Science, Now + Beyond

Could a menstrual cup be right for you?

So, every 28 days I’d take a dose of Advil and a woe-is-me attitude, until one magical day when I discovered the menstrual cup.

I still remember very clearly the first time I put in a tampon. I’ll spare you the gritty details and just say that it was a struggle– lots of trial and error, many a wasted tampon, and some tears. A lot of tears.

Since that fateful day in the bathroom with my mom giving me directions from the other side of the door, my periods have tended to be a stressful experience. I always had trouble inserting tampons correctly, and, as a lot of women do, I’d feel kind of gross during my time of the month, fretting about leakage, odor, and toxic shock syndrome. So, every 28 days I’d take a dose of Advil and a woe-is-me attitude, until one magical day when I discovered the menstrual cup.

When a friend first told me about menstrual cups, I think my face looked like this:

Woman looking horrified and covering her mouth in shock
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That goes where? And how? And it works?

Backing up a bit, tampons and menstrual cups have been around for about the same amount of time, as both were developed in the early 1900s. The reason you may not have heard of the menstrual cup, though, is because there was a greater effort to advertise tampons and because World War II made manufacturing the original rubber menstrual cup impossible. Tampons did the job, and so they gained popularity over the cup. But there are plenty of reasons, both health and environmental, why you might want to consider changing the way you manage your menses.

By now we’ve all probably heard of toxic shock syndrome, a rare yet life-threatening result of certain bacterial infections that were previously associated with high absorbency tampons. Awareness about TSS has caused manufacturers to change materials used in tampons, and health professionals recommend using low-absorbency tampons as well as changing tampons every 4-6 hours. While the risk is lower, it’s still there.

But TSS isn’t the only health risk tampons pose.

The second concern is the level of a group of chemicals called dioxins that were previously used during the bleaching process of tampons. These chemicals are known to cause health problems including cancer, and although alternative bleaching methods are now employed, dioxins are still detected in tampons, and even small amounts of dioxins are worrisome due to the way that vaginal tissue absorbs them.

Even scarier is that because tampons are categorized as medical devices, companies are not required to label ingredients –  meaning that pertinent information regarding chemicals present in tampons may not be public.

Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are made of silicone, which is chemical free. They can be worn safely for up to 12 hours depending on the heaviness of your flow, and are easily sanitized between cycles by boiling them for about 10 minutes.

Beyond health, tampon use has a huge environmental impact: women dispose of about 20 billion pads and tampons every year, which have a centuries-long biodegrading process. 

And, as tampon-users know, purchasing them can really make a dent in your wallet. Women use an estimated 20 tampons per cycle, meaning we go through a little less than a $7.00 box of 36 tampons per period. Multiply that by 12 months, and you wind up spending about $84.00 on tampons per year, not including panty liners or pads!

Ugly Betty looking sad and crying
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In contrast, menstrual cups are reusable and less costly, with the popular Diva Cup recommending replacing the product about once a year, and costing $29.99 on Amazon. Other positives for the cup are their leakage free design, the possibility to have intercourse while wearing them, and, because you have to change the cup so infrequently, you often only have to do it in the comfort of your own bathroom!

Kiera Knightly shaking her body in excitement whilst sitting on a couch.
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Of course, there are certain risks to using a menstrual cup, such as difficulty inserting it, potential infection if not cleaned properly–there’s even been one reported case of a woman who contracted TSS from a menstrual cup–and, for those with IUDs, the possibility of disrupting the placement and efficacy of the device. And if you’re sensitive to the sight of blood, there’s a bit of an ick factor with using a menstrual cup, as the cup collects menstrual fluid that you have to dump down the toilet.

Despite the cons, I love my menstrual cup because I love the flexibility it gives women during their periods.

As someone who’d always struggled with tampons, I was sure that my attempt to use a cup would only be that – an attempt, because there was no way this product was going to work for me. Fast forward a few months, and it’s safe to say that I have never felt more passionate about a period product. I love its environmental and bank account friendliness, and I’ve found that my mentality about my period has changed as well: I feel much more open about my period because I love telling my friends about the menstrual cup.

The cup has also made my recent travel experiences so much better because instead of being preoccupied with thoughts of whether my tampon is leaking or when the next time the bus will stop for a bathroom, I can focus on getting to my destination.

Of course, you should always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns about changing menstrual management products, but as far as I’m concerned, the cup is the way of the future. Period.