Applicator Shmaplicator: o.b.’s Selfish Shellfish

Jamie’s Team Pick:

Sunday is Earth Day, which has us wanting to make some environmentally friendly adjustments to our personal routines. So here’s a thought: o.b. tampons are one of the few applicator-free tampons available in the United States. And as Jimmy the Crab is about to tell you, it takes 500-1000 years for plastic applicators to break down, with something like 25,000 of them washing up on beaches around the world. Um, that sounds like something we could do without, no?

Also, who doesn’t love an entrepreneurial talking sea crustacean? Even if he is just a selfish shellfish.


You can get a free sample of o.b. tampons! Happy early Earth Day!

Jamie lives in Boston and is currently a PhD student in Global Governance and Human Security at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a freelance writer and also a team associate for the Boston chapter of Hollaback!.

Jamie has written 79 articles for us.


  1. I’m still mildly traumatized from like a year ago when o.b. was having supply problems and I had to buy other tampons. I’m completely serious.

    • I SO want to be able to use the Diva Cup, but I can’t get it to work for me. Twice it’s gotten lost up there – LOST to the point where I was hysterical and on the verge of rushing myself to the Emergency room. And I will spare you the humiliating details of how I got it out again, except to say that it required the assistance of another person. Not my best moment.

      • Thanks for posting that. I used

        to get more info on other menstrual cup options. I tried the Diva and it was just waaay too big for me. Now I’m waiting on the fleurcup to arrive so I can try that one.

        I was using reusable pads (moonpads made by a sweet lady in Oregon; on but now that I don’t have a bathroom to myself I need something more discreet.

      • Diva cups are the BEST! THEY CHANGED MY LIFE! and they will change yours too. I don’t know a single person who has gone back to tampons after using the diva cup.

    • Dudes the diva cup saved my life.
      I’m backpacking right now and it’s just SO CONVENIENT. it never ever leaks and it helped a lot with cramps, and I really like not having bleached cotton in my vag all the time.
      Plus it actually saving 10$/month mean more money for beer.

      Really, it’s a win-win-win-win.

      I think maybe the only reason it isn’t more popular is because it is really uhm…. Hands on? You have to be really comfortable with the fact that you have a vagina.


      I did use ob tampons before I got mine though, since plastic is forever.

  2. Actually, Seventh Generation and NatraCare also offer applicator-free tampons! AND they’re organic cotton for your body and the earth. So o.b. is NOT the only applicator-free variety. Or you can learn to love your flo’ with the divacup/keeper/mooncup. Yay choices!

    • HA, truth! I live in Germany and when I first came to Canada years ago and someone handed me a tampon with an applicator it was like, “What is this shit? How do I use this?” Kind of weird when you’re in your small high school’s washroom being coached on how to use a tampon with an applicator by people you don’t really know all that well yet.

      • Yeah, it’s the same in Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tampon with an applicator in my life. I really don’t get the whole applicator thing – it’s your own body, why would you have a problem with touching it?? I bet applicator tampons were designed and / or marketed by a bunch of dudes who subscribed to the “omg periods are gross” school of ‘thought’.

        • Well, I absofuckinglutely hate touching cotton, so there’s that. (I did grit my teeth and use o.b. when I did use tampons because I’ve got tiny insides, but I have a friend with the same weird hatred of cotton who would search out the one or two Australian brands with applicators for this very reason.)

          • Fair enough, I guess that it’d never occurred to me that some people might hate touching the tampon itself. Out of curiosity – do you have an all-encompassing loathing of cotton materials, or is it just tampons??

          • (Also, it’s not *terrifying*, it’s just something I’d rather not touch. Luckily menstrual cups are made of silicone!)

        • Tampons are dry, plastic is smooth. It’s just easier/less uncomfortable for me to get the tampon positioned correctly with an applicator. I have the same problem with cardboard applicators. I know the plastic is eco-evil, though, and am thinking about trying the diva cup.

  3. Why why whyyyyy do I need an o.b. website “account” to get a free sample? I’m all for ladies, and everything involved, but I think an internet community based around tampons is quite literally the last thing I need in my life.

  4. What’s better than no applicator? No waste at all! DivaCups are actually the best for the environment, and they are way more comfortable than tampons. Y’all should get on that, Autostraddle!

  5. america can be so wierd yo.
    istg in nz there are two brands that offer yucky applicator style tampons and the rest are awesome and just offer normal ones. applicators are frickn gross.

  6. There is exactly one international store in my Chinese city that sells applicator tampons, on occasion, and they cost about 6 USD per box of 10. So… that’s not happening. I can find OB at most of the larger grocery stores and some of the convenience stores, but for the most part, women here use pads.
    And I will chime in on the Diva cup love. I really only use tampons on days when I work all day, because our office has squat toilets and a disturbing perpetual lack of soap and general cleanliness, and in that situation I like to minimize the hand-to-ladybit contact.
    Which reminds me of a question: when I buy OB here, it comes with a bunch of little one-finger sleevelets, but I don’t recall having them in the box in the US. Is this new, just outside the US, or am I just misremembering?

