Eleanor Tiernan: Until recently, the only trouble I had with tampons was one that worked too well

I wanted an alternative menstrual product that doesn’t take thousands of years to degrade
Eleanor Tiernan: Until recently, the only trouble I had with tampons was one that worked too well

Eleanor Tiernan: I keep a clipboard on my bathroom wall with a tally of ‘Tampons Not Used’. So far I’m on 15.

Until recently, the only trouble I ever had with a tampon was when one did its job too well.

I was a student in UCG (now NUIG) and some friends and I decided to take advantage of a rare sunny day and head to the River Corrib for a swim, setting up camp by the Quincentennial Bridge, and taking it in turns to jump off and into the water below.

It was quite a drop and the inelegance of my one and only effort drew grimaces and sharp intakes of breath; not just a belly flop, but an everything flop.

The physical discomfort was sharp but it came and then it went. Little did I know there was a different, far longer-lasting discomfort ahead of me.

You see, I’d left a tampon in while swimming (it’s what the ads tell us to do) and while tampons aren’t meant to be felt for comfort reasons, forgetting about them entirely can cause its own set of problems. This was what happened when I jumped off that bridge.

On impact, the upward force of the water displaced pushed the menstrual item further up my vagina than it’s meant to go. And it was only back at home, when I went to change it, that I realised I was in trouble. The item was so far out of reach, I was unable to retrieve it.

Later that evening, I was still performing contortions I’d not known I could do, to angle myself in such a way to reach it. I got a hold of it eventually but I still call the incident, ‘The Day I Learned Archimedes’ Principle The Hard Way’.

An event like that could have put me off tampons altogether but I’ve been happily sliding them in and out for decades ever since. It was only recently that I considered changing to a different kind of menstrual product.

I’d been noticing a dwindling choice of tampons for sale in my local shops. I’ve always found the paper applicator tampon the quickest and most convenient way of managing my periods but lately had been finding them harder to find in the shops. In their place, a proliferation of the plastic applicator type, causing my brain to do a double-take every time I see them.

“But ... plastic?” I think, “In this day and age? Who is moving from paper to plastic, when we know there’s a big plastic island the size of Ireland in the middle of the ocean?” It’s bonkers.

Tampax have given them a lovely name: ‘Pearl’. It works. The sheen on the plastic does have a certain smooth quality to it that, according to Tampax is, “a compact and discreet smooth plastic applicator and rounded tip for comfortable insertion. Its contoured Anti- Slip Grip makes the applicator easy to hold and position.”

Designed with my vagina in mind, I almost feel ungrateful complaining.

And yet ... I just don’t see what the issue was with the old ones. My vagina has had its share of poking and prodding over the years and wasn’t having any issue with the cardboard applicator type so why this big change to a material we all know is devastating for the environment?

The reason only became clear to me when I saw both boxes side by side on a shop shelf. As the product can be condensed, the box of plastic tampons is quite a bit smaller and must take up far less warehouse space. In the world of logistics, where space is at a premium, the plastic applicator tampon wins out.

There, on the shelves of Boots was something I’d heard tell of but never thought you could buy on a high street; more like on a stall at Body and Soul festival.
There, on the shelves of Boots was something I’d heard tell of but never thought you could buy on a high street; more like on a stall at Body and Soul festival.

Certain that Tampax would be mortified to think they might be guilty of contributing to planetary destruction, I thought I’d share my insight with them on social media. Imagine my surprise when they completely ignored me. No doubt, they have many communications to catch up on but this seems like it should be top of the pile.

Meanwhile, I had to start looking around for an alternative menstrual product that doesn’t take thousands of years to degrade. It didn’t take long.

There is a huge range of tampons available with no applicator at all and I was about to make the transition when I spotted something. There, on the shelves of Boots was something I’d heard tell of but never thought you could buy on a high street; more like on a stall at Body and Soul festival.

It’s called a Mooncup. Not only does this product not have an applicator, it doesn’t even have a tampon; better again for the planet. I couldn’t resist the environmental brownie points, so I made an investment.

The Mooncup is like a small rubber goblet without the base to stand it up. You fold it in quarters to insert. Then, when released, it opens up and finds its most comfortable position. Yes, I’ve had a few teething problems.

In the beginning, I had to adopt contortionist poses similar to those used to retrieve my post-swan dive tampon in Galway in the 90s. But two months on, I keep a clipboard on my bathroom wall with a tally of ‘Tampons Not Used’. Each time, I use the Mooncup, I record it. So far I’m on 15. It’s only for my own motivation, but who knows? Maybe when I get to 100, I’ll take a pic and post it on my socials. You never know, it might even attract the attention of the mighty Tampax.

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