By Imogen Robinson
The period product market was worth £265.8m in 2017, says the BBC, quoting analysis from Mintel. While tampons and pads make up most of this, consumers have actually been spending less on such products, quite a hefty £5.7m less than they did in 2016, in fact.
This is attributed, in part, to an increase in spending on reusable products, for example, the menstrual cup. But what is a menstrual cup? How does it work? And should we all be converts?
Rather than “menstrual cup”, the name that you may have first heard bandied about is “Mooncup”, which sounds rather more like something out of Harry Potter than anything related to the humble menstrual cycle.
What is a menstrual cup?
Several years after it burst on to the sustainable period scene, Mooncup brands itself as the ‘original’ reusable period product. Put simply, it is a small, soft, flexible silicone cup, which looks looks a little like a small funnel, or, as I like to imagine, a novelty shot glass with a convenient stem for grip. Place it in your vagina, where it collects blood, empty and rinse it out when it’s full, and reuse it. Some menstrual cups don’t even need to be changed for up to 12 hours, depending on your cycle.
While interest in reusable period alternatives has only recently started gaining traction (popularity search interest scores for “menstrual cup” increased from 21 in 2013 to 83 in 2018), the Mooncup has actually been around since 2002. This, it seems, is quite a slow growth if you think about how long menstrual cups have actually been around.
What are the advantages of a menstrual cup?
It is interesting that we have been rather slow to catch on to something that, to all means and circumstances, sounds very beneficial, both for those who menstruate, and for the environment.
Advantages include the fact that unlike tampons, which absorb a lot of vaginal moisture, a menstrual cup won’t dry you out, or leave questionable fibres behind.
It doesn’t require constant repurchasing, won’t end up in landfill, or at least, not at the rate tampons do, takes up less space, and is (depending on the model you go for) about three times more absorbent than a tampon. It’s also non-toxic, so is ideal for those with sensitive skin or allergies.
A menstrual cup doesn’t require constant repurchasing, won’t end up in landfill, or at least, not at the rate tampons do, takes up less space, and is about three times more absorbent than a tampon.
According, again, to the BBC’s analysis of the sudden interest in menstrual cups, growing concern about the environment is one of the key factors, which makes sense given recently we have also seen huge explosions in the popularity of veganism, reusable water bottles, reusable coffee cups, and more.
On top of that, monetary costs are also said to be high on the list of reasons for conversion, especially now it has come to light that we are being taxed on tampons because they are, of course, not a necessity and the patriarchy would rather have us leave a trail of blood in our wake as a sign of our innate inferiority.
Concerns about the menstrual cup
Indeed, The Femedic’s founder, Monica, says it was the appeal of not needing to buy tampons each month that originally made her consider switching to a menstrual cup. “I always made an effort to buy organic, plastic-free tampons, which are pricier and can be tough to find,” she says. “But it was the waste reduction aspect that pushed me over the line.”
However, there are some obvious concerns among people thinking of trying a menstrual cup. One is simply a reluctance to try new things. Periods are sensitive subjects, and if you get them wrong it can still be humiliating, even now when periods are fortunately becoming less of a taboo subject. What if it leaks? What if you insert it wrong?
In a bid to enlighten people about menstrual cups, organisations such as Bloody Good Period and The Cup Effect have been running ‘CupAware’ parties.
On top of that, the shape means the procedure to insert it looks somewhat daunting on paper. In a bid to enlighten people, organisations such as Bloody Good Period and The Cup Effect have been running ‘CupAware’ parties, complete with talks on the different ways to insert menstrual cups, advice, and story sharing, all accompanied by wine.
Nonetheless, emptying the menstrual cup still presents some problems when in a public place. Are you supposed to rinse it out each time? And if so, where? Understandably, many will be reluctant to leave a small murder scene in a public sink. However, Ruby Cup has some helpful advice on how to use it when you’re out and about, and assures you that it doesn’t need rinsing out every time you change it if it is not practical to do so.
How does it feel to use a menstrual cup?
So, practical issues aside, what is it actually like to use one? “I think saying that using a menstrual cup is ‘easy’ depends entirely on the individual,” says Monica, who got her first menstrual cup from a Cup Aware party. “You really need to squat down and figure out the best way to insert it, which may seem second nature to some, but intimidating for others.”
Truthfully, she adds, it has taken her about four months to find the perfect position. “I’m definitely now a convert,” she says. “But that being said, a menstrual cup may not be for everyone which is also perfectly fine.”
On top of that, you may need to shop around a bit to find one that works for you, which for those without a giant budget may not be immediately possible, even if you try and reconcile it with the fact that you’ll spend less on tampons in the long run.
“If inserted properly, I can’t feel it,” says Monica. “It doesn’t feel like a dead weight inside you like a soaked tampon, and you don’t get the chafing that comes with some pads, especially night pads.” However, she adds that if you don’t do it quite right you can feel a bit of pressure inside you around the abdomen area. “This is why I would say that if you’re thinking of trying a menstrual cup, be prepared and willing for some trial and error to see what works best for you. There are also a range of different brands and sizes that might fit better.”
“It doesn’t feel like a dead weight inside you like a soaked tampon, and you don’t get the chafing that comes with some pads, especially night pads.”
So, should we all be using menstrual cups? Well, the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages, and it can’t really be argued that they’re more sustainable than tampons, and ultimately cheaper.
However, not all people will be able to use one and if you don’t want to then it doesn’t matter. They might make you nervous, you may not be able to insert one for a variety of reasons, including mobility issues, or they may simply just not appeal, and that’s totally fine. But, if you are tempted, and can afford one, give it a go, perhaps in the comfort of your own home the first couple of times you use it.
Not a fan? Then you can go back to tampons or pads. Or, you might want to consider reusable pads, or even period pants. The possibilities are a lot greater than they were ten years ago, so if you find pads unbearable and have environmental concerns about tampons, have a little search to find something that might just suit your situation a little bit better.