The first time I saw a tampon was when I was 16. I remember telling my friend that I tried one: she was surprised and baffled. She told me that she could never use tampons because she was so scared–scared that it would be painful, scared that it would get stuck in her vagina, scared that it would destroy her hymen.
My friend is not the only woman in Cambodia with this fear. Not long after, I began working in sexual and reproductive health, and have gotten the chance to talk to countless other women. Talking about menstruation remains taboo in this country, a topic that women don’t want to discuss, and men don’t want to hear about.
Many women I’ve met prefer using pads. To them, pads are the more conservative method of managing their period, and tampons are the more liberal way.
One of the main reasons why women choose not to use tampons is because they believe that tampons would tamper with their hymen and make them lose their virginity. Comprehensive sex education would’ve taught them otherwise, but unfortunately, we don’t have that. Virginity is still considered to be of high value, sometimes the only value that a woman has—a factor that can be traced back to sexism and misogyny.
Even more progressive women sometimes hesitate when it comes to tampons. But it’s reasonable to be afraid of putting a foreign object into your body, especially if no one has explained to you how it works. My own mother did not have a talk with me when I had my first period, let alone teach me how to use a tampon. She herself has never used a tampon either.
When I was young, I never saw tampons being sold in the market. It wasn’t until the early 2010s that the biggest supermarket chain in Phnom Penh started carrying them. Even then, there were only a few options to choose from. But as we move forward and we begin to have a better grasp of sexual health, more and more stores began to sell tampons in addition to pads, although they are still preferred more by foreign women than local women.
Tampons are not necessarily a better option. The important point is that women understand that they have options to choose from—safe options that they don’t have to fear or shy away from. Having the right to choose what we do with our bodies is essential. Patriarchy has no place to dictate our choices, including what we use to manage our menstruation.
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