Sucking us dry: Menstruation Alternatives for the Tampon Tax

Is the Tampon Tax sending you broke? Elizabeth Symington investigates some historical alternatives you can use instead.

The Australian 10% tampon tax costs women around $30 million a year, which at an individual level, costs us about $1000 for NECESSARY items. There has been a push to axe the tax but until then if you can’t afford the “luxury” that is sanitary pads and tampons, here are some other cheaper and potentially way less sanitary options used by women before our times.

The Menstrual/Period Cup

The first menstrual cup was created in the 1930s and while it was not very sanitary during this time it has been recreated and become a serious alternative to disposable tampons and pads. Nowadays, the cup is usually made out of silicone or rubber, and like tampons it is designed to be inserted, however, collects rather than absorbs.


  • Easy to use
  • There is less odour
  • It’s cheaper
  • Produces less landfill when throwing it away
  • Bacteria and pH stay in place
  • More time between changes
  • Intercourse is still possible with the cup in place
  • Fewer trips to purchase period products


  • A lot of mess while emptying, it can be awkward!
  • It can be difficult to insert to begin with
  • Maintenance: you need to clean and sterilise the cup on a regular basis


This is one of the more disgusting and disturbing options. Before tampons or pads existed, women would insert potatoes or roots to block the blood flow. I assume they would have washed them on a regular basis and disposed of them after use.


  • Can usually be found within the pantry
  • Cheap
  • Apparently, can be used as a contraceptive as well


  • Very unhygienic
  • Potentially very uncomfortable; I am not volunteering to find out
  • Root growth is a possibility

Small Wooden Sticks Wrapped in soft lint/linen

This method was popular for women from Ancient Greece. It involved them wrapping soft pieces of lint or linen very tightly around a few wooden sticks to make a small tampon-like object to absorb blood flow. The only thing we can thank this method for is that it’s said to have been the inspiration for the tampons we use today.


  • Cheap
  • Can find wooden sticks on trees
  • Could use any convenient fabric to wrap the wood in


  • Splinters; just imagine trying to get that out.
  • Very unsanitary
  • Potentially very uncomfortable
  • Probably wouldn’t absorb anything
  • Lint/linen could unwind during or after use

Sheep’s Wool

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Women once used sheep’s wool to create a pad or tampon-like tube which would be used in the same way as our modern ones. Ancient Roman women came up with this method and while wool is less absorbent than cotton, it’s still better than a potato.


  • Cheap
  • More comfortable than other options


  • You’d probably smell like a sheep
  • Unsanitary
  • If you don’t own any sheep, wool would probably be very hard to find


Now, this one is not what you might think; don’t worry, the hay isn’t going inside anywhere. In some cultures women would have to go into ‘menstruating huts’ while they were on their period. The huts were filled with hay and the women would have to sit down and bleed onto it. This method is still used today in places like New Delhi and Mali, where it is dubbed as a menstrual ritual.


  • This option doesn’t really have many; it would definitely be more comfortable than some of the others though


  • Who has a barn full of hay at the ready?
  • You would be isolated
  • Unsanitary
  • It would probably also be quite a scratchy experience
  • Could be joined by unwanted animals, like cows or snakes


This technique was developed by Chinese women, who would fashion pads out of cloth and sand. The women would pack the sand together tightly and then wrap it in a small piece of cloth and use it the same way modern pads are used. When it came time to changing they would simply discard of the sand and reuse the cloth.


  • Cheap
  • If you live in a coastal area you’d have an endless supply from your beaches
  • It could be any type of cloth
  • If you don’t have access to sand it can be alternated with dry grass


  • Unsanitary
  • Sand would end up everywhere, EVERYWHERE
  • It would be heavy
  • What do you do with the sand after using it? Put it in a bin?

If you are sick of paying the pink tax on products that are essential to your life, sign the Axe the Tampon Tax petition or visit Share the Dignity and download a letter to send to your local member of parliament.

Feature image: Jassmin Mihell

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