Think of cups during this pandemic, and a big wine glass might come to mind. But, for the millions of women and girls out there dealing with menstruation, the cup concept means something else: freedom.
Using a menstrual cup might not reduce the flow or limit the annoying cramps and serious bloat. It might, however, reduce waste, allay leakage anxiety, and avoid embarrassing conversations with Instacart or whoever’s picking up the family groceries during quarantine.
Benefits of Menstrual Cups
While some states have eliminated the period tax (sales taxes on sanitary products) conventional pads and tampons remain pricey. Stanford University’s Gendered Innovations did a case study on the subject of cups-versus-pads and tampons, and the differences were shocking.
According to Stanford, US consumers pay about 3.1 billion dollars per year toward pads and tampons, medical devices which are then tossed into landfills (49.8 billion tampons and sanitary pads plus their packaging end up there, or stuck in sewer systems). That’s a big economic and environmental price.
The cup, however, is reusable; one often lasts years. High-quality cups are hypoallergenic and pose less risk of harboring bacteria that can lead to toxic shock syndrome. Put simply, a cup can be safely kept in place overnight, with no health worries.
“Cups had several advantages: menstrual cups reduced fear of leaking, increased confidence, comfort, mobility, independence, and allowed active school attendance or work during menstruation; a UK study found that menstrual cup use was associated with a significant decrease in the number of product changes in one cycle when compared to tampons and pads,” Gendered Innovations stated.
A 2011 Canadian study comparing two groups of women, one using tampons and one cups over a three cycle period, found that the cup group was enthusiastic. “Approximately 91% of women in the menstrual cup group said they would continue to use the cup and recommend it to others,” the study concluded.
Not New, But Not Aggressively Marketed
Devices like the Diva Cup have been hanging around the drugstore Feminine Hygiene aisle for decades, but they haven’t ever gotten the period product market share they deserve. Delphine Hirsh, co-founder of the non-profit The Flow, thinks that part of this is due to the very reusable nature of them; cups simply aren’t as profitable as disposable options that demand monthly purchases.
Plus, there’s the stigma of insertable devices. Some cultures equate any vaginal insertion as violating virginity.
Hirsh told Parentology that this stigma might keep some cultures, especially among Latinos, from getting the word out about the convenience of cups. “Even though cups have been around for a long time, you won’t usually hear about them from a family member.”
She hopes that, with promotion and education, the mothers of pubescent-age girls might warm to the idea of a cup for their daughters. “While people continue to care about the virginity issues with insertion, mothers are the lead educators. Educate them, and their girls will follow.”
How to Use Menstrual Cups
There are myriad advantages to the cup, but there are a few things to consider first. Cups come in different sizes. If you’re under 30 and have never delivered vaginally, you’ll want a small size.
Insertion is easy, but slightly more complicated than a tampon. There’s no applicator, so a cup requires a bit of ease with your body, and understanding of your anatomy. Once the cup is in, you shouldn’t feel it at all (just like a tampon), and you should be able to jump, run, and play sports without any interference.
The next consideration? Finding one that works well in terms of price and fit. Online product testing site Wirecutter tested 29 different cups. It found that the MeLuna classic might be the best option for a first time cup user.
“It’s the cup that comes in the biggest variety of sizes to accommodate people of different heights, athletic backgrounds, or vaginal birth histories. The MeLuna is also available in a firmer version and with different handles. Its design can be folded the most ways, yet it popped open easily, so it was the easiest to insert, remove, and clean,” Wirecutter wrote in its review.
Another consideration might be the environmental impact. For that, look at a cup that’s as cleanly made and as cleanly disposable as possible. “The Oi Cup is part of the Organic Initiative as it helps reduce this plastic and synthetic waste. It is made from medical-grade TPE which is not only reusable but recyclable (in the right conditions),” Oi told Parentology.
Cleaned every day of use and stored properly, a quality cup might last as long as a decade. That’s a great value for a $40 period product, both for the earth and your personal economics. And, you’ll never have to chat with Instacart about your personal hygiene again.