  7. And also, why do tampon ads always have to be about sports, or the environment or convenience? Why can’t we just say: They’re cool because they soak up all your bloody juices and keep you from bleeding through your favourite shorts and being embarrassed by stains on chairs.

    Why do I have so much tampon rage?

  8. Tampon stories:

    When I was first *becoming a woman* my mom didn’t tell me about tampons (she actually didn’t tell me about anything, she just gave me a book that didn’t tell me about tampons). So I didn’t even actually know what they were, just that they were somehow related to menstruation since they were in the same place as the pads in our home’s large sanitary supply area (4 daughters, many cousins living with us).

    So one day I’m getting ready to go to a church activity when I feel that old familiar feeling. I didn’t see any blood, but I thought I should take something along just in case. We were (quite remarkably) out of pads, but there was a box of tampons. So I took a couple of tampons and went on my merry way. Once at the activity, I decided it was definitely time to use one of those darn things, so I went to the bathroom, opened the tampon tubey thing and . . . WTF is this thing? Is it like a really thinly rolled up pad in a tube? How do I use it? How do I unroll it? What do I do? I honestly couldn’t figure it out (I was a little bit dumb, obviously) so I spent the next couple of hours hiding out in the bathroom.

    Fast forward to age fifteen when I go and live with my (horrible and scary) sister in Virginia and she decides to introduce me to the wonders of tampons. She handed me a box of OB, gave me a brief explanation about how to use them, and left me to myself. The first couple of times I was fine. Unfortunately, the next day when I was babysitting, I was not fine. I locked myself in the bathroom and attempted the tampon-using. My vagina was having none of it. I tried and tried, but could not figure out how to get the darn thing comfortable. I was probably in the bathroom about fifteen minutes while these bratty kids pounded on the door screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? LET US IN?” Finally the kids unlocked the door and let themselves in. While I was rearranging a tampon.

    And that is why I hate babysitting and use seas sponges. THE END.

  9. America is weird. You have to search high and low for applicator tampons in Australia. I don’t understand them AT ALL it makes the whole process more difficult and I think it comes from some weird gyno-phobic thing of not wanting to touch your lady-parts. One time I was in Japan and I could only get applicator tampons and I’d never seen one before and I was like ‘WHY IS IT IN A SPACESHIP???’

  10. When living in the States, I’d always pull the tampon out of the applicator, but they always looked way crooked and not as well absorbing as German tampons. So yeah, applicators are scary shit I cannot handle.

  11. As an Australian, applicator tampons are pretty much non-existent, and it was an absolute surprise for me when they were close to all that was available when I was living in North America. I had encountered them once before though – we were given free samples of applicator tampons in sex ed when I was 12. When I first got my period, I used them, but couldn’t work out how they were meant to work! So I just, um, removed the applicator bit and used them like a normal tampon. Dunno what the instructions said, but I did end up an engineer and am usually pretty good with plans and instructions 😛

    Menstrual cup WIN… for some reason I always manage to schedule scuba diving holidays at the same time as I’ll have my period, and dealing with used tampons on a dive boat or in the third world is just disgusting. Just had my first dive holiday using the cup – perfect (and I wasn’t even worried when diving with sharks :O). Love, love, love, and recommend to all diving chicks!!

  12. Because I live in Norway, I “grew up” with Ob. It’s the norm of tampons to the extent that we call them Ob’s, not tampons. I didn’t even know applicators existed until a few years ago, and I never preferred using them.

    Once, when I lived in America, a girl in class needed to borrow a tampon. So I gave her one, and she was like, what is this? And I’m like, it’s a tampon. Then she continued, but how do you get it in? At first I didn’t understand why she didn’t get it… Haha, I had to explain that she just had to put it in there using her finger.

    Aaaanyway. Menstrual cups ALL THE WAY!
    * Save money
    * Save the environment
    * Wear it all day, no need changing it unless you have a heavy flow
    * You won’t notice it at all
    * Mine is green, and it’s totally awesome


  13. Ok how do you ever over the weird dry icky feeling that happens when you’re used to applicator tampons and you try an ob and you feel like you’re almost raping yourself with a very dry dry cotton stick? I’ve tried ob once and it was well no picnic it literally burned however I was fairly young so I’m going to give them another try but just out of curiosity has anyone ever tried Instead? They’re disposable menstrual cups which well in my opinion sucked they’re still silicone and plastic and so you’re still hurting the environment but you’re also hurting your vag with that live strong bracelet looking thing.

  14. Found these on my recent trip to Europe in a bathroom…
    By the end of the trip, I had to throw out 2 lbs of packing in my suitcase.
    Those damn tampons were higher on my “must keep” list than my clothes, my passport, and my soul.

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