Walking through Sainsbury's in Wilmslow recently, I overheard a woman complaining to her husband. 'They don't even have any organic tampons, Andy,' she sighed. (This is the sort of thing that happens in Wilmslow. Everywhere you go you hear things that sound like they have been pulled of the 'Overheard in Waitrose' Facebook page.)
Well, I thought self-righteously. What an entitled woman - doesn't she know that only 12% of girls and women have access to sanitary products across the world? But I also thought, god, why haven't I heard of these? I couldn't help it. I was curious. Were these a thing?
I went home that night and researched, and found out the following: mass produced tampons such as Tampax or Lilets are made using chlorine and a highly absorbent fibre called rayon that enables them to absorb blood easily (useful) but also simultaneously absorbs the protective mucous lining the vagina (not so useful.) Organic tampons, made only from cotton, do not contain these harmful substances. Unlike regular tampons, they are also biodegradable and tend to be wrapped in cardboard rather than the little plastic covers Tampax come wrapped in, which when disposed of can contribute to marine pollution. What's more, Natracare is actually cheaper to buy than Tampax, which is great if you, like me, basically suffer buyer's regret from buying anything that isn't Sainsbury's Basics. I know, it is easy to read all this with a sort of weary indifference. Who bloody cares. Nobody has ever died from using Tampax.
I recoil from microwave meals. I shudder at pesticides. I truly wonder at smokers. I spend a small fortune on juices/raw and therefore purportedly 'pure' cheesecakes. I bought a kale face mask. I make sure my mouthwash doesn't contain ethanol.
I don't think I'm alone in having such selective health concerns. Why bother, though, if meanwhile we're just going to allow our vaginas to be bleached? An obvious answer is that what we eat, and the products we use on the visible parts of our bodies (i.e. face and hair), have actual noticeable effects, or at least that's what we tell ourselves. In Nora Ephron's wonderful essay On Maintenance she wrote of how susceptible she was to buying all sorts of 'different' skin creams despite knowing that they were all essentially the same:
'In my bathroom there are many bottles. There are also many jars. Most of these bottles and jars contain products for the skin, although none of them contain something that is called, merely, 'skin cream.' Instead they contain face cream, or hand lotion, or body lotion, or foot cream [...] I know in my heart that all these labels on all these bottles and jars are whimsical and arbitrary and designed to make vulnerable, pitiable women like me shell out astronomical sums of money for useless products; on the other hand, you will probably never see me using foot cream on my face, just in case.'
The fact is, women in particular have always been interested in buying their way to beauty. I don't drink wheatgrass shots because chlorophyll helps to cleanse the liver. I do it to get the (oh so elusive) glow. Also, as much as we like to tell ourselves we're consuming things because they're sustainable, or eco-friendly or even, yes, good for our looks, often what we're really interested in is what everybody else is doing. It is easy to disregard organic tampons because, let's face it, they're hardly a trend (yet), so who cares about their many benefits.
Let's take the Moon Cup, for instance, which like Natracare is both good (or at least not bad) for both you and the planet. Because you don't flush or throw it away but reuse your Moon Cup again and again, not only is it better for the environment than tampons but after you've spent the initial fifteen pounds you never have to spend a penny on sanitary products again. Plus, there is no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, something which has terrified me every single month without fail since I was thirteen and first read the warning leaflet in the Tampax box (according to the NHS website, 'a significant proportion of [TSS] cases occur in women who are on their period and using a tampon, particularly tampons that are designed to be 'super absorbent' Hmmm.) If you forget to remove a Moon Cup, on the other hand - it DOESN'T MATTER!!! Hurrah! As @lauralexx on Twitter said (or Tweeted, I should say) 'I could not recommend Moon Cups more. Environmental? Tick. Economical? Tick. Healthy? Tick. Why on earth wouldn't you?'
Possible answers: because it's not well marketed, because it's not been endorsed by a wellness champion like Gwyneth Paltrow, because you feel like it might be a bit OTT to post photos of your Moon cup on Instagram so why bother, because your vagina will probably look and feel the same no matter what you do - all of which mean you just can't be bothered with it all. But here's the thing.
WHAT IS THE THING? THERE ACTUALLY ISN'T A THING!
Despite the very compelling reasons for going organic listed above, I'm not entirely sure that I won't just buy Tampax when I next need to. I'll probably wait a year or however long it takes for the '#menstruateclean' movement to take off before I buy a Moon cup and photograph it amidst a backdrop of other trendy bits of debris that have 'slipped' out of my bag. I wish I could say something like, just as I can't unsee the cancerous lungs and rotten teeth when I contemplate a cigarette, I can't unsee the bleached vagina. But I can unsee it! I'm quite content to put Sainsbury's basics tampons containing rayon into my shopping basket alongside my quinoa and my organic chicken and my sulphate-free shampoo. So let me try again. Here's the thing: I should buy a Moon Cup. So should you, if you happen to be a menstruating woman. But someone - a celebrity, a pretty girl on Instagram - is probably going to have to do a bloody better job of selling it before any of us actually do.