Plastic-free periods and why it’s worth considering a menstrual cup
Photo: Getty Images


Plastic-free periods and why it’s worth considering a menstrual cup

Yes, there will be blood but, if you haven’t already tried it, there’s never been a better time to start using a menstrual cup

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Right. Every pub in the country has replaced its plastic straws with barbershop-striped cardboard ones; Iceland has pledged to get rid of its plastic packaging within five years; Michael Gove is smugly clutching his Ecoffee Cup. The world is finally – finally! – getting into formation about the effect of plastic on the environment and, while it sometimes feels like too little too late, it’s incredibly cheering to see that something positive is actually happening.

The drawback of this is that, when it comes to tampons, we are rapidly running out of excuses.  

Listen, I’m not here to make you feel bad about not using a menstrual cup. In the last few years, I’ve become slack with it myself. I bought my first Mooncup (there are seemingly endless brands of cup, but Mooncup tends to be the one sold in most Boots) in 2012, in a somewhat pathetic attempt to impress a new friend. I used it for two years, proudly lecturing friends, family and acquaintances on how I had become an Earth goddess by way of a small silicon cup. When friends insisted that they had tried but couldn’t get on with it, I doubled down. I was worse than the most militant breastfeeding enthusiast. “Have you tried boiling it first?” or “Have you tried lying down while you put it in?” and, worst of all, “Have you tried just getting used to it?” spilled out of my mouth regularly.

Then, a hideous break-up that led to a sudden house move roundhouse-kicked my menstrual-cup smugness in the face. I was living with strangers again, the cup was in a box somewhere and I was terrified of anyone catching me boiling my cup. And forget about putting it in the dishwasher. I was snared again by the tampon-industrial complex, spending £3 every month on something with a plastic applicator that only works 80 per cent of the time.

But, now, I’m ready to switch back. Not just because of the environment (although, yes, mostly because of the environment) but because tampons are top-to-bottom dreadful. A non-exhaustive list of my grievances against tampons are as follows:

  • They leak constantly
  • When they’re not leaking, it means there’s not enough flow left, and when you pull it out it feels like 5,000-year-old rope on the hull of an ancient ship
  • When you pee, it gets on the tail and then you’re walking around with a pee tail in your underwear all day
  • You have an actual tail

The only thing I can truly compare it to is contact lenses, in that it’s difficult to get the hang of it, but it quickly becomes second nature

If you have never tried a cup, and you’re nodding your head miserably and thinking, “Y’know what? It does feel like 5,000-year-old sailor rope," please join me on my new menstrual-cup journey. Or, Menstrual Cup 2: Pig In The City.


I went with Mooncup, which is the Coca-Cola of menstrual cups. It comes in two sizes: A, if you’re over 30 or have given birth; B, if you’re under 30 and have never given birth. This weird “you either have an A vagina or a B vagina”, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work for everyone. Luckily, there are tons of options. Diva Cups are supposedly better if you have a tilted uterus. Me Luna comes in eight sizes and endless colours, along with a ton of stem choices. There’s a ton out there, so shop around and see what jumps out.


Alright, so this bit is tricky for some people. The only thing I can truly compare it to is contact lenses, in that it’s difficult to get the hang of it, but it quickly becomes second nature. Boil it first to soften it up and then fold it in half. (“Like a tulip,” my friend who I was trying to impress in 2012 said.) Slide it into yourself, using lube if you want to, lying on the ground if that makes it easier. It will expand to fit snugly around the walls of your vagina. Again, like contact lenses, at first you’ll be super aware of it and maybe a little uncomfortable, but it does get better.


Surprise! This is actually worse than putting it in. Well, I say worse – what I mean is that it’s trickier. The silicon has amazing suction that forms a vacuum inside your vagina, which is why the cup is virtually leak-free. You can’t just yank it out like you would with a tampon. For want of a better phrase, you have to sort of… wiggle your finger behind the cup to break the seal, while gradually easing it out with the stem. Then comes the incredibly rewarding pseudo-Earth Mother moment of holding a cup of your own still-warm blood in your hands before pouring it down the toilet.


Let me guess: you’re worried about cleaning it in the staff loos. You’re picturing yourself rinsing it in the sink while Helen from Finance watches, her mouth agape. Chill out, Helen. Empty your cup into the toilet and then wipe it clean with some tissue. If you’re feeling fancy, bring a bottle of water in there with you, but there’s really no need.

When you start using a menstrual cup, a few different things happen, the most welcoming of which is that you realise how obsessed you were with period cleanliness when you were using pads and tampons. But don’t worry: there’s no smell, no chemicals, nothing up there doing anything. If there’s a bit of blood left in there, who cares?

Go forth and bleed, friends. And feel slightly less guilty about the environment while you do it.


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