I’m a woman and I want to talk about periods

A little over a year ago, I made a momentous lifestyle change and decided to buy a Mooncup. I was deep into the environmental movement, and the next natural step looked like it had to be an intersection of feminism and environmentalism. And the change has been huge, both in a physical and sustainable sense. If you’re thinking about making the leap, or just want to know more about the sustainable phenomenon, please read on!

I must admit that I have always been very coy about periods. I would blush whilst buying tampons…

For all my assertions about being a feminist, I must admit that I have always been very coy about periods. Heck, I’m cringing right now, writing this! I would blush whilst buying tampons, complain of a headache when I had cramps at work, and have anxiety-fueled scenarios running through my head of embarrassing period-related situations. And I would avoid the gym! YES, that one thing that decreased my pain and uplifted my mood. I threw it out the window because I was too darn embarrassed.

And, adding further to this self-denial, during toilet visits while on my period I would run to the bin, hiding the evidence of my womanhood, and not acknowledging the mass waste I was causing. The turning point came when I had to switch back to sanitary pads. Seeing the accumulation of so much plastic and waste horrified me. As someone who refuses to throw away her olive jars when they’ve all been gobbled up (they’re SO handy!), I suddenly felt this huge wave of hypocrisy and shame. And something needed to change.

“In the UK, a woman uses an average of over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her reproductive lifetime”

When I did my research into alternative products, I felt that reusable sanitary pads weren’t the right fit. I also held concerns over the increase in the use of the washing machine they may cause. Therefore, silicone cups seemed like the perfect alternative. They were discrete, cheaper in the long-run and non-toxic. Plus, they sold them at my local shop!

These magical cups are beneficial both for your health and for the environment. Fantastic news, right? They don’t contain carcinogenic products like latex, BPA, phthalates, plastic, dyes or bleach- a common ingredient of nearly all tampons. Tampons also absorb 35 per cent of vaginal moisture, meaning that these handy cups keep you super healthy down below! Yeah, this sounds fine, but you’re wondering what’s so wrong with your tampons anyway, right? Well it turns out that non-organic sanitary products are made from cotton that is sprayed with chemical pesticides, creating a cycle of ill-health for cotton workers, for our earth and for ourselves. And did you know that this combination of toxins, bleached rayon and a dry vagina can all result in life-threatening illnesses? Toxic Shock Syndrome thrives in a bacteria filled area, while the resultant imbalance of natural pH levels can often lead to infections, which are the foundation of major women’s illnesses.

According to the Women’s Environmental Network: “In the UK, a woman uses an average of over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her reproductive lifetime.” And these are all plastic-based products! Tampons, sanitary pads and panty liners contribute a phenomenal 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. This means that every single month, women who have regular periods are adding plastics to landfills, rivers and seas for the next 450 years. Even startling so, WEN reported that: “In 2010, a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and nine tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline.”

Now, I’m no advocate for the fossil fuel industry or big polluters’ calls for small change, but if I can cut down my product waste from literally hundreds, to just one, then that will suit me while I’m busy fighting the system. Treating our lives and bodies holistically can spread to a deeper sense of empathy, which will eventually lead to more representative policies and a more effective international framework for preventing climate change. Well, that’s the dream at least.

I realised that I was no longer going to put my health and the health of my beloved earth at risk because of a few things some beauty magazines and teenage boys told me

When I was growing up, my mum would always tell me: “Grace, those tampons are bad for you, don’t use them.” But at the time, the anxiety of that shy teenage girl had a stronger and more powerful message. “Don’t use pads, you’ll smell,” “Don’t use a pad, you can see its bulge,” “Don’t use pads, boys will see them in your bag and laugh.” So, I spent my teens and early twenties storing what the adverts told me looked like sweeties in my bag. That was, until I realised that I was no longer going to put my health and the health of my beloved earth at risk because of a few things some beauty magazines and teenage boys told me.

Fuck, I can work a 16 hour shift while bleeding! Is that not something to be proud of?

Reading this piece, you may think that I’m guilting you into trying a silicone cup. The way I see it, I am prouder of my womanhood and of my feminism than ever before. Fuck, I can work a 16 hour shift while bleeding! Is that not something to be proud of? As someone who has suffered with very painful periods in the past, I am happy that I am now utilising that pain. Yes, I will curl up into a ball and eat seven thousand chocolates whilst crying, but I have earned that right. I must admit, however, that it’s true that I miss the solidarity of using pads and tampons. The other day at work, I couldn’t stop smiling when I noticed that someone had left a neat row of sanitary pads ready for the taking in the loo.

But we must not forget that some women can’t use silicone cups. Sometimes the size doesn’t work. Sometimes the women are too squeamish. And sometimes the women don’t have vaginas. Some women don’t have access to clean water, and may be more at risk of disease by reusing a silicone cup. And some women’s cultures or beliefs forbid it.

My culture shames me for bleeding

Yes, my culture shames me for bleeding. It judges my character more because of a stain on my trousers, than my ability to work a physically demanding job while experiencing excruciating pain. So, while my government continues to tax my vagina, I’m taking a stand and saying “No, I will not pay another £600 on sanitary products that are killing my environment and my body. And no, I will not pay another £30 in tax for being me.” And while we’re simultaneously being told we are responsible for mass waste, while also being shamed for our bodies, my cup is my one little way of saying, “Fuck you, I’m proud to be a woman.”

 

N.B. To find out how much you have spent on your periods so far, just check out the BBC’s handy little calculator here.

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