Despite the fact that women have experienced menstrual periods since the beginning of time, products associated with menstruation have received pitiful updates over the years. Many women feel their only options are panty liners, pads or tampons, as these products are most widely represented in stores and through advertising. This, however, is not the case. There are myriad convenient, comfortable, affordable and eco-friendly alternatives to these mainstays that deserve some serious attention. As a diva cup convert for the last three years myself, I cannot help but spread the word about this technology that has revolutionized my thinking about periods, my body, and what it is ‘okay’ to talk about in public.
Let’s start with the basics. They have been called diva cups, moon cups, and the keeper cup among other brand names, but the form and function is basically the same. Menstrual cups are made of flexible material, usually medical grade silicone, that can be easily folded and inserted into the vagina to collect fluid. The cone like shape of the cup creates a gentle seal to the vaginal wall, decreasing the likelihood of spills or leaks. In order to remove and empty the contents of the cup, you simply pull the small stem at the tapered end of the vessel and pour fluid into the toilet bowl. After emptying the cup, you simply wash it out (or if a public bathroom makes this difficult, just wipe well with toilet paper and save washing for later) and put it back in. Although inserting and removing menstrual cups takes a little getting used to, with practice and frequent use, putting in and taking out the cup can be easy and stress-free.
The advantages of menstrual cups to tampons, pads and pantyliners are infinite. For basic medical and safety reasons, menstrual cups are completely trustworthy. There is less risk of toxic shock syndrome or irritation, and all menstrual cups currently marketed in the United States have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe, as most are made of hypoallergenic, nontoxic materials. Because tampons and pads are absorbent in nature, they expose blood and menstrual fluid to the open air and as a result may change the pH balance of the vagina and may even increase the presence of harmful bacteria or excessive yeast in the vagina (read: menstrual cups are essentially odor free!).
Menstrual cups come in a few different sizes, and can be safely worn by women who have never had sexual intercourse and by women who have had children. They can be worn during vigorous physical activity, while swimming, and overnight. On light flow days, menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours, almost twice as long the wear time of tampons.
Financial benefits of the menstrual cups cannot be understated. A menstrual cup is a one time purchase usually ranging between $25-$35. I like to think about my diva cup as an investment. Sure, the overhead is more than I would pay for a single box of tampons each month, but over the ten years during which I hope to continue wearing my diva cup, the cost will be amortized and then some.
A one- or two- time life purchase is also incredibly convenient for traveling. A small, resilient cup can be easily placed in a suitcase, in your bag, your pocket, or even toted like a clutch for those so bold, as most menstrual cups come inside cute sewn drawstring sacks.
Plus, the menstrual cup is a nearly zero-waste product. In disposing of your menstrual fluid, you create no trash and burn through no natural resources. For the more adventurous readers out there, you can even recycle the menstrual fluid you would usually lose to absorbent tampons or pads–menstrual fluid is a great plant fertilizer. It’s nutrient rich!
Perhaps even more than the reasons I have stated above, using a menstrual cup has made me more comfortable with my myself and has inspired countless conversations with men and women alike about periods, vaginas, and how our bodies work. Experimenting with alternatives to mainstream menstrual products can be a true game changer, I promise you this. It is due time that period talk reaches the public sphere, that it abandon the defunct private space of stress, worry, shame or humiliation.
—Rachael Borné ‘13 is an Anthropology major. She is a Contributing Editor for The Miscellany News.