Image: maxlkt / Pixabay
Image: maxlkt / Pixabay

Sustainable sanitary ware

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When I first heard about the infamous “Moon Cup” I was confused. Apart from just bleeding with no collection method – a tactic branded to me as that of “weird, hippie types” – I thought pads and tampons were my only option.

It would take another year before I actually caved and bought a menstrual cup for myself. It took a couple of cycles to get used to the cup, but ever since then it has been my lifeline. Cheap, easy to use and comfortable, it made my periods – or “shark weeks” as I like to call them – actually tolerable.

I decided the best way to investigate was to actually use these items. It was a daunting prospect…

A few months ago I began to learn about the other alternative options, and rather than simply writing about them I decided the best way to investigate was to actually use these items. It was a daunting prospect.

My research unveiled four dominant options; my trusted menstrual cup, washable and reusable sanitary pads, crochet tampons and natural sea sponge. Each of the new options sounded laughable. I apprehensively ordered a lump of sponge and my knitted tampons, not really expecting this to go well for me, not least because I was testing them all during my exam season.

My pad was branded as an “average” size and thickness, and it had a “gold glitter” design which appealed to my extravagant side…

There was a new sense of dread when my “shark week” began in May. Not only did I have an exam the next day, but I had to choose a collection method which I was sure would fail me.

Firstly I took to the reusable sanitary pad. Mine, ordered of off Etsy, cost me about £7. However, if used as a method in itself, you would probably need ten or more in order to cover an entire bleed. My pad was branded as an “average” size and thickness, and it had a “gold glitter” design which appealed to my extravagant side. It had two plastic popper clips to fasten under the gusset of your underwear and it simply sits in place.

I’m very much planning on using my sparkly pad again though, but I think I am going to keep it as a second line of defence on my heavier days…

Though it was actually highly absorbent, it did feel very thick. If comfort is important to you, as it is to me, then this may not suit you. Also, the amount of washing required can be time consuming, especially if you have a busy lifestyle. Soaking these pads and properly washing them – with delicate, sensitive soaps by the way – is stressful when you live in a house of eight and you don’t have your own sink.

I’m very much planning on using my sparkly pad again though, but I think I am going to keep it as a second line of defence on my heavier days. These are still much less wasteful than reusable pads, which makes me feel more enthused to use them. Sometimes I need a pad and I would much rather use my washable one.

They are very simply a long knitted string attached to a crochet square… a “knitted vagina cigar”…

On the second day – my heaviest day and also the day of my first exam – I dived into the weird world of crochet tampons. At £1 on Etsy, they are much cheaper than the pads. They are very simply a long knitted string attached to a crochet square, which you must then roll into a little tube, or as I like to refer to it, a “knitted vagina cigar”.

If you use tampon applicators – which I never have – then insertion may scare you. It was a little bit abrasive at first but surprisingly comfortable when in place. Despite the doubts I had, my heavier bleeding and exam stress, the crochet tampons were so successful and absorbent that I almost forgot that I was even on my period.

My washing machine saw a lot of action that week…

My main mistake was buying white tampons though. I scrubbed them and let them soak in the sink while I showered, but they just didn’t look as pristine as they did before they got shoved into the void. Much like the pads, they require a lot of cleaning. My washing machine saw a lot of action that week.

Finally came the scariest of all options, the £6 sea sponge from Amazon. As a necessary caveat I must advise you not to just put a regular sponge in your vagina. The plastics can be too harsh and they can be very abrasive. It must be a natural sea sponge. Despite this, on the morning of use, I did some research and came across some warnings. Due to the fact that the sponges are currently unregulated, they can potentially contain dirt, sand or bacteria from the ocean. This is not what you want inside of you.

Conversely, my mother just expressed sympathy for the sponge…

For the sake of the experiment, I persevered. I cut down my sponge to a fairly small oval and soaked it in boiling water for a few minutes before rinsing it out repeatedly. Do not use regular soaps to clean them. They will irritated your skin and your vagina is irritated enough already when bleeding.

Despite the fact that the sponge actually worked very well, I don’t think I would routinely use it. It is very easy to clean and dry, but it is also full of risks. It’s great, but I appreciate my vagina too much to squat on the bathroom floor and put a lukewarm sponge in it for a week of each month. Conversely, my mother just expressed sympathy for the sponge.

Parting advice that goes thus;… try putting something new in or around your vagina…

But at the end of it all, I very happily returned to my cup. It is comfortable, easy to clean and dry, and I only have to change it once in the morning and once in the evening. If it does need changing whilst on campus it can be easily rinsed with a bottle of water in a cubicle. It will last me for two years and it only cost me £8.

So for now I will return to my most tried and tested method and leave with the parting advice that goes thus; alternative periods aren’t as scary as you might think, so try putting something new in or around your vagina. If nothing else, it makes for a fun anecdote.

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