Sometimes a particular invention becomes so ubiquitous that we can't imagine needing anything better to replace it with. This couldn't be truer of tampons. Just like the hot air hand driers in every public bathroom, it's as if the world said, there that'll do, and gave up.
So I was surprised to learn that a remarkably nifty alternative has existed for the last century: the menstrual cup, which we don't often hear about.
Since menstrual cups are an occasional purchase, profits are smaller and so are the advertising budgets, so they tend to rely on word of mouth. But my, what word of mouth it is!
When a friend got in touch telling me she'd tried a menstrual cup for the first time and that it was so amazing she wanted to "shout it from the rooftops", I thought - hey, I really must investigate this for myself.
So one menstrual cup later and I have had the menstruation revelation for myself. I now rate it as useful as my smart phone: it's small and I couldn't imagine life without it.
So let's get down to the nitty gritty. Here it is:
I bought a Mooncup, but plenty of other cup brands are available. Who knew a humble silicone cup could be so life changing?
Most cup brands come in two sizes, which you choose between depending on your age and whether you've given birth.
The idea is, the soft reusable silicone cup folds up and is inserted low down into the vagina. Once in place it pops open and creates a light seal with your body. You can leave it in for longer than a tampon and then remove, empty, rinse and reinsert it.
If this sounds horrifying to you - bear with me.
A Mooncup is safer, greener, and cheaper, which I will break down for you in a second, but my real Mooncup revelation was that suddenly all those annoyances I had learned to live with magically disappeared! There's no string, no odour, no irritation, no dryness, no leaking, and no worries.
It's so damn convenient you'll want to weep for those lost years before you discovered it.
My first surprise was that it was super comfortable - once in place you can't feel it. (I did have to trim the Mooncup stem off to make it comfortable, which my friend had mentioned to me.) And surprise number two was that you can forget about your period all day. This is because menstrual cups are fine to leave in for longer than a tampon, so you have the freedom to go about your business without a care in the world.
And if your business happens to include swimming, acrobatics or bungee jumping, then so be it - you're safe. The light seal that the menstrual cup creates means whatever your flow, no leaks. And because a Mooncup has three times the capacity of a tampon, it's a brilliant solution for women who experience very heavy flow that tampons just can't handle. This also makes it perfect for worry-free overnight use. Many women find that an added benefit is that they get a lot less cramp with it too.
I went on a long road trip and was pleased that rather than worry about needing to stop and sort myself out, I could just forget about it and enjoy the scenery.
I won't lie, getting to grips with inserting/removing the Mooncup is an art to be mastered. But ladies, perseverance is worth it. I found that when it comes to removal, the light seal - which makes the cup fantastically leak free - means simply pulling on it like a tampon is useless. But I soon discovered that you have to take a few breaths and use your pelvic floor muscles to coax the thing out, as well as perhaps using a finger to break the seal. That was the only glitch I experienced and it very much took me back to the early days of getting the hang of tampons. I ended up referring to the Mooncup website FAQs and this website which has a wealth of information, as well as hints and tips from real women, which I found mightily helpful and reassuring.
Another major advantage is no irritation. Mooncups are made from silicone, so there isn't the drying effect you get with tampons and your natural balance is left intact. And because of this it's much safer too - there's no risk of toxic shock syndrome.
It's hard to imagine the amount of disposable sanitary protection I've got through so far in my life, not to mention the packaging, which all has an impact on the environment and my wallet. It is estimated that each woman goes through 22 sanitary items a month, which amounts to 4.3 billion items in the UK. Every. Single. Year.
A Mooncup lasts for years so I'm pleased to be cutting down on waste and boosting my green credentials. But the Mooncup isn't just for tree-huggers! If you're watching your pennies a Mooncup is a great investment too - after a few months the Mooncup will have paid for itself, and after that you're quids in. I worked out that all the money saved from using a Mooncup for five years means I can afford to go on an extra holiday. Seriously.
Holidays aside, on a day-to-day basis what impressed me most about the Mooncup is that it's brilliant for those days when you're not sure whether or not your period will make an appearance. You can simply wear the Mooncup and not have to worry, while avoiding the dryness of tampons or that horrible sanitary towel waddle. The same goes for when your period is on its way out too.
And for those of you still having reservations about the 'yuck factor' - I found that it's no more icky than using a tampon. In fact, overall I felt much cleaner and more hygienic, and many women say that it makes them feel more confident in romantic situations.
All in all, apart from needing a little patience while I learned how to use it, a menstrual cup is an absolute winner for me. Ladies, I consider my word-of-mouth duty done!
This article originally featured on the author's blog, The Mehta Analysis.