Stories about vodka-soaked tampons getting women clandestinely drunk continue to circulate and every now and then I get asked about this possibility. As there is a fairly recent study looking at some of the mechanics involved I thought I’d give it a go.
The vagina is not a sponge
It’s not like you can put a 4 ounces of vodka (or any fluid) in there, temporarily suspend the laws of gravity, and an hour later the liquid will be gone. Small amounts of substances can be absorbed, however, if the vagina efficiently soaked up liquid then there would never be that mad dash to bathroom or sacrificed pillow case when someone forgot the sex towel.
The lining of the vagina (mucosa) is very similar to the lining in your mouth, but neither are very permeable. If you fill your mouth full of vodka and hung out for an hour without swallowing (that is if you could stand it), there would still be plenty to spit out. Mucosa absorbs a little, but the primary function is a barrier. So even if you could get enough alcohol in the vagina and keep it there it would unlikely be absorbed in any significant amount.
Tampons don’t hold a lot of vodka
Yes, this has been studied! A tampon in its applicator soaks up is a measly 15 ml of vodka. A standard “shot” of hard liquor is between 35-45 ml (depending on where you live). So even if one’s vagina could suck that up in some biologically implausible manner 15 ml wouldn’t be enough to do anything.
Well, you say, the youth of America (and elsewhere) are crafty. What if you take the applicator off? And yes, a tampon not constrained by its applicator can soak up a lot more (also in the study), about 30 ml. How easy do you think it is to put a soaking wet tampon in your vagina and not squeeze out most of the liquid?
Many women find alcohol products irritating to the vagina mucosa, which is one reason I recommend ointments over gels for vulvovaginal area. In addition, microscopic cuts and abrasions are common (especially if you are trying to cram a tampon into a non lubricated vagina). Ever get alcohol in a cut? Now imagine your whole vagina feeling like that. Ring of fire comes to mind. An intrepid reporter actually tested this out and of course, as predicted, a burning vagina was the result.
These kinds of urban myths take hold because they use a little bit of science (the vagina can absorb some medications) and twist it. But whether it’s alcohol in the vagina or cleaning the uterus and vagina with a V-steam, it’s all an example of a little knowledge being a very dangerous thing.