When I was in fifth grade (about a year and a half before I actually got my period), my teacher dunked a tampon in a coffee can full of water. She told us that her teacher had done the same during a "growing and changing" class, and she had found it fascinating and memorable.
Have you looked at a tampon? It starts off all narrow and unthreatening:
And then, upon being saturated with water, it swells to monstrous proportions. Any girl would remember that-- and any girl in her right mind would vow never to use a tampon. Which is precisely what I did.
Fast forward several years, and I'd managed to get over my immense (and, it turned out, unfounded) fear of tampons. After discovering how easy the whole thing really was, I promised myself that I would never, ever subject any little girl to the same demonstration...
...that is, until Chicky asked. She wanted to know how, exactly, a tampon worked. I had two choices. I could wave off the question, and pretend that it had never been asked, or I could show her. I chose the latter, but with a few added precautions.
First, I explained to her that a tampon being dunked in a bowl of water does not react at all in the same way to a tampon being saturated with menstrual fluid (ewww) in the human body. She, unsurprisingly, could see why that made sense. Then, I introduced two versions of the event.
The Scary (but Fascinating) Version:
The tampon is released into a dish of water. Immediately, it swells to an enormous size. You are forced to envision this tampon in your body, stuck there forever. How would you ever get something that big OUT again?
The Non-Scary Version:
This version does a much better job of demonstrating what a tampon actually does. You hold the unwrapped tampon in your hand, which acts as the vaginal wall. Then, using your other hand, you pour water slowly over the tampon. It absorbs the water, and swells-- but not nearly to the size of the first tampon. You can feel that it is not forcing your hand apart, that the tampon has no inherent strength. (Seems obvious, doesn't it? But take the perspective of someone who has never experienced a tampon before.) Then, once the tampon has been fully saturated, you can use the cord to pull it out of your hand. See how it doesn't get stuck? See how your hand doesn't get forced open?
Can you see the difference?
It's not an ideal experiment, but it's sure a lot better than the original version! Chicky had fun trying these out, and I am pleased that she got to do something a little more hands on. Sometimes it seems like these topics involve an awful lot of just talking. (Though I'm going to work on that...)