5 Failed Tampon Technologies

April 16th 2016

Almie Rose

Tampons have come a long way, but it hasn't been a smooth journey. From the old days of using natural materials to the present day where we can choose from shelves of tampons, there have been some serious tampon missteps. Let's take a look.

How women improvised

Before tampons came in colorful boxes, those who menstruated had to get creative. The history of tampons, as explained by Tampax, began when women used natural materials to absorb menstrual blood. Ancient Egyptians used softened papyrus. The Greeks used lightweight wood covered in lint. In Africa, women used rolls of grass as a tampon substitute.

Tampon ideas that didn't make it (or endure)

1. Dr. Aveling's Vaginal Tampon-Tube

This sounds like a punchline from "Inside Amy Schumer": Tampon technology stepped it up in 1879 with Dr. Aveling’s Vaginal Tampon-Tube, which was basically a "cheap glass speculum," according to "The Handbook for Midwives." Thankfully, glass is no longer a material associated with tampons.

2. Tampons soaked in opium

The 19th century had even more odd ideas about tampons. Doctors prescribed an opium-and-belladonna-soaked tampon to a woman experiencing menstrual cramps. The opium was for the pain, and the belladonna was used to relax the vaginal muscles. (Belladonna is a toxic plant.)

"There were a lot of tonics geared toward women’s ailments, and most were 25 percent or more alcohol and had some sort of opiate in them," Elizabeth Sherman, executive director of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, told The Guardian. Examples of the drugged tampons are on display at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, Atlas Obscura reported.

3. Vibrating tampons

Steven A. Kilgore invented a "vibrating tampon apparatus" for "easing a woman's menstrual cramps," according to a patent application filed in 1997 and published in 1998.

diagram of vibrating tampon for patent

The description of this tampon's function sounds like it was written by a sympathetic alien species:

"As many women who suffer menstrual cramps are aware, stimulation of the vaginal tract can under certain circumstances alleviate the pain associated with menstrual cramping. In addition, many women experience vaginal dryness at this time, which makes the insertion of a tampon a trying experience."

Vibetex, the vibrating tampon, is not a real product. Nor is this vibrating tampon, from Pink Parcel.

Tampons that flat-out failed

4. Rely

Proctor & Gamble's superabsorbent tampon, Rely, turned out also to cause toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that affected hundreds of women. Proctor & Gamble introduced the Rely tampon in 1978 as the worry-free tampon.

What made it so absorbent was "polyester foam cubes and chips of carboxymethylcellulose, an edible thickening agent used in puddings and ice cream and known as 'grass,'" according to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. And it was also this very blend of new materials that led to outbreaks of TSS. By 1983, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 2,200 cases of TSS related to tampon use.

Patricia Kehm, a 25-year-old woman, died of TSS while using Rely; her family successfully sued P&G in 1982 for $300,000 in non-punitive damages, according to The Atlantic.

Kehm died on Sept. 6, 1980. Rely was pulled from the shelves 16 days later.

5. Tampax Pocket Pearl

ATTN: previously reported that Tampax is getting a lot of hate for its newest tampon, Tampax Pocket Pearl. Consumers are displeased because of the applicator, which in most cases, fails to work properly.

What does the future hold for tampon technology?

Future tampon technology may not involve an actual tampon at all. Thinx, the "underwear for women with periods," appears to be a strong contender for replacing tampons. There's nothing to insert or attach into the underwear: The underwear is the tampon, if you will.


A photo posted by THINX (@shethinx) on

The wearer bleeds into a pair of underpants that absorbs the blood without leaving any wetness behind. Thinx have moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties and are ready to use again after a cold wash, the company said on its website.

The menstrual cup has seen an increase in popularity since its patenting in 1932, and sales have grown since the first cup was put on the market in the 1960s. In 2014, TIME magazine asked, "Is the Menstrual Cup Going Mainstream?"

The Keeper, a menstrual cup introduced in 1987, is still in production today, though arguably The DivaCup is the more popular one.


A photo posted by The DivaCup (@thedivacup) on

A menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina, where it collects menstrual blood. Like Thinx, these are not disposable products but are designed to be rinsed after each use.

Cup users are very enthusiastic about this method of period management:

Amazon divacup reviews

In case you've ever wanted to combine your cell phone with your cycle (and period tracking apps just aren't enough), a patent was filed in 2010 for a "Cell Phone Based Tampon Monitoring System." The point?

"By utilizing conventional cell phones, women may simply and privately monitor their currently inserted tampon and get timely forecasts and alerts. Through ongoing use, a wealth of information about menstruation cycle and other related health issues may be utilized by women and/or their doctors without having to carry along any extra device."

But wait — there's more! The device, via sensor, would give the user info such as "a tampon saturation progress information, a tampon leakage alert, a tampon full forecast, a tampon full alert, a health data log and a fertility information."

What a world we live in.

RELATED: The Crazy Amount of Tampons That Have Been Patented by Men