Don’t Believe in Sex-Ed? Read the Terrifyingly Misinformed Questions Tweens ask Kotex.

kotex's "tween" line of padsSince it debuted in 2011, the U by Kotex brand of pads and tampons (aimed at pre-teens) has made its mark with funny commercials and frank talk about periods. But recently, Kotex has decided to launch a part of their site that addresses period myths and the general lack of awareness many pre-teens have about their bodies. Their latest campaign, Generation Know, offers a site where girls can anonymously ask questions about periods and get answers from experts, peers, and moms. And holy cow, are these girls misguided.

I mean…there are no “wrong” questions when it comes to the complexities of the female body, and a lot of the questions are pretty basic (like “what happens during a pelvic exam?”). But some are a truly frightening demonstration of the absolute lack of information that young girls get when it comes to matters of their own health.

Here is a sampling of the more alarming questions from the site:

“Is it ok to wrap your tampon in toilet paper and then change the paper but not the tampon? Then the tampon lasts longer because it remains dry.”

“Once you are sexually active, do you need to go to the doctor so they can cut a piece of your vagina off?”

 “Do tampons cause cancer?”

To be fair, the askers aren’t required to give their age or any other personal information, so they may be quite young. And tampons are kind of weird and scary, if you’ve never experienced them or had them explained to you.

But the questions on Generation Know’s site also reflect the lack of salient information that pre-teen and teenage girls get in their sexual education classes, in the home, and from other trusted adults. Many of the questions reflect discomfort or even outright fear about asking parents about periods and the body—and more at least one referenced “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” as their only sense of information. Girls shouldn’t have to depend on YA literature or a tampon company as their sole sources of comprehensive, medically-correct guides to their own bodies.

 I guess what this reminds me of the most is that sexual education in schools isn’t just about learning the perils of sex (although some advocates do believe that pleasure should be part of the sex-ed curriculum for older students), it should include essential information about knowing how to best take care of our bodies. With girls getting their first flow earlier and earlier, it may be time to roll back the age of first information, too, in kid-friendly, easy-to-understand, but accurate ways. So that, you know, girls aren’t afraid their doctors are going to slice up their vaginas. 

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a freelance writer and consultant who lives in Seattle. Her work has been published in the Atlantic, the Nation, Pacific Standard, GOOD Magazine, Upworthy, the Huffington Post, and a few other places.

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27 Comments Have Been Posted

Not surprised...

I'm not at all surprised to hear that these questions are shockingly misguided. I answer questions in the Women's Health category of yahoo!answers - almost as though I'm doing volunteer work - for just theis reason. Teens and pre-teens need simple answers about things their parents are just not going to discuss with them. It's frightening - but it's the reality. They will not receive instruction in school and most parents just cannot bring themselves to talk about these matters, much less use the word "tampon" or "vagina" with their kid. Obama cut funding to "Just Say No" programs designed to support abstinence - which is a good start. But we need something in its place.

To be fair, the askers aren't

To be fair, the askers aren't required to give their age or any other personal information, so they may be quite young. And tampons are kind of weird and scary, if you've never experienced them or had them explained to you. <a href="">what is midbrain activation</a>


I was expecting to feel more shock and horror upon reading the questions in this posting than I did. Aside from the weirdness (to me) of the toilet paper question, it seems pretty normal to wonder if tampons could cause cancer. But then I checked the website. Wow! You chose some amazingly tame examples of lack of information or complete misinformation. How about this one?

"“My health teacher said that if you get blood clots during your period you have to go to the doctor and get your endometrium scrapped to thin the uterine wall. Is this true?"

Yikes! What a scary thing to tell a kid! I think this highlights that we need not just education about girls' bodies, but also instructors who are sensitive to the way young people absorb information and what kinds of clarifications they may not feel comfortable asking for in class. That should NOT be a question any child leaves your classroom asking themselves. And as for sex education in the traditional sense, I think this questions says it all:

“Can you get pregnant by kissing during your period?”

"although some advocates do

"although some advocates do believe that pleasure should be part of the sex-ed curriculum for older students"
Shouldn't talking about pleasure be a part of sex-ed form the start? I think that's thenatural place to start, since that's what makes people have sex in the first place.

