(Alternate Title: On How Tampons are Full of Chemicals and Bad for the Environment)
(Alternate Alternate Title: I’m sure I’m about to type the word “vagina” several times)
Hi! I’m Leah, and I’m here today to talk about cups. Period cups, that is. Now, when I emailed Sarah with the idea, her hilarious response was “I had to google ‘period cup’ and then spent about an hour reading [about] female anatomy because I wasn’t even sure where my public bone was! Frankly I’m still a little confused.” Well, while I can’t school anyone on female anatomy, I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on alternatives to tampons. And before we go further, let me just say that for those of you who are grossed out, allow me to direct you to the post where Sarah took a picture of her pee. You’re welcome.
So, for the ladies: We’ve got two options for our time of the month, right? Pads or tampons. Pads are uncomfortable and huge and make you feel like you’re wearing a diaper. Tampons, on the other hand, are pretty convenient, comfortable, and portable. They seem like the easy choice. Or the easy choice…until you consider that 1) Tampons are made of cotton; 2) Cotton is an insect-heavy crop. 3) Farmers treat insect-heavy crops with pesticides. In equation form, tampon = (cotton + insects) * pesticides. In layman’s terms, you’re putting cotton soaked chemicals inside your body for up to 8 hours at a time, every day, for the duration of your period. And that’s just assuming that the cotton has been treated with pesticides – in researching for this post I came across some terrifying case studies of the actual ingredients in tampons. I’ll spare you the details, but…yikes.
Not only are tampons made out of God-knows-what chemicals, but have you ever thought about the amount of waste that they generate? Let’s do some more quick math: The average woman menstruates for 41 years.* Let’s say the average period is…5 days. And in those 5 days, the average woman uses, say, 5 tampons a day. So, we’ve got 5 tampons/day * 5 days * 12 months * 41 years = 12,300 tampons per woman. If you’re using tampons with applicators, that’s a whole lot of waste generated over the course of your lifetime.
But wait! There is an alternative to tampons! One that is better for the environment and for your body! It’s called a menstrual cup (by brand name diva cup, femmecup, lunnette, moon cup, etc). Menstrual cups are usually made of rubber or latex (although if you’re allergic to latex, they also make them out of silicone), so there’s far fewer chemicals associated with them. They are also reusable, so you only need to buy one every year or so (instead of going through a box of tampons per month).
The idea behind a cup is that instead of absorbing the blood, like a tampon or pad, it collects the blood, sitting way lower in the vaginal canal than tampons, which sit up near your cervix (for those of us who need a quick anatomy lesson, I would recommend turning on Google’s moderate safe search, at least, otherwise you’re opening yourself up to all sorts of visual trauma). Cups are definitely different than tampons or pads, and like with anything, there are pros and cons.
- Cost. A cup costs between $20-$30, but if you’re only buying one every one-two years, the cost is much cheaper than tampons.
- Comfort. Eat, sleep, dance, run, ride, swim, pee, whatever. The cup doesn’t move or shift.
- Convenience. The cup can stay in for up to 12 hours, and holds up to an ounce of blood (most women bleed an ounce over their entire period), so you won’t ever be caught without it.
- Cramps. Less cramps, that is. This one might be subjective, but I have far fewer cramps with the cup in than I ever had when I used tampons.
- Chemicals. There are none.
- Compostability. I actually mean that the environmental impact is quite low, but I was on a roll with the “C’s.”
- Blood. Since the cup collects, instead of absorbs, it can be a little unsettling the first time you take it out and see a bunch of blood. If you’re a fainter, you might want to prepare yourself (or just dump it out without looking).
- Learning curve. Remember the first time you tried to put in a tampon? I think I went through an entire box before I figured it out. With the cup, it will probably take you a whole cycle before you get used to it. There’s a bunch of websites that help give ideas about how to insert it, though.
- Leaking. It’s not actually leaking, so much as a feeling of wetness that it may take awhile to get used to. Again, the cup collects at the opening of your vagina, not up by your cervix, so there’s more moisture as the blood’s not being absorbed by cotton. This actually seems more natural to me, but I’m probably just used to it.
For those of you who I’ve sufficiently turned off tampons, I highly recommend trying the cup. I’ve seen them at Walgreens and Whole Foods, or you can order them online. Also, if you want to give it a try but don’t want to make the commitment to buying a reusable cup, the company Softcup makes disposable cups, which are probably good to learn on until you’ve figured out what works best for you.
Good luck and thanks for reading! And, let that be the first and last time I type the phrase “vaginal canal.” 🙂
About the Author: Leah and Sarah work out together at least once a year, and only complain for about 90% of the time. She is currently training (and raising donations!) for the AIDS/LifeCycle, and blogs at teamspringer.com, where she promises the only time she writes about bleeding is when she falls off her bike.