I think that it’s important to begin this by saying that using a menstrual cup does not need to be a political statement. If you haven’t encountered one - it’s a small, silicone cup which collects your period rather than absorbing it. It sits lower than a tampon and forms a seal to prevent leaking. After using it once, I was converted.
Despite being aware of the existence of menstrual cups, the suggestion of not using tampons felt like an inconvenience. An inconvenience to think about at the most inconvenient time of the month. It was only after having a frank and open conversation with a friend that I genuinely considered it. And in doing so unearthed the sinister reality of period stigma today. These uninhibited conversations are necessary if we seek to dismantle a stigma which hinders access to period education. Politics aside, I hope to share an insight simply because I’ve had a positive experience and because, had I not discovered the Mooncup, I’d still be moaning about the tampon tax on a monthly basis.
So firstly, it’s reusable. The rampant consumption of single-use plastic and plastic pollution are pressing issues of our time. From a sustainability perspective, it’s a no brainer. The majority of sanitary pads are 90% plastic! Complacently I hadn’t considered the extent of waste involved in one period and with 1,976 billion people at a menstruating phase of life, there’s a lot of waste to be considered.
Secondly, it’s much less fuss. You can leave it in for 8 hours at a time. You don’t have to worry about running out or having to stash supplies in your bag as you just rinse and reuse. And whilst admittedly expensive at first - I got mine for £21.99 - it’s a worthy investment as once you’ve bought one you won’t need to buy another. On the topic of no fuss, it’s handy to note that you can apparently have sex whilst using one.
Admittedly, I did question how it could be comfortable and easy to manoeuvre at just the sight of it. It’s tricky to imagine how removal won’t result in one big mess. So firstly, it’s actually easier to insert than I expected –admittedly I wouldn’t expect everyone’s experience of the Mooncup to be so stress-free. Also, surprisingly, seeing the blood is probably the best thing about it. Using a cup doesn’t sanitize your period or encourage the view that it’s dirty and to be thrown away in a tampon bin. Something which feels all too pertinent given Bodyform’s 2017 advert acknowledgement that a woman’s period is red and not blue. Crucially it’s by news headlines like this, and the censorship of poet Rupi Kaur’s Instagram post, that we are made aware of the encultured squeamishness towards periods which surrounds us.
The Homeless Period charity sums up the sheer extent of our encultured opposition to periods “it doesn’t bear thinking about… and that’s the problem”. The campaign struck a chord with me. I felt ashamed at my own narrow minded frustration because the taboo goes beyond a reluctance to whip a tampon out in public. And whilst I resent that period shaming exacerbates a climate of insecurity when it comes to discussing our own bodies, I was ashamed at my unawareness of the extent of period poverty and shame experienced by other women. By silencing talking about periods, you deny the platforming of important issues which otherwise go unheard.
It’s not that periods should become a corner-stone of feminist debate but rather something we should not be embarrassed to talk about. Because who exactly are we not talking about periods for? Those same people who cushion their embarrassment by using antiquated euphemisms to ask if we are on our period? There’s a difference between shame and discretion. Why, when researching opinions on menstrual cups was a Daily Mail article prefixed with a warning to men that the following content referenced menstruation? I resent this attitude that we can opt out of issues because they don’t affect us and remain blind to other people’s realities.
It occurred to me that disposable sanitary products dominated the market, not because of how effective they are, but because alternatives don’t get the same amount of air time. Without the willingness to discuss periods –single use products monopolise the market whilst alternatives such as the Mooncup are silenced. Is it coincidental that the dominant commercial message does not pedal single-use products? Sanitary products are a luxury item (VAT now swallowed by most big supermarkets in the UK) required on a monthly basis, which makes single use buyers both loyal and desirable customers.
I’m not going to pretend that menstrual cups are for everyone. But had I not had the frank conversation with someone who had tried one, I would have continued using disposable sanitary products and not thought twice about it. Quite simply it’s an effective product that doesn’t spare you the sight of your own blood. Blood that should not invoke shame or disgust.