I thought I was dying the first time I got my period. My mom gave me The Talk years earlier, which I had promptly pushed to the back of my mind as things-that-would-happen-at-a-much-later-date, when I would be older and therefore a different person. By the time I found blood in my underwear as a young teen, any memory of The Talk was firmly lodged beneath curse words I had just learned and why the name Master Bates was funny to the boys in my class. There was only one possible reason for the blood and that was internal bleeding aka certain death. Although I was relieved to find out the scarlet smear was nothing more than the ancient signifier of my womanhood, it also carried with it the burden of keeping the contents of my insides contained—discreetly—from my peers. Horrified at the thought of shoving a cotton stick inside of me (How could it possibly get inside? What if it got lost?), I settled on the menstrual equivalent of diapers and stuck pads to my the inside of my Hanes briefs. Dissatisfied and uncomfortable with feeling like a cross between a teenage baby and a geriatric patient, I graduated to tampons a year or so later and entered a new world of menstruation, complete with swimming pools, beach days, and running.
Menstrual cups first came onto my radar in high school, although they’ve been around for decades. I regarded the little silicone cups as a bit hardcore for my taste and associated them with people who took the environment a little too seriously. I had just learned how to use tampons correctly (they cannot, in fact go too far up although in a few years I would discover that they can get lost) and they were perfectly fine for me, thank you very much. My opinion shifted in college, however, when I enrolled in a women’s and gender studies minor and was confronted with the environmental impact of menstruation. In a class discussion about how a lack of access to period care products means that school-aged girls are often forced to stay home during their period, we analyzed the various options available including menstrual cups. For the first time since I had first learned about them, menstrual cups were presented as a valid way to manage period bleeding. Hearing other students’ experiences using menstrual cups opened my eyes to the possibility that the tampons and pads we’re so familiar with aren’t necessarily the best choice. Here are my top reasons why I’m so glad that I made the switch.
I’ll admit, one of the reasons I was so wary about menstrual cups in the beginning is because I was convinced they were messier than my formerly beloved tampons. The idea of dumping a cup full of your period blood isn’t the most appealing thought and the first time I did it, I was appropriately freaked out. It’s unnerving to transition from seeing your insides contained within cotton to seeing them floating loose for the first time. What I wasn’t expecting, however, is how contained it all was. I was anticipating the whole process to involve an overflowing of blood but everything remains in place when it’s inside the body and during removal. Unlike with tampons, I never have to worry about leaking (so long as the rim is properly sealed), which contributes to an immense peacefulness about that time of the month. Which leads me to my absolute favorite part of using a menstrual cup.
The complete lack of leakage when it comes to a menstrual cup continually blows my mind. When I used tampons I would find myself changing every couple of hours on heavy days and still experiencing leakage. That’s not a huge deal when you’re at home but it’s a stressful to wonder if you’re going to have a spot on the back of your pants or if you have enough tampons or pads to last you the day when you’re at work. With a menstrual cup, I can insert it in the morning and not think about it for my entire day because I know that nothing is going to find its way past the seal. I’ve also realized that my perception of the amount of blood that’s released was completely off. I’ve never had an issue with my cup filling up more than half way, even if I wear it for the maximum 12 hours on my heaviest days. It’s remarkable to me how easily tampons and pads can feel full with what my menstrual cups reveals is actually a minuscule amount of blood.
Although the up-front cost of a menstrual cup is greater than tampons or pads, they end up paying for themselves in the long run. According to Saalt’s website their cups can last up to 10 years, which means I’m spending $30 for roughly 120 periods’ worth of menstrual products. If I had stuck with tampons and pads for that same amount of time, I would have ended up spending roughly $200 based on New York prices—and that’s not even including price increases. For me, the math speaks for itself.
Ultimately, sustainability was the factor that pushed me to take the jump into the world of menstrual cups. The thought of how my own preferences and habits were causing the creation of multitudes of unnecessary waste was enough to make me settle on an alternative to the traditional period products I grew up with. I get a little excited each time my period comes because I know that I’m making a difference simply by choosing the eco-friendly alternative to single-use menstrual products.
Menstrual cups aren’t for everyone—my mom is absolutely horrified at the thought of a cup full of period blood—but they’re one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health and the environment. If you’ve been on the fence about taking the menstrual cup plunge, there’s no reason not to give them a shot! Personally, I’m obsessed with my Saalt cup (I got the regular size and it fits like a glove) but there are other alternatives like the Lily Cup, which is intended to help prevent cramps or the classic DivaCup. Choose one that works for you and start saving the earth, one period at a time.