Abstinence Only Education Blows

I had to sit through an abstinence-only education course in high school, and it was the most uninformative, sexist, and homophobic environment in which to discuss sex. The only accurate piece of information I learned was "sex makes babies." Girls were told that sex was not pleasurable, only procreative and emotional. We were also told that it is OUR responsibility to tame male sexuality. I didn't learn anything about the awesome clitoris, the benefits of the birth control pill, the importance of self-exploration, and basic female anatomy. When I first tried using a condom, I was like the 40 year old virgin, and when I first used a vibrator, I was furious that no one had bothered to tell me how amazing sex could feel and how much it could improve my self-worth. I went out that classroom believing that sex was something that married women were supposed to do to make children (imagine missionary position every night, yikes!). I was one of those girls who asked inane questions about tampons.

Honestly, maxi pads are ten times better and much cleaner...just saying.

In no way are pads "better"

In no way are pads "better" or "cleaner". Honestly, I think if more girls were taught how much better tampons are than pads (and how very non frightening they are) it would save a lot of hassle.

Pads feel like diapers and prevent you from engaging in sports or swimming. Blood also ends up covering your entire crotch, resulting in messy cleanup.

With tampons, it's all tucked away neat and tidy. Pull it out, pop in a new one, and go. You can even swim and run in them with no problems. They don't hurt, it doesn't feel like anything is inside you (it's cotton, it bends and moves with you), and there's no odor like there is with pads.

Tampons are INFINITELY better.

better than tampons

and the only thing INFINITELY better than tampons are menstrual cups!

they actually don't hurt (tampons always hurt me and were very uncomfortable), you can swim with them in, they don't have awful toxic chemicals, and they are much, much better for the planet.

my menstrual cup is the only thing in the world that could make my cycle fun, and I even started having less severe cramps once I started using it. diva cup FOR EVER

I have to agree with the

I have to agree with the menstrual cup love. They may be a little bit harder to change and take more clean up. But when you're using them they feel sooooo much cleaner and better. I even forget that I am wearing one sometimes. I've had way less leakage with the cup(once I got the hang of it) than with tampons. Plus all the chemicals in pads and tampons make me itch and make my skin go crazy. And you can wear them for longer without having to change them. I'd sing the praises of cups(and cloth pads) from a mountain top. haha.


Not to mention menstrual cups don't cause TSS!!! And they allow your vagina to continue cleaning itself normally. I love my Ladycup, I'd never touch another tampon!!!

I use a menstrual cup, and

I use a menstrual cup, and LOVE it, but the one caveat I'd put in there is that in my PARTICULAR case, I was not able to use one until I broke through the hymen. I don't know how common this is; the Divacup website insisted and assured that oh, of COURSE virgins can use our product, but my own hymenal opening was just too small for insertion. (tampons COULD be inserted, but if I left them for too long and they swelled too much, sometimes it was awkward and painful getting the blasted things back out.)

Wound up going 'screw it,' buying lube, topical anaesthetic gel, and a g-spot vibe wand, and performing a DIY hymenectomy. I considered the convenience of using a divacup plus the freedom from worrying about pain and bleeding should I ever choose to start having sex to be totally worth it (and the second time using that g-spot vibe was a hell of a lot more fun than the first, so that's another perk). However, teen girls with anatomy similar to mine who are uncomfortable with the idea of losing their supposed "virginity" may not consider that an ideal solution. Plus, purchasing lubricant and a penetrative sex toy is a lot harder when you're underage.

So yeah, cup is AWESOME, wish I could have known about it and started using one earlier, but there are specific barriers in place (HA) which might make it difficult for some girls to use.

Neither are "better"

Neither pads nor tampons are better, but rather you like one better. I personally prefer the OB style tampon which a lot of my friends find horrible and uncomfortable but they work for me. One of my friends swears by the Diva Cup, which I think is gross and have no desire to use. I have another friend who loves sea sponge tampons and likes to sing their praises every chance she gets. A different friend thinks they are disgusting and (direct quote) "will never stick a sponge in my twat." They all have their pros and cons, and we need to be respectful of each others choices.

I can't believe I am even

I can't believe I am even witnessing this conversation...


