Menstrual cups have been around since the late 1950s with the introduction of the Tassette, but they were never very popular until recently. Over the past decade or so, menstrual cups such as The Diva Cup have become the preferred choice for an increasing number of women who no longer want the waste or potential health risks associated with conventional sanitary products.
Menstrual cups are generally made of non-absorbent rubber or silicone and are inserted into the vaginal opening to collect menstrual blood. Although they’re similar to a tampon in that respect, they differ in at least 7 important ways:
1. Menstrual cups don’t promote the proliferation of vaginal aerobic bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, that can occur with tampon use. Thus, they don’t increase the risk of developing toxic shock syndrome, which is associated particularly with high absorbency tampons.
2. Menstrual cups collect blood; they don’t absorb it the way tampons do. This means they are less likely to cause irritation and inflammation of the vaginal tissue, which is a common complaint amongst women who use tampons regularly.
3. Menstrual cups aren’t coated with synthetic fragrances, chlorine bleach, toxic chemicals such as dioxins and furans (which are classes of chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, immunological toxins, and potential carcinogens), absorbency enhancers, deodourants, dyes, or other chemicals that most tampons (and maxi pads) contain*.
4. Menstrual cups, when properly positioned, eliminate occasional leakage that can occur with tampons, especially when flow is heavy or contains blood clots.
5. Menstrual cups are pliable and they comfortably flex with subtle shifts of the vaginal wall as a woman moves. This isn’t always the case with some tampons, which can be rigid and unmalleable, thereby creating discomfort and friction for a woman when stationary in certain positions or while moving during certain activities.
6. Even though menstrual cups create a vacuum seal at the vaginal opening to prevent leakage, they’re removed by first bending the cup to break the seal and then gently pulling the cup out of the vaginal canal. On the other hand, tampons are pulled out directly, thereby creating a small vacuum pressure that could irritate the vaginal tissue or cause discomfort to women who are sensitive.
7. Menstrual cups are reusable and therefore reduce the waste and cost associated with disposable tampons and pads.
The skin inside and around the vaginal opening is very moist, porous and sensitive—especially during menses. Therefore, if you use hygiene products that are coated with chemicals, you increase the risk of absorbing these toxins into your bloodstream. This can affect the health of your reproductive organs and it could also have systemic effects.
A recent survey of 94 women from British Columbia, Canada reported that regular tampon users who were asked to use The Diva Cup for 3 menstrual cycles were satisfied with the product, were willing to continue using the cup, and experienced no irritation or other side effects. Once they learned how to use the cup properly, they were able to insert and remove it with ease and they felt no discomfort while it was in place.
The authors also estimated that the use of menstrual cups could theoretically replace the yearly use of more than 770 million disposable sanitary products (including maxi pads and tampons) if every Canadian woman made the switch to reusable cups! This can make a huge positive impact on wildlife, for which tampon applicators are a serious health hazard. Many animals mistake applicators as food and swallow them, only to immediately choke on the plastic or to have it collect in their digestive system and slowly hinder nutrient absorption and eventually lead to starvation.
Menstrual cups made of silicone are generally hypoallergenic and safe for people who have an allergy to latex (who must avoid menstrual cups made of rubber). The advantages of using menstrual cups over maxi pads are cleanliness, reduced moisture and irritation in the groin area, reduced visibility, improved protection during physical activity, and less frequent need for replacement throughout the day.
The most popular brands of menstrual cups are: The Diva Cup (Canada), The Keeper (USA), and The Moon Cup (UK). All are used the same way and have a similar life span of more than one year (however, all the women I know say they can use their cup for several years). Despite its durability, it’s advisable to replace the cup:
- at the first sign of wear such as severe discolouration or deterioration such as a sticky or powdery film
- if you wore the menstrual cup while you had a vaginal infection such as a yeast infection (Note that it’s recommended you avoid using the cup until any infections are resolved)
- if you start to experience any irritation after having used the same cup for several cycles.
Menstrual cups are easy to care for and the most ideal cleansing fluid to use is the one provided by the manufacturer because it’s formulated to support the lifespan of the cup.
Size 1 cups are ideal for women who are under 30 years old and/or who have not yet given birth whereas Size 2 cups are generally ideal for women who are older than 30 and/or who have had at least one child. However, every woman’s anatomy is different—these are only guidelines provided by the manufacturer to help you choose the right size for you.
*Note: One study found that the dioxin exposure from tampons was negligible compared to exposure from a conventional diet. However, dioxin concentration varied among brands of tampons and the authors didn’t consider levels of dioxin exposure in people eating an organic diet and drinking filtered water.
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