SBS provides Australians with access to high quality, independent, culturally-relevant Australian media. In this article, Shannon McKeogh discusses how menstrual cups are changing attitudes and revolutionising periods.
Heard of Juju, Diva, Luna, Lunette or Mooncup?
If you think they’re the name of a wide-eyed Sailor moon character you’d be wrong. Fem-pop groups then? Wrong again.
These are actually brands of menstrual cups.
"Gross," I hear you say, "Are they the weird lady products that collect periods like some form of New Age rain-catcher? I mean shoving something up there and then having to empty it in a toilet and clean it? Ick. No thanks."
But wait, hear me out!
These chic cups are actually revolutionising menstruation products and changing attitudes towards the visit from old Aunt Flo.
Made from hospital-grade silicon, you fold and insert the small cup like you would a tampon. It opens, creating a vacuum-like seal on your vaginal wall (seriously it’s got a supersonic force) and yup, it sits there and catches your period. You empty it every 12 hours or so, then you wash it and re-insert it. At the end of the cycle you disinfect it. Voila!
Environmentally, a menstrual cup has many tree-hugging qualities. According to Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation a woman throws away an average of 150 kilograms of feminine hygiene products in her lifetime. 150 kilos!
It opens, creating a vacuum-like seal on your vaginal wall (seriously it’s got a supersonic force) and yup, it sits there and catches your period.
While tampons take six months to break down, pads are massive environment haters and take 300 – 500 years to biodegrade.
Director and owner of Australian company Juju, Brenda Tootell, tells SBS if you do the maths the number of products you use quickly adds up. "Women have around 400 menstrual cycles in their lifetime," says Tootel. "We can save 300 disposable tampons or pads from entering our landfills and waterways every year and over 10,000 products in our lifetime by choosing reusable menstrual products."
As well as the environmental price-tag, pads and tampons are a product we continuously fork out coin on. Plus the bonus of paying for that bloody period tax – cheers government guys!
Rather than spending $40 - $100 on sanitary products each year, a silicon menstrual cup is a one-off payment of $30 - $60, an investment which can last for decades.
The personal benefits are by far the biggest perk for Amber Beilharz, a content resource coordinator at ClickView, who tells SBS that using a cup is a type of "menstrual magic" and a conversation starter.
"I am liberated by the natural intimacy that comes from bleeding naturally, and enjoy bonding with women who are looking for a new menstruation product," says Beilharz. "I find that using a menstrual cup is an instant passage into good conversation."
Tootell says her customers love the "one-cup to rule them all" type of confidence. "They can simply walk past all the disposable products in the supermarket aisles because they no longer have to stock up on sanitary products every month. One cup is all you need."
Still unsure about jumping on the menstrual cup bandwagon? Let’s bust some myths that are usually associated with the fem-product.
Busting menstrual cup myths
1. Only hippies use them and everyone knows that hippies are really weird, don’t wash and spend far too much time at protests and at drumming circles
While eco-warriors were early-adopters of these chic cups and fans of their environmental qualities, menstrual cup users are quite a mixed bunch says Tootell. "We have school girls, young women, new mums, right through to premenopausal women buying them."
So, pretty much anyone who menstruates. But the reasons aren’t just flower-power, save the earth type of stuff either. School girls like the convenience of safely using it for 12-hour lengths and don’t have to worry about changing products in school bathrooms or at sports events. New mums like the cost-saving benefits and it also makes life easier when running around after their little ones.
Yup. So many weirdos.
2. You mentioned it before, but ah, gross?
It is more hands on, there’s no denying that part. But gross? Tootell doesn’t think so: "I personally find blood soaked swabs of cotton sitting in my bin more icky than a cup neatly collecting my flow.
"But, each to their own …"
3. I don’t trust this alleged "vacuum seal." When I remove it, will I have a horror movie situation on my hands with it leaking EVERYWHERE?
Oh the horror! Beilharz has used a cup for two years and can safely say you’re immune from embarrassing seepage.
"A cup can only be removed one way by pinching and pulling. The pinching ensures that the cup’s contents don’t spill. The cup is also designed so that it doesn’t leak; it suctions against your cervix."
Tootell seconds that. "It can be a bit messy for a novice but you quickly get the hang of it. I’d recommend removing it in the shower, particularly when starting out. That way you won’t be worried about a mess and it’ll be easy to clean up."
"I am liberated by the natural intimacy that comes from bleeding naturally, and enjoy bonding with women who are looking for a new menstruation product."
4. And what about when I go swimming? Will I be a leaky boat?
Hmm, with swimming it's just like a tampon. It's all to do with the seal. If it's not sealed properly then you will get some leaks. So maybe better to get the hang of it first before plunging into a body of water.
5. How big is this cup exactly? It sounds like it will be painful to put in. A period is painful enough to deal with.
Tootell says this depends on your anatomy, but once the cup has been folded it isn’t much larger than a tampon.
"Once your cup has opened and formed a seal it can’t be felt at all. One of the hardest parts of learning to use a cup is removing it as the cup needs to be semi-folded – but most people master this after a few cycles."
Some women also use water or lube to help make it slip into place.
6. I’ve noticed it hasn’t got a string or a tab to remove. Won’t it get lost in the abyss of my vagina? And then I’ll have to dash to the emergency department to get it removed/located?
Beilharz has been there.
"This is totally what I thought the first few times. That it would disappear into another universe! A cup is also a great way to see how big your vagina actually is – the cup definitely won’t get lost. It may move higher up when you’re lying down, but it’s simple to remove with pinch/pull techniques and relaxing those pelvic muscles."
So, nothing to worry about! No embarrassing confronting hospital visits ahead! Phew!
7. (*Exhausted sigh*) It just seems too hard.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained says Tootell: "It’s like anything new, it does take a little time to learn how to use a cup but very few people turn back once they’ve used it for a couple of cycles."
To Beilharz, buying pads and tampons and needing to replace them every four hours was much more worthy of an exhausting sigh. "Cups last for years, and you save money on the mad dash to the supermarket to grab a jumbo packet of pads when your period has graced you with your adoring presence."