I have not used tampons regularly for over three years. I don’t use pads. I don’t go sit in the Red Tent. I use a menstrual cup, specifically the DivaCup (you can also get the Moon or Keeper cups, they’re all slightly different). It has changed my life for the better, significantly. Menstrual cups are made of top-quality silicone, can hold about one ounce of fluid, and can be worn for up to 12 hours. There are a number of reasons that I love the Diva cup, these include logistical, environmental, and health reasons.
Logistical: I have not had to worry about carrying tampons with me for over three years. I have not had to regularly change a tampon in that time or really give any thought to my period besides in the morning and before bed. Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours and generally removes ‘taking care of your period’ from your life.
If you do need to empty it away from home, you can simply take it out and dump it in the toilet, possible wiping it out with TP before reinserting. At home, they can be emptied, washed out, and reinserted. I use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap on mine, since this is a gentle and all-natural soap that I use for all sorts of things. I’ve heard that cups are awesome for camping (I actually got mine at REI), which I haven’t done in the past three years, but I imagine they would work splendidly. Many of the health and environmental arguments below can be satisfied with reusable pads, but cups are comfortable and, like tampons, cannot be felt once inserted properly.
It takes a little while to get used to inserting your cup, and as everyone’s body is different some people can feel it once it’s inserted. The DivaCup has a long stem to be used for removal, but I found that cutting this shorter made it more comfortable. If you do get a cup, give it some time to get used to it. Additionally, they can occasionally leak, so you’ll have to figure out some way to deal with this (if you care, I don’t) like using reusable cotton pantyliners.
Environmental: Since I haven’t used tampons in so long I can’t adequately estimate how many the average woman uses, but let’s do some estimation. Assuming an average 4 day period, and replacement every 4-6 hours, this would result in 20 tampons used per cycle. With an average of 521 cycles per 40-years, this adds up to 10,420 tampons per lifetime. That’s a lot of waste, and there would be even more if you use pads. Chemicals are used for bleaching and dying tampons that can be environmentally harmful at the front end of the process, and boxes of tampons need to be manufactured and recycled.
Menstrual cups have been certified by the FDA to be used for a year, but prior to FDA approval the DivaCup website stated that cups could be used for up to 10 years before a replacement would be needed. I’ve used mine for three years and it has not lost any integrity as far as I can tell. That is a lot less waste overall and a lot less stress on the environment. Cost is another factor, if we estimate $10/50 tampons (as a quick internet search indicated), this would be $2,084 over a lifetime (or $52/year). Menstrual cups cost $35, and can be replaced either per FDA requirements every year or every 10 years (this is my intention).
Health: Tampons are made of bleached cotton and contain fragrances, dyes, and other toxic materials. Depending on the bleaching process, some of the chemicals left remaining in tampons have been linked to cancer in animals. Further exposure occurs when fibers are left behind by tampons in the vagina and take a couple of days to be naturally flushed out. The DivaCup website states: “The DivaCup is latex free and is made from top quality silicone, a material that has been used in healthcare applications for over 50 years. This silicone is not the same type of material used in breast implants. No chlorine, dyes, colorings or additives of any kind are used.”
Tampons have been linked with the potentially fatal condition toxic shock syndrome, and menstrual cups have not.
Another benefit of cups is that in order to use them, you literally have to stick your fingers up into your ladybusiness and come face to face with the fact that your period is actually blood coming out of your body! You have to touch it! You don’t just take out some impersonal cotton product and discard it. You feel more connected with your body, and less squeamish because of it. And I don’t know about you, but being a non-squeamish person who is connected with my body is much more important to me than keeping my fingers clean.
I’m not the only one whose DivaCup has changed her life, check out this yogi. If you’ve been converted, you can pick a cup up at your local co-op or REI!