I disagree. Tampons kind of suck, too. Sure they allow you to swim and do other activities, but god they are horrid. They can be harder for young girls to use. Especially girls who are starting their periods when they are under 10. I don't think I would have been ready to use them if I had started that young. Tampons always make me feel like they are leeching to my vagina and sucking the blood out. ick. They dry me out and make me itch. Disposable pads do, too.
Though pads don't have to be messy. If you change them often enough it's not half as messy. Also the mess isn't anything you can't wipe away with baby wipes. And you don't have to wear the huge diaper like ones, unless you have a really heavy flow.
Anyway, I think tampons and disposable pads both suck. I'm all for menstrual cups and cloth pads. I've used a Diva Cup for the past 6 years and then switched to the instead cup because it felt like the Diva was suctioning to my cervix and giving me even more intense cramps than I already have.

Tampons story and cloth pad love

As a preteen, the first time I tried to use a tampon, I flipped out when the plastic applicator came off! I thought I had broken it! I desperately grabbed the string and yanked it out, then carefully inserted a new tampon, this time being sure that the applicator didn't fall out. Lol. It was soooo uncomfortable. As soon as we were done swimming, I ran to the bathroom to get that plastic thing out! Only later did I find the instructions in the box and learn that I had it right the first time!

I never did like tampons all that much. Disposable pads always made me get rashes from their adhesive, so I was unbelievably happy to find cloth pads were an option. I love them, and my flow is much lighter now that I have been using them for a while.

Disagree. Tampons are the


Tampons are the most unhygienic sanitary product available as they encourage bacterial growth while preventing vaginal cleaning (both negatively effecting vaginal pH and preventing discharge from cleaning out the vagina) thus why tampons are linked to TSS, also tampons commonly cause vaginal infections.

Pads only 'feel like diapers' if you use commercial pads such as Kotex - cloth pads, period panties and period belts allow you to engage in sports and feel no different to just wearing underwear. With tampons you HAVE to use pads anyway - overnight, with light flow, before menstruation, and you should alternate with pads often to allow vagina cleaning.

Tampons CAN be felt - ask anyone who uses a menstrual cup or softcups and they will tell you that although they didn't think they could feel tampons...once they switched to cups they knew differently. Then you have the friction from dry cotton and rayon (most tampons are not made from cotton alone) that commonly cause discomfort around the vaginal opening, irritation or sensitivity from chemicals within the tampons, and tampons commonly increase cramps.

I never could use tampons

I never could use tampons cause they dried me out and hurt. Menstrual cups and cloth pads are so much better! Menstrual cups have never made me feel dried out, I can do all sorts of sports and the wear is about 12 hours.

FYI I used pads growing up and I never was prevented from engaging in sports And yes, tampons DO hurt for some people.

Tampons are infinitely not better.

Tampons contain many chemicals that are harmful to the body. I was an exclusive user of the conventional tampons until recently. I have been educating myself. Tampons are not good for your body. They may not hurt you as in painfully, but they can be linked to a lot of problems. I encourage you to look up the actual ingredients and processes int making tampons. Look at the amount of mold that is acceptable. Bleach. Look into toxic shock syndrome. Fully inform yourself from independent resources and not from a manufacturer like P&G, then make an informed decision. I will never allow my daughters to use paper tampons. We will have variety kits at the ready to see what other safer methods work best for them. There are many alternative options including sea sponges and silicone menstrual cups along with pads.

Not every woman can wear

Not every woman can wear tampons, as some women have allergic reactions, or they do not feel right. I personally cannot "pop" one in and out like that. It is quite painful, even when properly inserted tampons hurt. They are dry and rough going in and hard for me to use. I've always preferred pads. Some women are naturally tighter or drier or unable to relax more than other women. Nothing wrong with using what makes you comfortable. Let's also not forget other options such as natural sea sponges, menstrual cups, reusable washable pads, etc. ~ More comfortable products should be promoted so that women who find tampons painful or uncomfortable to use know what else is out there. No shame in comfort! To each their own :)

tampons hurt

Not every woman can wear tampons, as some women have allergic reactions, or they do not feel right. I personally cannot "pop" one in and out like that. It is quite painful, even when properly inserted tampons hurt. They are dry and rough going in and hard for me to use. I've always preferred pads. Some women are naturally tighter or drier or unable to relax more than other women. Nothing wrong with using what makes you comfortable. Let's also not forget other options such as natural sea sponges, menstrual cups, reusable washable pads, etc. ~ More comfortable products should be promoted so that women who find tampons painful or uncomfortable to use know what else is out there. No shame in comfort! To each their own :)


