Who would have thought that going green started with our vaginas?
by Miriam Hicklin
Those of us with periods will use more than 11,000 tampons or pads in our lives. More than 20 billion disposable feminine hygiene products are flushed or tossed annually.
That’s a lot of non-biodegradable waste we’re throwing away.
For something so central to the lives of over half the post-pubescent population of the world, there is a glaring lack of conversation about the environmental impact of our vaginas. Zero-waste lifestyles are great in practice, but it’s often hard to see how the compromises they demand can be fitted into a busy, modern lifestyle. Personally, I have been looking to make a few baby steps towards reducing my waste. Me being me obviously chose sanitary products to start. The idea that we could do away with tampons and towels might seem ridiculous or even a bit disgusting, but there are in fact some well-established and viable alternatives. The Mooncup is one of them. The Mooncup (known in the US as MCUK) is a silicone menstrual cup designed to be a convenient, safe and eco-friendly alternative to tampons and sanitary pads. Over six days, I put it to the test.
Day 1: Arrival
The blessed day of my Mooncup’s arrival is upon me, and I am so excited. It would be fair to say that receiving any kind of post thrills me to my very core, but this feels like a particularly special day. I take Diana (the humble name of my new Mooncup) downstairs and proudly exhibit her to my sister, my mum, and incidentally, my sister’s friend. I don’t consider the fact that it is my sister’s wedding day in under a week and the three of them are probably not thrilled to hear ‘MENSTRUATION!!!!’ wherever they turn. The results were disappointing and my thrill was not shared.
I don’t let this get me down. I have never read an instruction manual with such care and attention before. I particularly like the ‘troubleshooting’ section, which includes a guide to using the vaginal muscles. Ah, Mooncup. Liberating women one silicone capsule at a time. I pay close attention to the cleaning instructions. Mental note is made that a special Mooncup saucepan should be found in order to not contaminate too much of my kitchen with my vaginal output when the Mooncup is being sterilised. Despite my super-feminist flatmates being totally awesome, vaginal output in the one and only saucepan we own could be a step too far. I must sleep, and probably for the first time in my life, long for the arrival of my period.
Day 2: Recognisance
To make my life even more exciting I have decided to couple my first experience of a menstrual cup simultaneously with using re-usable pads (to cover for any drips), to create some kind of super-sustainable period experience. The pads are surprisingly nice-looking for something which sole purpose is the absorption of blood, but I roll with it. Indeed, on further inspection, there is a whole range of floral patterns on the different pads. Nice. I move swiftly on, knowing that the day of battle is nigh, and decide to practice using these pads to make sure they’re not utter crap, leaving me soaked in my own blood. The results are impressive. No movement, and very comfortable. After a few hours I remove the pad to practice my cleaning skills, a bit of a soak in cold water before popping it in the washing machine. To my shock, whilst holding the pad under a flowing tap for about 30 seconds, the bottom of the pad is still not wet. What are they made of, magic??! I compose myself and dry the beast of a sanitary pad out, placing it in a specially assigned (and, of course, conspicuously labelled) Tupperware and continue with my day, if only a little bit of a changed woman.
Day 3: The Battle Begins
I should first introduce to you what exactly a menstrual cup is. I admit that at first I was sceptical about having a cup in my pants, but I soon realised after very little research that was not the case. I was greatly relieved. It’s a silicone capsule that sits just inside the vagina, a bit lower than a tampon. It has a little stalk for easy withdrawal (lol), and generally, looks pretty cool and is also weirdly fun to play with (when clean and not full of lady blood). It is inserted by folding its rim a little and wiggling it up (a scientific term), and creates a seal around the vagina wall so that all the blood collects inside it. You then just tip out the contents after a few hours, give it a little wash and pop it back in. Of course, it saves on waste significantly as one menstrual cup can last up to 10 years, and is much healthier and cleaner for the body, too. All in all, it’s a pretty great product.
I decide to conduct my first Mooncup experiment at home, so as to avoid the fatal combination of amateur menstrual cup-handling skills and public toilets. Despite the hours I have poured (not literally) over my Mooncup Instruction Manual, I inexplicably decide to go rogue on my first attempt at insertion, but thankfully, the Mooncup is incredible and does most of the work for you. Despite not following the instructions to part the labia and smoothly insert (I obviously thought my vagina skills were beyond this) it sort of just… pops in. I am surprised, bemused, and a little worried. I check that Diana was safely in. She is. I notice that the stem of the cup is sort of, protruding, and note that I should trim it a bit before next time. Despite this, I feel fantastic, and head to bed full of joy.
Day 4: The Morning After
I am pleased to see that my Mooncup has been successful at not leaking, and my washable pad is neat and clean. With some trepidation, I proceed to withdraw my cup, again not following the instructions I had read so sensibly, employing a range of tugging, squeezing and pushing techniques. Finally, there is a ‘squelch’, as the cup releases its suction from the vagina wall and comes out pretty effortlessly. I take a moment to gaze upon what I find. I have never really seen my lady blood in such a pure form before. It looks a bit like a Picasso painting. I am proud, and proceed to dispose of my masterpiece down the loo before giving Diana a congratulatory rinse for all of her hard work.
Day 5: Dooms Day
I didn’t mention before, because, well, I didn’t want to sound arrogant. But, my period is KIND OF A BIG DEAL. It starts off quietly, and just when you think everything is fine, it hits you with just about ALL THE BLOOD. I knew that today would be Diana’s real test, and with some hesitation, I install her safely and start my day. Given the circumstances, I can say that she really performs gallantly. There was need for the pad that I had wisely given her as support, but in the end, it was all quiet on the vaginal front. The same cannot be said for the rest of me however, as I prowled around my university looking as if the end was nigh, hopelessly in pursuit of ALL THE FOOD and anything else I could possibly contemplate consuming. Thankfully Mr Kipling was there when I needed him, and Diana didn’t have to witness her first temper tantrum.
Just to make today even better, I called Mooncup this morning to let them know about this article. If you ever feel like you need more friends in your life, call them, they’re great! Anyway, they mentioned that it normally takes about three cycles to get on top of your menstrual cup skills (my words, not theirs), so this gives me much hope for future doom days. Just to add to their loveliness, they let me know that they have a helpline run by nurses for all sad Mooncuppers out there in need of a little advice. The details are below.
Tel +44(0) 1273 673 845
Day 6: A Reflection
I’m afraid to tell you that I haven’t been true to my word, and I have in fact missed a few details in this diary. Indeed a few days passed on after Dooms Day, but I feel like you’ve probably got the point. Mooncups are great.
If you’re looking at starting your own Mooncup journey, there is a mass of information about them online, and lots of helpful tips from users. You’ll notice that just about everyone thinks they’re flipping fantastic, which, well, they should. I can honestly say that my first experience with a Mooncup has been wholly satisfying: I feel at one with my body, I’m proud of my sustainability skills, my vagina is super healthy and so is my cash flow! And speaking of flows… see you in a month, Diana.
Miriam loves vaginas almost as much as she loves Frida Kahlo and medieval literature. Almost. She’ll happily talk to you about any of the above over a flat white and a lot of cake.