Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Menstrual cups: cheaper and safer

The one I use is in the middle.
(With this post I contribute towards the effort to normalize the topic of menstruation and the word "vagina.")

The Atlantic recently published a history of the tampon, which mentioned the controversy over how safe they are. Apparently the vaginal walls are vulnerable to the chemicals contained in tampons, and manufacturers have yet to make tampon ingredients public. So I ask: have you heard of menstrual cups, which are alternatives to pads and tampons? A menstrual cup is a rubber receptacle that fits over your cervix and collects fluid until you empty it. You can reuse it for months and months before replacing it, and some brands last for years. This makes it much cheaper than buying all those tampons and pads, for which companies like Playtex and Always make us pay through the nose (as it were). Doesn't it grate on you how much those companies charge for a product that women have to buy?

In March, I started using the FemmyCycle, which is a soft, medical grade, silicone receptacle. It's a dumb name, but I really like the product. It requires some learning and practice, but after four cycles I'm learning how to place the cup correctly and remove it efficiently, with very little fuss. I'm saving money on disposable products and the cup works much better than pads or tampons in preventing leaks. My flow can get very heavy, and frequent bathroom trips get frustrating. Needing to stay near a bathroom can limit my activities in the first 48 hours of my period, making me practically housebound.

The FemmyCycle cup can't change how heavy my flow is, but it allows me to go longer between pit stops, although I still need a real bathroom for emptying and washing the cup (I don't know how you'd manage one of these in a public bathroom stall). I've been suffering from an extremely painful, heavy flow, but for a normal flow, the cup can do the job for up to 10 hours. And as the flow tapers off, there's no risk of toxic shock syndrome because a menstrual cup doesn't absorb fluid; it catches it. Menstrual cups are completely safe and you'll never get that dry, uncomfortable feeling that tampons can cause.

The main drawback is needing a private bathroom in order to remove the cup, wash it and re-insert it. I suggest that if you switch to a cup, you only use it at home until you get used to it. It's great for overnight. If I were still working in a place with bathroom stalls, I'd probably use a combination of cup and pads to avoid having to take it out at work. And that would still save me money.

Each time I use my menstrual cup, I get better at insertion and removal. I was one of those old-fashioned teenagers who chose a diaphragm for birth control back in the 1980s, and diaphragms mean you have to be comfortable touching your vagina, so maybe the cup is second nature for me, but anyone can get used to it. No big deal, women! 

So if you've ever felt the helplessness of having to fork over handfuls of cash to companies like Kotex or worried about putting unknown chemicals in your vagina, here's one solution. There are many different brands of menstrual cups, so if you get one that doesn't work for you, try another one (they aren't all as expensive as the FemmyCycle which is $40). And if we could get these cups, along with decent bathroom areas, to all the menstruating girls and women who struggle with horrendous sanitation conditions all over the world, what a different experience it would be to be female!


Monica said...

I didn't know there were reusable cups. Those would be great to donate to food pantries and homeless shelters. I wonder if there is a charity that organizes that...

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

That's a great idea, Monica, but part of the challenge for homeless women is lack of access to bathrooms, and you have to have a place to wash your hands, then remove and empty the menstrual cup, and then wash it before you put it back in. But yes, if the U.S. had decent public bathrooms (other countries do!), menstrual cups would go a long way towards helping menstruating homeless women because you can use one for months, if not years.

Kate Gold said...

Hey, do you mind if I add a little project I am working on? It would be a huge favor!

See, I'm doing a menstrual cup fundraiser to benefit girls at my local high school. If someone donates $15 they will get a Tshirt to spread awareness and help me give out 15 cups. Link:

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Kate, that's a heck of a t-shirt. I'm happy to support you and I wish you the best on this project!

Kate Gold said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The kids are going to love this.