The strange history of tampons — as sex aid, as metaphor, as the source of "tampon tea" — in the popular culture is a story of women's bodies, reality television, otherization, patriarchy, period sex, and, um, Prince Charles.
In 2007, Tiger Woods, according to a new Vanity Fairstory, found himself being blackmailed over a tampon by the National Enquirer. Mindy Lawton, who was sleeping with Tiger at the time, says, "He wanted that last piece of booty before he could go to his tournament. To make him shoot better." They were in a parking lot, and Lawton had her period, but such minor impediments are no match for the flames of passion that tournament-luck-sex so regularly ignites!
The discarded hygiene product was picked up by one of the tabloid's operatives, and this proof positive of an affair (allegedly) motivated Tiger to give a cover story interview to the Enquirer's sister publication, Men's Fitness, in order to forestall any scandalous reveal.
In 1993, the Australian tabloid New Idea published a secretly recorded late-night 1989 cell phone conversation between Prince Charles and his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles. During roughly six minutes of sexual banter, the future king of England said the words, "I want to feel my way along you, all over you and up and down you and in and out." Then, "Oh God, I'll just live inside your trousers or something — it would be much easier."
Camilla replied, "What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers? Oh, you're, you're going to come back as a pair of knickers."
"Or, God forbid a Tampax. Just my luck!"
"You are a complete idiot. Oh, what a wonderful idea."
"My luck to be chucked down the lavatory and go on and on forever. Swirling round on the top, never going down."
"Oh, Darling!" said Camilla.
"Until the next one comes through."
"Oh, perhaps you could come back as a box."
"What sort of box?"
"A box of Tampax, so you could just keep going."
Charles said, "That's true."
....And the sexy-tampon-royal-reincarnation meme was born. Dana Carvey performed a Saturday Night Live skit, in which he played Charles renouncing his claim to the throne so that he could live out his days as a tampon in the trousers of the woman he loved. Academics wrote papers about it. Its most recent mention in the news was less than a month ago. Charles may have married Camilla, but he will never live that Tampax thing down.
Terry Richardson also, apparently, thinks of cotton crotch pellets in a sexual context. According to a model named Jamie Peck, when Peck was 19, the photographer asked her to take out her tampon on a shoot, so that he could play with it and make "tampon tea." Perhaps because Peck's essay came in the midst of so many other allegations of serious sexual misconduct against Richardson, or perhaps because it's just really fucking weird, the tampon aspect has been mostly downplayed.
Earlier this year, noted pillhead performance artist Rush Limbaugh found in tampons a novel way to insult a female caller who challenged him over his statements discouraging donations to the Haitian earthquake relief effort. Thus spake the D.J.:
"What I'm illustrating here is that you're a blockhead. What I'm illustrating here is that you're a closed-minded bigot who is ill-informed. … And if you had listened to this program for a modicum of time you would know it. But instead you're a blockhead. Your mind is totally closed. You have tampons in your ears."
Which is funny, because Rush always kinda sounds like he's PMSing.
In the middle of that Rolling Stone interview he is still apologizing for, John Mayer launched into a long tangential musing on masturbation — reasons for and against, appropriate timing thereof, why Tiger Woods should learn its value, which is "like gold bullion" — and then threw in this aside: "I'm sort of half-chick. It's like District 9. I can fire alien weapons. I can insert a tampon."
Which is all well and good, except that I've been racking my brains to try and imagine the situation in which an able-bodied woman would find it easier or more practical or more comfortable or in any way commodious to have someone else put in her tampon for her. And I can't.
What is it with tampons and the male imagination? Obviously a tampon's privileged access to the vagina has to be a factor in this fixation — nobody brags of knowing his way around a winged maxi-pad, or tells his lover he wishes he could be her pantyliner. Is it a mark of respect for and comfort around women's bodies for men to talk about our tampons?
Menstruation certainly has long been made the object of patriarchal fear and mistrust, to the extent that saying the word "vagina" in a tampon ad is still taboo in the states.
If you search "Prince Charles tampon" on Lexis/Nexis, you'll turn up a 1993 letter to the editor in the Australian Courier-Mail praising Charles' "compassion and originality" in his choice of metaphor. "If more men could be so intimate with a woman that they could express, in such an original way, the need to be close to her, perhaps there would be less violence towards women," wrote the reader, a woman. That's a stretch. But there is a way to understand this kind of banter as sweet.
Or is men's tampon talk just...kind of bizarre? There is a possessive undertone. Woman, fear not: John Mayer is here to take care of that tampon insertion for you! Of course a dude would come off sounding like he wants a freaking cookie for demonstrating a skill that 13-year-old girls the world over have mastered.
But what this discussion of tampon culture truly lacks is a woman's perspective. To which end, I present: Moe's tampon.
"I wanted to say it smelled sort of like Vegemite tastes, but that's too kind."
Reality TV character Kristin Cavallari was once asked that prehistoric ladymag question, "What's your most embarrassing moment?" And rather than talk about how once she had spinach in her teeth, she offered up an anecdote that was actually worthy of the name, but discussed it with a frankness that was in its way refreshing. On a shoot where she was asked to pose in lingerie, Cavallari didn't realize her tampon string was visible. "The stylist was looking at me and she was like, 'You have a string hanging from your little underwear'. She came over and pulled on my tampon string."
Incidentally, Cavallari says she once turned John Mayer down. "I just feel like...I don't need to be another notch on his belt," she explained.
It's nice to see hard evidence the charm of men like Mayer has its limits.