Unless you have a uterus, you might want to pass on reading this post. There will be a little TMI about the female body, so I will not be offended if you leave now. If you have female parts, especially if you currently menstruate every month, I’ve got some good stuff to share so I hope that you continue on. And if you don’t fit that bill and continue reading anyway because you have a spouse or daughter or lady friend that you care about and you want to be informed, I applaud you.
Almost four months ago, I purchased my first menstrual cup. Yes, saying those last two words together made me feel a little uncomfortable at first (and they still do sometimes), but that is not all my fault. It’s the way I was brought up in the world of disposable feminine products that have been the norm for my nearly four decades on this earth, and long before that. And then there’s the fabulous marketing that goes along with these products to influence and help us make decisions about what to buy.
After digging around a little, I learned that menstrual cups are not new. In fact, they have been around since at least the 1930s(1). I found this post that includes research showing a similar concept was used in the 1860s!(2) If you are at all like me, you should be a little curious as to why it seems like we have only just started hearing about them? My answer: Big Business. Think of all the money that these manufacturers are able to allocate to their advertising. You can’t watch a show on the television or flip through a magazine (I’m not the only one still doing these things, right?) without having tampon or maxipad ads thrown at you. They even cater to young girls now with their packaging and naming. In 2010 and 2011, women in North America stocked up on $3 billion worth of feminine hygiene products(3). So their heavy marketing obviously works in their favor, but I think that’s because the alternatives have been kept hidden away from us. I’m here to tell you all about it.
Why I made the switch
This is a completely under-regulated industry. Since the FDA sees feminine products like pads and tampons as medical devices, there is no mandatory testing of the safety of these products and no laws to enforce companies to disclose their ingredients. This makes it almost impossible for us to know what is in our feminine products and to be educated enough to avoid chemicals of concern that are found in them.
Made from cotton and rayon, tampons (my preferred choice for the last 20+ years) are bleached with chlorine compounds that leave behind highly toxic dioxins, as well as pesticide residue from using non-organic cotton. Sure, I once thought I could just switch to organic cotton tampons that were not overly processed, but on month when I have a heavy cycle, I can go through a good box and a half of tampons. It’s not that easy to just run out to the store and get more as not everyone carries Natracare and Seventh Generation tampons and pads. (I’m including links to purchase both brands from Amazon (Natracare and Seventh Generation) in case the cup idea is too much for you, but you are interested in switching to healthier feminine products.) For some scientific information about the chemicals I (we) have been literally shoving into our bodies every month, WomensVoices.org has a fantastic piece for you to read, called Chem Fatale Report.
Why I love it
So why did it take me so long to write about this if I’m so happy? I wanted to give it a good test. The first month, I was kind of learning the ropes. Inserting and removing take a little bit of trial and error. If you go with the bell-shaped cup like the DivaCup that I chose, folding method two is the one that has worked best for me. And my trick to share with you is that I found that if I set on the edge of the bed or something after the initial insertion, my body actually slides it into position even better than I can. It feels crazy weird, but I learned that my muscles are much more relaxed when sitting than while standing or squatting, and I can feel my body actually guide/slide/whatever the cup into the perfect position.
I also wanted to wait until I gave it a good test with all the types of exercise I do on a weekly basis. I was a little gun-shy about using it through my entire cycle that first month, getting frustrated sometimes when I couldn’t get the fit right and giving up to use a tampon. I can report now that I will never look back as last month’s trial solidified that I never need to use tampons again. I do a considerable amount of weight lifting, including a variety of squats, and not one complaint from me about leakage or falling out (as actually happened to me with a tampon in a Power Box/Tae Bo class one time). I have ran with it. I have done yoga and stretching with it. I have done Zumba with it. The only thing left to test it with is swimming and I can’t wait!! The pool opens next month and then I’ll be going to the beach in June. I am beyond excited at the prospect of not having to go straight to the restroom after getting out of the water in order to take the tampon out. Not to mention making sure that the string isn’t hanging outside my suit. There are no worries with this cup thing. Not a single one.
