By DEENA LILYGREN
The other day, I consulted the NASA archives to fact-check a meme. The gist of the meme was that we shouldn’t feel embarrassed about our stupid questions because at one point, NASA scientists asked Sally Ride if 100 tampons would be enough for her seven-day mission. The joke, of course, is that 100 is an absurdly high number (to put it in perspective, Costco’s and Sam’s Club’s stockpile-sized Tampax box is only 96-count—and this is for people who want to go months between shopping trips).
While women may not go through 100 tampons in a week, our lives can admittedly feel like an endless montage of buying, borrowing, and scavenging for tampons. Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, authors of Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation approximate that an average woman will discard 250-300 pounds of tampons, pads, etc., in her lifetime.
We’re technically making progress. The market is slowly responding to a demand for organic, chemical-free, and environmentally friendly tampons, but this is only a small move in the right direction, because it’s still a move that assumes tampons are a necessity. Menstrual cups aren’t being given a chance.
Real change is slow, and slower still for a topic people don’t enjoy discussing, but menstrual cups have been around since the 1930’s and have yet to catch on in the mainstream. I’ve never even seen a commercial for one on television. Focus groups have probably determined that women just aren’t interested–and I would know. My friend Ames pitched the cup to me over a decade ago, and I was immediately Not Interested in the small silicone cup that was supposed to serve as an alternative to tampons. It seemed like a risk, when heavy-flow days are already so risky. Now that I’ve adopted the cup, I evangelize everywhere I go, and women always have the same answer: “no thanks.” They see the cup as exotic, or perhaps think the cup hasn’t yet been perfected. To be clear: except for the fact that it doesn’t have Wi-Fi, the cup has been perfected.
My resistance to the cup was similar to the resistance I have to the neti-pot, which I know would help if I could just get over my squeamishness about my sinuses. I’ve learned that many women–even progressive women–are as squeamish about their vaginas as I am about my sinuses. Learning to use the cup does require rolling up your sleeves and getting in there, the first couple times, but if you’re squeamish about your vagina, the best thing possible is to learn more about it. To these reluctant women, I offer the top five reasons to give the cup a chance:
- It’ll save you money. If you’re 40 years old, you’ve already been through approximately 10,800 tampons. That’s 270 40-count boxes, to the tune of $1620. So far. A menstrual cup runs $15-25 and can last for months or years (or until your dog gets hold of it).
- It’ll lessen your ecological footprint. Tampons and pads are composed of paper, plastic, and chemicals, which end up in landfills (see item #1 for the extent).
- It’s more hygienic. Menstrual blood will only have an odor if it’s exposed to air, and the cup prevents that from happening. Farewell, soggy string. And if you’re a germaphobe, you’ll love the ritual of boiling it on the stove once a month.
- It feels great. While tampons are more comfortable than the previous alternatives, they can be drying and uncomfortable, especially the last couple days of your cycle. Sometimes, you don’t have any choice but to use a too-high absorbency tampon. Ouch. The cup doesn’t scratch, dry, or damage any of that delicate tissue, is flexible enough that you can forget you’re wearing it, and one little-discussed advantage is that the cup also enhances orgasms (Google it).
- You’ll have more freedom. When you leave for work in the morning, the cup you’re already wearing is the only supply you’ll need. If you rush to the bathroom every hour on your heaviest day, you’ll find that with the cup you can still go several hours before it needs to be emptied.
If you’re trying the cup for the first time, keep in mind that everyone’s body is different. A lot of women report trying one type of cup, and when it didn’t fit just right, trying another with greater success. We wouldn’t swear off shoes because one brand was too narrow, so why do we give up on the cup so easily? The available brands offer different shapes, sizes and textures (but uniformly awful names: Diva, Luna, Lena, Blossom, etc.) so it’s worth reading reviews and tutorials, and trying more than one. Take care of your cup, and it will take care of you.
For more from this writer, check out “What is a literary life?”
Deena Lilygren lives, writes, and indulges her many obsessions in Louisville, Kentucky. She is an Associate Professor of English at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College. She graduated from UofL with an MA in English Literature and is currently completing an MFA in creative writing at Murray State University.