By Laura Shiels
Alternative menstrual products, especially those that are re-usable, have been gaining popularity in recent years, and for good reason. The menstrual cup in particular is one of the best re-usable alternatives to tampons available due to its sexual and reproductive health, financial and environmental benefits.
Women need to look beyond the blatantly false ‘clean and fresh’ style of marketing employed by tampon companies. The menstrual cup is made of a soft medical-grade silicone, which is significantly safer than tampons as it cannot grow bacteria or yeast, reducing the likelihood of irritation and infection. It is this bacteria and yeast that accumulates on the tampon that actually causes the unpleasant scent often associated with menstruation. There is also a highly reduced chance of the wearer contracting toxic shock syndrome, a syndrome which has been linked to the bleaching of tampons. This means that it is not harmful to leave the cup in overnight, something not advised with tampon use which dictates a maximum of eight hours of wear. In contrast, the cup is worn throughout your period and removed and emptied every six to 12 hours depending on the heaviness of flow. It can be used for a light or heavy flow but emptied more often during heavier days.
There are practical benefits with choosing the menstrual cup over tampons (don’t forget, ladies, unlike the menstrual cup, tampons weren’t invented for women, they originated during wartime as a means to absorb the internal bleeding of wounded male soldiers). When inserted properly, the cup suctions to the vaginal walls and therefore should not leak. This means you don’t have to worry about any unexpected leaks to ruin your day! Additionally, many women using this product feel comfortable partaking in some sex acts while menstruating. Clitoral stimulation may be more easily performed because there is no tampon string or mess to worry about due to the dependable suction of the cup.
Instead of buying multiple cartons of tampons for different levels of protection, you only buy one menstrual cup. The cost benefit here is quite outstanding as most cups cost between $35-45 and provide years of use. A friend of mine has been using her European version of the menstrual cup successfully for seven years. When you empty your cup, you wash it out with clean water and unscented soap then re-insert it. At the end of your period, you boil the cup to sterilize it and then store it in a carry case. The impact a woman can have on the environment is also drastically reduced this way. For instance, the average woman will dispose of 17 shopping carts worth of feminine hygiene products in her life-time when using products like tampons or pads. By choosing a re-usable option like the menstrual cup, a woman can reduce this number because there is less packaging, less tossing, less toilet paper used to wrap your products, and less trips to the store to pick up another box of tampons.
Many health food stores and even Brentwood London Drugs carry alternative menstrual products like the menstrual cup, such as the “DivaCup.” Other brands of the menstrual cup may be found online and shipped in from other countries (but remember, shipping does contribute to more waste). I am a strong advocate for re-usable products like the menstrual cup but I must warn you to be patient. Many women find the first few cycles frustrating as the cup takes a certain technique to insert properly. I know my cup is secured in place when it hits my G-spot, resulting in the feeling of needing to pee, which on my first insertion was a somewhat strange experience (that said, the feeling does not remain and, like a tampon, the product cannot be felt). If you can get past the initial frustration I promise you will be satisfied with your decision to make the switch. The benefits are numerous.
Given the multiple benefits the menstrual cup has — benefits like reproductive and sexual health, financial and environmental — it is hard to see why anyone would choose traditional (and possibly dangerous) menstrual products like tampons.