The First Time: Pamela Adlon: The First Time I Ever Tried a Tampon

But I was skeptical when I went to the beach wearing a pad for the first time. It felt like a whole big bundle of a situation between my legs. Like … oh, God. Yes. I’ll say it, my worst fear: a diaper.

It reminded me of the nasty playground lady at elementary school who teased me mercilessly by calling me “Pampers.” Not the best thing to call a very short person. I hated her.

I went swimming and when I came out of the water, it felt like half of the ocean had been absorbed into my pad. I realized that maybe those ladies in the commercials were having me on.

Later, I realized that I was actually seeing ads for tampons, which were not “offered” to me by my mother. She had told me I shouldn’t use them. Not until I was older. We didn’t discuss them. These were not an option for me.

A few years later my friend Sherry invited me to join her and her mom in Palm Springs. Before we got to her place we went to the supermarket and loaded up on all kinds of goodies and junk food. This was a first. I never got to buy stuff like that. I’m guessing her mom was … around? But I felt like it was just the two of us heading to our own place in the desert.

Sherry had a pool. I had my period. I was 16 and had been having it for four years. (I mean once a month, not constantly). Of course, we had been planning to spend the whole day in the pool. So when I told her I wasn’t going to swim — and why — she looked at me like I was crazy. Sherry grabbed me by the hand and took me into the womb of this beautiful, white, creamy chic apartment in the desert, held up a tampon, and said: “Pammy. Are you serious?!!! You put this in. Right now. Are you kidding me? This will help you. I’m about to change your life. This is the end and the beginning.” (I do believe I’m paraphrasing here — but it’s my memory and it’s special and I am grateful to Sherry forever for it).

I was afraid to put the tampon in. In fact, I was convinced it wouldn’t go in. That I was the one woman on the planet who didn’t have the right equipment.

But it worked. We went swimming. And my life was better after that. Now, I had a new feeling. That it was kind of cool that I had a period at all. My body had an ability to work like this. To go through cycles. And do a thing that women get to do. I felt like I was a part of something bigger. In life. And I didn’t have to suffer. And I could go swimming … without leaving a trail of chum for the sharks … anytime I wanted. (Update: Now I never swim, and I think I have about four periods left.)


O.K. So now. I’m a mother to three girls. And here I go in the opposite direction of my own childhood experience.

“Hey, girls. Grab a mirror and explore yourself.”

“Want to have a talk about sex? Anything?”

“What kind of razors do you want? Mach3? That’s the kind Mommy uses.”

“You have a boyfriend now … so … I’m not … saying … you are sexually active … but … regardless, I made you an appointment … at the lady-parts doctor.”

All to be met with a pillow or hand held up in front of their faces followed by an, “Ew. Stop, Mom! I got this! I’ll ask my sister.”

And now I realize that if my mom had ever said anything to me about my vagina, I would have thrown her out the window. I mean, I can’t even take it if she touches my hair. So the moral of the story is, look to your sisters and your friends. Leave your mom out of it.

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