Nonfiction

A Cup Above The Rest

5 March 2019

Although the taboo surrounding menstruation is waning, pads and tampons still tend to triumph in popularity over the humble menstrual cup. According to a fascinating article by Natalie Shure in Pacific Standard magazine, the menstrual cup has a long history dating all the way back to the 1930s. That menstrual cups are today still largely unheard-of is, in my opinion, a travesty.  

I am by no means an expert, but I have tried a range of different menstrual products: pads, tampons (applicator and not), and even that weird period underwear that is advertised incessantly on Facebook. I have found the menstrual cup superior to absolutely everything else I’ve tried. So, at risk of becoming a female university student cliché by talking about vaginas in the student magazine, allow me to sing the praises of this little cup of silicon.

The premise: you place the cup inside your vagina where it chills happily, collecting fluid for up to 12 hours depending on your flow. Once it’s full you tip it out, give it a rinse and wash with scent-free soap (in a public bathroom stall I just give it a wipe with toilet paper) and stick it right back up there. When your period is finished, you boil it in water for five minutes to sterilise and then it’s all ready for the next month, and the next, for up to five years according to manufacturers.

Like tampons, the smell when you have it in is negligible, which is nice. But unlike tampons, next to no link has been found between menstrual cups and toxic shock syndrome, a terrible bacterial disease that is rare, but that I nonetheless can’t stop thinking about whenever I have a tampon in longer than like an hour.

The big reason I love it, however, is environmental; it’s hard to go through an environmental science degree without feeling that sweet, sweet guilt for your negative impact on the world. Using cups (both Keep and menstrual) helps me assuage some of this guilt when I come home after a day of producing plenty of plastic pipette waste.

Yet, menstrual cups also have their difficulties. You become a lot more familiar with your bodily fluids. I experienced some sticky situations early on working out how long I could leave mine in based on my flow, and getting the hang of removing the cup (which goes in a lot easier than it comes out) is also tricky at first—I recommend doing it in the shower your first few tries. Plus, if you have an intrauterine device (IUD) and still menstruate, you have to be a bit more careful when placing and removing your cup to avoid dislodging the IUD.

Finally, there’s the cost. A menstrual cup is around $50, which is pricey upfront, especially if you’re buying for the first time without being able to try it beforehand. But if you think about the fact that they can save the cost of five years’ worth of menstrual products (albeit now at a marginally lower price in beautiful post-tampon tax Australia), it’s a pretty sweet deal.

If this all sounds appealing the internet is your friend, as is your doctor if you are comfortable talking with them about this kind of thing. There are heaps of videos and articles where people share their experiences using cups. Online is also the best place to get one, and there are many brands to choose from.

Of course, menstrual cups just may not be for you. The cost, ick factor and unfamiliarity are the main reasons cited online as to why cups have not been widely adopted, along with resistance to change. Whether or not sticking things into your vagina is your cup of tea, by knowing about the range of menstrual products available, including menstrual cups, you can be informed to choose the best option for you.


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