I can't swim with tampons. They leak. Also they aren't always totally clean and odour-free or impossible to feel. There's advantages to pads and tampons, and probably cups too. Except I can't get the hang of those at all.


I come from a really small Appalachian town. My graduating class had less than 200 people in it. The school district I grew up in had an AWESOME sex education program. I don't know what it is like now but years ago when I was in school they gave a basic 'how does my body work/menstruation/erections/masturbation, etc..." at 5th grade. Then at the 7th grade level they had a week long sex ed course that was detailed and explicit. They split the boys and girls up, and we got to go to classes taught by medical doctors. They answered any and all questions, taught about safe sex, oral sex, anal sex, stds, orgasm, the whole shabang. I feel sorry for the kids who had to sit out because their parents wouldn't sign permission slips(my cousin was one of them).
I wish the abstinence only people would see how important sex education is and that it is not advocating sex. Hell, after that class I decided I was never having sex until I got married. Of course I changed my mind later, but those classes made me a lot safer and smarter than I would have been without them.
The worst part about abstinence only is that there is no optional sex ed class for kids to take when they turn 18 and can make their own choices. They missed a great opportunity. They have to self educate(and have want to self educate). I know there are books and the internet, but it's not the same as learning in a classroom setting and getting to ask questions.

Thanks for the post!

I'm a school teacher and your experience gave me good ideas for the kids. Thanks!

I grew up in a small NH town

I grew up in a small NH town and graduated in 2000. We had good sex ed. It wasn't taught by doctors--that's awesome!--but it was comprehensive and age-appropriate. Now I hear that my school is using abstinence-only education. I'm so disappointed, and I don't understand why this switch occurred. My hometown is not very religious, and while I guess it is on the conservative side, it's more libertarian-conservative. I wonder if it had to do with a new principal or what.


HAHA Brings back memories!
I remember I wasn't "allowed" to use tampons because I was told by my Mother they would "steal my virginity".
Luckily, I grew up in Canada where people aren't as afraid of sexuality as America.
We still had our old-fashioned prudes of teachers tell us stupid things like "Don't use flavoured condoms because the lube/chemicals will change the hormones in your body", but dealt with the silent treatment, rather than the abstinence classes.
We wonder why we have shows like "16 and Pregnant" or "Teen Mom". Hmmm...

They won't change the

They won't change the hormones in your body, but they can give some people hella yeast infections.

The first question struck me

The first question struck me as coming from someone who didn't have the means to provide herself with enough tampons. I know that feeling well!

I am so happy, at that at this stage of my life, my stash of supplies is bountiful. I can find a tampon in just about every bag I own and I have them in all shapes and sizes. I have pads galore in my vanity. It is awesome! I can change a tampon at will, without worrying that I won't have enough. It's a good feeling.

Anyhow, yeah...that's what that question made me think of.

“Do tampons cause

“Do tampons cause cancer?”

That's not too far-out a question - most tampons contain chemicals (due to trade secrets manufacturers are not obligated to inform customers of what chemicals are used so we have no way of knowing their safety. Considering that tampon manufacturers rack record of knowingly risking health and lives - e.g. TSS in the 70's/80's when manufacturers knew their products were killing women long before their products hit the mainstream market, and chlorine gas bleaching in the 90's - we know that customers health is not a concern), pesticides, and toxins including dioxin.

Dioxin being the biggest concern in terms of cancer risk - there is no safe level of dioxin, when you consider that tampons are inserted into a major orifice of the body with absorbent tissues, and then look at cumulative exposure of 22+ tampons every month for around 4 decades...also not taking into consideration the dioxin in the environment and food-chain as a result of pollution via manufacturing...there *IS* a serious concern in terms of cancer risk and tampon use.

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