A first-hand experience with the menstrual cup contributed by Planned Parenthood supporter, Brooke Pennington.
It all began in the jungle, while vacationing in Belize in an area with only backcountry outhouses for sanitation. I couldn’t escape the thought: “It’s a good thing I don’t have my period right now.” There was nowhere to dispose of the typical waste that I was used to flushing away or dropping into discreet silver bins. Anything not totally biodegradable would have…well, degraded the environment around me, but tampons and pads have plastic wrappers and backing.
Though when I returned home, I couldn’t shake the idea that I shouldn’t just be concerned about my period’s effect on the earth while vacationing in places where my impact was more immediately visible. It’s all one planet; shouldn’t I be just as conscious of reducing that unnecessary waste in my own surroundings? I remembered having recently seen the menstrual cup mentioned in a blog that I regularly read.
A menstrual cup sits low in the vaginal canal and collects menstrual fluid, which is then emptied and flushed in a toilet. It’s reusable, washable, and usually made of surgical grade silicone. All that is needed to clean it is soap and water after each changing, and ten minutes in boiling water to completely sterilize it if a more thorough cleaning is desired. I ordered the DivaCup, which was the brand mentioned in the blog I had read, and waited to see if it was worth the hype.
As it turned out, the device revolutionized the way I dealt with my periods. The reduction in waste was indeed the first change I noticed. I do still wear thin liners just in case. If I’m traveling or otherwise unwilling to generate even a small amount of waste, I can do away with them completely. Anything in the cup that you would normally flush is, of course, completely organic and biodegradable, so it can be emptied into outhouses or camp toilets with no concerns.
The cup is the most comfortable menstrual protection I’ve ever worn. I always found tampons slightly itchy and drying, and pads made me feel like I was wearing a small diaper even when using thin styles. The cup is very flexible and moves with the body. A ring of holes around the top create suction once it is inserted, so it’s leak-proof for swimming or yoga while sitting lower in the body and responding better to movement.
The cup has also made me more conscious of my period as a cycle. I can visually track my flow and see exactly how my lighter and heavier days vary from each other. Lastly, the cup paid for itself within about three months. I tend to replace my cup only every two to three years, so the monthly savings start to add up immediately.
I do have friends who see drawbacks to the cup that have prevented me from successfully converting them. The number one objection women have to it seems to be the requirement that you see (and to a lesser extent handle) menstrual fluid fairly intimately. It’s saddening to think that this natural and unifying cycle has been so demonized, but I actually feel like it can be a gateway to further body-positive changes to interact with the products of the cycle and find that it is not nearly as off-putting as we’ve been led to believe.
Another concern is the capacity of the cup: “won’t it overflow”? Most of the cups I have owned have a capacity of around one ounce, which is about as much fluid as the average woman loses over her entire cycle. Since the cup must be changed at least once every twelve hours there’s little chance it will overflow.
I have a copper IUD, which increases flow, but I still find that three changes per day is more than sufficient. Over the past ten years I have tried several brands of cups, each with strengths and weaknesses that will vary depending on a woman’s flow and body. If you try one that doesn’t work for you, I strongly suggest researching another brand that might be a better fit.
Cost savings, reduced waste, ease of travel, no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS): These points alone would make it worth any woman’s time to experiment and find a cup that fits her. Since I switched to the cup, I have never again been in a situation where I had to think, “It’s a good thing I don’t have my period right now.” That’s a feeling that every woman deserves.
If you’re interested in using the menstrual cup, we now offer it at some of our health centers. Find a Planned Parenthood center near you.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or an endorsement by Planned Parenthood. Check with your health care provider to discuss what is best for you.