I want to start this off by saying menstrual cups are not for everyone. There are a whole bunch of reasons why using a menstrual cup may not be right for you, and that’s okay. If you’re looking for other planet-friendly alternatives, there are so many options out there, including reusable pads, period pants and even these CBD-infused tampons which come in water-soluble – yep, they dissolve in water – paper wrappers. Absolutely dreamy.
But if you’re curious, have been thinking about it for a while and haven’t quite made up your mind yet, read on.
Menstrual cups are all the rave these days, which is no surprise considering they’re reusable, fairly low-risk and can last up to 10 whole years. You can keep them in for a maximum of 12 hours (three times longer than recommended for tampons) and the risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is so low that there are only a handful of reported cases linked to menstrual cup use to this day.
By switching to a cup, you not only save hundreds of disposable menstrual products ending up in landfill each year, but also several thousands of pounds over a lifetime – it is estimated that the average menstruating human spends around £5000 on menstrual products in total. Think of all the holidays you could go on with that money.
So why have we not embraced the menstrual cup sooner?
In this fascinating National Geographic article about the history of menstrual products, disposable pads and tampons first became popular in the 1920s because they ‘offered both convenience […] and discretion’. Women could be on their periods and go about their days uninterrupted, without being exposed to the stigma associated with menstruating. Plus, no more taking used, blood-soaked cloths home to wash.
It is this obsession with discretion, as well as the fact that even doctors were ‘squeamish’ about women ‘com[ing] into contact with their genitals’, that led to manufacturers incorporating plastic into their menstrual products in the first place.
The evolution of plastic technology meant that pads and tampons could be made smaller, thinner, come individually wrapped and with applicators, all to help us 1) hide the fact that we’re bleeding and 2) avoid touching our own lady parts.
These days it is estimated that the amount of plastic found in disposable menstrual products is a staggering 90%.
Tampons come wrapped in plastic, encased in plastic applicators, with plastic strings dangling from one end, and many even include a thin layer of plastic in the absorbent part. Pads generally incorporate even more plastic, from the leak-proof base to the synthetics that soak up fluid to the packaging.Alejandra Borunda, National geographic
We seem to know this, yet the thought of coming into contact with our own vaginal blood can still be associated with feelings of shame, disgust and uncleanliness – baffling considering most of us would willingly touch – heck, swallow – someone else’s bodily fluids during sex.
Breaking down the stigma around menstruation […] is critical to moving toward a more socially and environmentally thoughtful future.chris bobel, cited by ALEJANDRA BORUNDA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Even more of a reason to try a cup, right?
Well, it’s not as easy a switch as everyone makes out; it takes research, a little trial and error, and a few cycles (at least!) to get used to. And that’s if you find the right cup the first time around.
Menstrual cups can be daunting, even for the most avid tampon user amongst us. Once you’ve got your head around the sizing, which isn’t standardised by the way, you’ve then got to consider how much to cut the stem, if at all, and choose your preferred method to insert the thing, not to mention figure out how to remove it without creating a scene from a horror film – or, in the words of a good friend, ‘a blood bath’.
Luckily, most brands come with full instructions and extensive, but handy, online FAQ pages that you can refer to. If that fails, Put A Cup In It is an excellent resource for all things menstrual cups, including this wonderful little quiz which I wish I’d taken before purchasing mine.
Yes, it can be painful to insert at first – throwback to having one leg on the bathtub, peering between my thighs as a teenager trying out tampons for the first time. And yes, there’s a chance it could leak if it’s not the perfect fit, but that’s all part of the process.
Two years on and I’ve finally decided to ditch my Mooncup for a different brand, in the hope that I can find the right size for me. The great thing is, I was offered a refund after reaching out about the issues I was having (mine kept leaking) and looks like other brands would do the same if you’re unhappy with their product.
Sure, it’s a bit of a faff, but I would say it’s worth it.
This newfound intimacy with my body has been educative and liberating.Salomé Gómez-Upegui, The guardian
I agree with Gómez-Upegui here: it really is fascinating to observe the changes in menstrual flow at different points of your cycle. I, for one, didn’t realise just how much blood my body expels, let alone the nuances in texture, colour and smell. You definitely miss out on all of that when you pop your used tampon in the bin. There’s also something empowering, ritualistic even, about managing periods in this way, having the blood slowly collected, instead of relying on plastic-lined pads or bleached fibre plugs for absorption. It feels natural, more mindful and, at least for me, has to led to a better understanding of how my body works – all whilst doing that little bit extra for the planet.
Thank you for reading! If you would like to share your own experience, please get in touch via Instagram or by email – I would love to hear your thoughts.