Menstrual cups are hardly a new phenomenon – they’ve long been heralded as a life-changing solution to many of the barriers menstruation places on women in developing countries as well as women who face housing instability or homelessness. Menstrual cups provide sustainable and hygienic protection for women all over the world, so why have they taken so long to catch on here in the United States?
I can’t say exactly what caused the switch to flip for me one day — although if I had to guess it was probably reading something about the utterly sexist Pink Tax while also experiencing PMS symptoms. Now, I can tell you without a doubt you’ll NEVER catch me with a cotton tampon again. If you’re in a pinch out in public and need an emergency tampon, I’m no longer your girl — sorry.
Here’s why I’m now a lifetime menstrual cup devotee, and why I hope you’ll consider making the switch yourself.
Whether you’re for or against a ban on plastic straws and other items of their ilk, there’s no denying that we create entirely too much waste in this country. No, I don’t believe that individual consumers have nearly the detrimental impact on our environment that major corporations do, but I still wanted to do my part in decreasing my own footprint. When considering how “green” our time of the month can be, it’s important to consider a few facts.
Cotton requires a whole hell of a lot of pesticides and fertilizer to be produced en masse. The claims as to how much of these pesticides end up in the processed cotton product, and in turn how much of these chemicals end up inside of your body, have been largely inflated to spook you into purchasing only *organic* cotton period products, but the pesticides used in commercial cotton farming do end up somewhere: the entire ecosystem of the surrounding region. Furthermore, pesticides and industrialized fertilizers are created using finite energy sources and contribute about 1.5% to yearly greenhouse gas emissions.
45 billion period products are thrown away annually, and most of them will take hundreds of years to break down in biodegradation, if they can be broken down at all. Women flush nearly 1.5 billion period products down the toilet each year where they end up in our water supply and eventually in our oceans. If we care about microplastics being consumed by ocean life the way we claim to, plastic tampon applicators have to be the next to go.
I made the switch to organic cotton tampons due to the aforementioned information way before considering the cup and honestly, I hated them. I found myself changing the organic tampons just about every hour because they were nowhere nearly as absorbent as the regular cotton and rayon blended tampons.
As someone who travels for a living, sleeping on top of bath towels in order to avoid utter disaster on pristinely white hotel linen overnight became a regular and very uncomfortable practice. Menstrual cups can remain in place for up to 12 hours and they hold up to an ounce of fluid. For someone who highly values uninterrupted sleep, that’s a major selling point.
But hands down the #1 reason that I’ll use a cup forever and ever is this: I HATE spending money on tampons. When you consider that a box of organic tampons cost between $6-$10 every month, and the organic pads are another $4-$7, that $30 cup starts sounding like a pretty good investment. Even if I end up replacing my cup every year, I’m still saving around $150 a year.
According to some of the major menstrual cup brands, you need to replace them every year, but women who use menstrual cups have reported that they typically last 2-4 years with proper care.
Look, I get it. The whole thing sounds pretty gross. But can you remember back to middle school and learning how to use tampons and pads for the first time? It was all pretty alarming, embarrassing, and definitely not fun. Getting used to a menstrual cup is like dredging up a lot of those old feelings all over again, but I promise you can overcome them.
The most helpful piece of advice I got when I first started using menstrual cups was to put them in and take them out while in the shower. It’s a lot less — ahem — invasive this way. Start by squatting in your shower and inserting your folded cup until you feel it securely in place, once you’re familiar with the feeling you’ll be better able to do it anywhere.
It’s important to keep your cup and hands really clean so as not to risk introducing any bacteria or irritants into your system, so always be sure you’re removing and inserting your cup with hands freshly washed with unscented soap. It’s important to follow the cleaning instructions that comes with your particular brand of cup so as not to break down the material its made of, not all menstrual cups will have the same care instructions.