Forget the 'tampon tax'. Meet the menstrual cup

The Lady Cup comes in an appealing array of colours.
The Lady Cup comes in an appealing array of colours. Photo: Supplied

Did you know that Australia women have been charged a 'tampon tax' for a number of years? Although 'health items' such as condoms, lubricant and sunscreen are exempt from the goods and services tax (GST) tampons and pads are deemed a luxury item by the Federal government.

Whether you stock your bathroom drawer with no-frills sanitary pads or organic tampons grown on the south side of a mountain watered only with tears of newborns, it takes a very wild imagination to label them as a luxury item.

If you consider the average female has 450 menstrual cycles in a lifetime, and each cycle will use up to 30 sanitary protection items, each lady will be generating an estimated 13,500 (luxurious) sanitary items for landfill and a considerable dent in your pocket.

While we wait for Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and the states to fight it out over the 'tampon tax', there may be another, more economical and environmentally option. Enter the menstrual cup.

A menstrual cup is a reusable silicone cup that is inserted in to the vagina to collect the menstrual blood. The cu is simply emptied and washed and reused throughout  your period. This means as we eat chocolate on the couch in our trackie pants, we can be environmental warriors too!

My sister, Rebecca Colley, decided to try a menstrual cup after finding tampons were no longer comfortable.

"Since having babies I found tampons got more and more uncomfortable and dry and the thought of all those chemicals being shoved up the most natural part of my body also got me thinking there must be a more natural way to do the whole period thing," said Rebecca.

While on holiday in England she decided it was time to try something new.

"I bought the Moon Cup. It was actually on the shelf in a chemist next to the tampons and pads - something we don't see here in Australia, yet,' she said.


"So far I've used it for 3 cycles. Actually look forward to my period coming so I can use it. I guess the novelty will wear off soon though."

Menstrual cups are fairly new on Australian radars, however, the first patented and produced menstrual cup was in the 1930's by actress (and inventor) Leona Chalmers. Although the design was similar to that of today it didn't really catch on as it is thought that women didn't really fancy handling their own menstrual blood when they could easily absorb it and dispose of it without undue fiddly business, something that modern women may also struggle with.

"You leave it in for a while and collect the menstrual mess, I just don't want to deal with it - just because it's natural doesn't mean I want to deal with it" tells avid tampon fan, Carly Taylor*.  "I don't want to clean it, I don't want to see it. I'm all about disposable. My kids used disposable nappies too. I know it's bad for the environment but in this case I don't care."

There is no doubt that the menstrual cup will not be for everyone, just as not everyone finds tampons comfortable, and some people despise the idea of pads collecting the blood outside of the body. But if you can get your head and body onboard with it many women are wishing they had discovered it sooner.

"It's a little difficult to put it in properly but once you figure out how you need to stand or squat it's easy," tells Diva Cup user, Alex Mecca. "I switched because I'd heard good things; they're environmentally friendly and I don't need to remember tampons all the time. Also they can stay in your body for longer, and they are actually cleaner. I love it."

The cup itself needs to be changed on average 2.8 times less frequently than tampons, and can be left in safely for up to 12 hours.

"Only problem is if you need to change it in a public toilet as you need to rinse it out," says Alex. "I just get an empty coffee cup and fill it at the sink before going in to the cubicle and then rinse it out over the toilet."

When you consider the risks involved with tampon use such as Toxic Shock Syndrome, or the fact that almost all of the cottons are treated with bleach and other chemicals, and can leave fibres that can cause sensitivity or a reaction, tampons and pads have never looked less attractive than they do now.