More reasons I’m in love:
- I have been inserting it before my period actually starts, on the day it’s expected to begin. No more surprises while out!
- It’s so reliable that there are no more trips running to the bathroom for frequent changes or to check for leaks. The cup can be left in for 8-10 hours at a time (and up to 12), depending on how heavy the flow is. I actually almost forget about it!
- It’s made of medical-grade silicone and is latex free which is very important to me as I’m allergic to latex.
- Tampons offer just eight hours before TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) becomes a possibility. With menstrual cups, you can go up to 12 hours in between emptying and it’s not really sitting there next to your skin; it’s in the cup. Also, if your tampon has even a slightly higher absorbency than your actual flow, you risk shredding. Tiny bits of cotton can cause small cuts in your vaginal walls—a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria causing TSS.
- I don’t have to worry if I have any spares in my purse or car. One and done!
- I’m learning even more about my cycle and my body. I’m always up for that.
- **TMI/education alert** As the DivaCup site mentions, “Menstrual flow only begins to develop an odor when it is exposed to air. As The DivaCup is worn internally, your days of worrying about period odor are over. Menstrual fluid on tampons and pads is exposed to air which creates odor throughout the day.”(4) Which also means that the bathroom smells better, too, as there are no more used tampons sitting in the lidded garbage can. (Sorry for the extra information on this last bullet that you didn’t want.)
- It saves money (see below), and who doesn’t like to save some green?
Let’s talk about money
My hormone and cycle history could be a post all its own, but let’s just start with when my cycle returned six months after weaning my daughter, the most recent history as she will be four this summer. It has been pretty whacky, sometimes light and others very, very heavy. Some months I would go through almost two boxes of tampons, one of regular and one of super. I always felt like they filled up quick or weren’t as absorbent as they used to be, and maybe they just were not fitting me well anymore. Maybe my body had changed, or maybe the products have changed. I will admit that I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist, especially when it comes to the government, big pharma, and big business, and the more I started thinking about it, the more I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, they are making these things less absorbent so you go through more of them every month? Seems like a good business tactic to me. (Moving along now…)
Then came my first cycle that I only used the cup. Um, why did I need to use so many tampons each month? Seriously…when emptying the cup after 12 hours, I would look and see that it was almost never filled. So tell me why did I have to change my tampons every 4-6 hours, 3 when it was a heavy day? We really don’t lose that much blood during the course of our cycle. I have seen proof of this from my own body with my own eyes. The cup can hold about an ounce of fluid and the average woman releases about 1-2 ounces throughout the whole cycle. Only one time have I seen the cup close to full, but that was also a day that I cramped a lot. (And I swear your period completely changes after giving birth.) Most of the time, it’s only about 1/4-1/2 full. Again, why did I have to spend so much money on tampons every month and use so many? What a mystery.
I picked up my DivaCup for around $20 though a buying group I belong to from Facebook. Basically, my savings in what I would have spent on tampons the past three months has paid for the cup already. And this thing is good for at least another 9 months before replacing it as they are good for a year, longer if you take good care of it. I really, REALLY encourage you to read through all of these First Questions as I think you might start to see the potential here.
If you have been having hormone/endochrine disruption and have tried everything from diet changes to herbals and supplements, you just might want to give the cup a try. Or at least make the switch away from all the brands that we came to know and “love” as we grew into women. I feel that our bodies are becoming more and more sensitive to the chemicals we used to be able to tolerate on a daily basis. Just a few years ago, we weren’t bombarded with toxin exposure from everything to carpets and drapes to food and toiletries. Perhaps our bodies just can’t take any more and just one small change that we can make to reduce our toxic exposure can help heal us a little. Baby steps.
And because I enjoy a good Buzzfeed link: http://www.buzzfeed.com/becagrimm/x-reasons-you-should-switch-to-menstrual-cups-your-en98#.uq77r7mr9