem. This is the 2nd cycle after a miscarriage. I have delivered other children without this happening. This is the first time. Sex is fine, it’s just that last day.

    • Amanda Savage says:

      Hello. I am glad you asked such a useful question. Lots of women notice that the cervix can sit much lower in the vagina at different parts of their cycle, especially just before or during your period. At this time of the month our oestrogen levels are lower which affects the pelvic floor muscles too. If the muscles are already a bit weakened from your previous pregnancies, you may be finding that they are very tired by the end of the period and just can’t support the cervix well enough. The cervix has lots of nerve endings so if it gets knocked by trying to insert a tampon that will be very painful. The pelvic floor muscles are really important to help support the organs during all the lifting and carrying of the day. To try to improve things, first work on your muscles for a few weeks – even improving them by just 20% you should feel more supported through your whole period. Meanwhile, perhaps change to a pad during the evenings of the first days of your period (to give the muscles a rest from the weight of supporting a tampon) and then on that last day, instead of a tampon you could try a menstrual cup (Mooncup is the brand they sell in Boots). These are designed to sit lower in the vagina, just inside the opening, rather than further back where a tampon goes. It will leave plenty of space for a lower sitting cervix. They are a bit of a knack to learn to use but a really useful alternative to a tampon. Great for travelling and lots of women also find them more reliable at night than tampons can be. Do let me know how you get on?

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