Invented and patented by American actress Leona Chalmers, the first commercially available menstrual cup was introduced in 1937 under the brand name ‘Tass-ette’. Unable to attain a wide consumer base, however, the menstrual cup all but disappeared from the mainstream market by the early 1970s.
Nearly 4 decades later, the menstrual cup has started appearing again due to increased consumer interest. In fact, online search term trends show a peak popularity value of 100 between 2009-2018 worldwide, with Pakistan coming in at number 13. So, what has prompted this rapid interest in the reusable hygiene product, and have menstrual cups finally gone mainstream?
What IS a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a small, flexible, bell-shaped cup composed of two parts: the cup and the stem. It is inserted directly into the vagina, where it opens up to collect menstrual fluid for up to 6-12 hours before being removed, emptied, washed, and reinserted. However, users with a heavier flow may have to empty it more frequently.
Menstrual cups are generally made of rubber, plastic, and medical-grade silicone. However, silicone cups are usually recommended by medical practitioners for hygiene purposes.
The Reusable Trend Shift:
Feminine hygiene products continue to evolve and diversify with every passing year. And while pads and tampons remain the global products of choice, rising concerns over plastic pollution and expansive landfills have led to an increased interest in reusable, non-plastic products.
Most pads and tampons are made of plasticized materials for better absorbency, with plastic packaging to boot. Moreover, a large number of period products frequently wash ashore on public beaches, further adding to marine pollution. On the other hand, each menstrual cup comes in a cardboard packaging and is made of easily recyclable silicone, with most being usable for up to 1 year or more.
Social media and market influencers use this, and the fact that the average woman generates between 250-300 pounds of period-waste in her lifetime, to promote environment-friendly decisions among the female masses.
Other reasons why people are taking an increased interest in menstrual cups include:
- More Savings: Considering that most menstrual cups can be reused for several years, the higher upfront cost of a menstrual cup can generally be recovered within a few months to a year of use, resulting in long-term savings.
Note: Recircle.life, a recent Lahore-based startup, has further simplified and economized menstrual cups for Pakistani women.
- Comfortable and Vagina-Friendly: When inserted correctly, a menstrual cup can generally not be felt, allowing you unrestricted movement. Moreover, the nonreactive nature of silicone prevents vaginal dryness, rashes, and maintains the vaginal pH balance.
- Mess-Free: A properly inserted cup eliminates the chances of leaks or spills during activity.
So if menstrual cups truly are the personal and environmental saviours that they are touted to be, then what is stopping women from embracing them completely?
The Gross Factor:
Generations of women have used the ‘catch-and-absorb’ method in various forms ranging from homemade cloth and cotton pads to adhesive modern pads. This secondhand exposure to period blood and the long-held stigma surrounding its ‘uncleanliness’ has resulted in more than a few women feeling discomfited about the hands-on approach required for handling menstrual cups.
The insertion mechanism of menstrual cups ignites the longstanding virginity debate, wherein it is believed that a woman’s virginity is correlated with her hymen (a membrane that partially closes the vaginal opening). This has resulted in severe social discomfort and an unwillingness to try other, more convenient hygiene products.
Extra Sanitary Measures:
Not only do you have to clean your cup with every removal, but thorough cleansing between periods is also essential to prevent bacteria buildup and possible infections. Due to their silicone structure, some users opt to boil their cups. However, according to many health professionals like microbiologist Philip Tierno of NYU Langone, boiling may destroy the bacteria, but their carcasses remain and accumulate over time.
Some medical health professionals also question the sanitary conditions of reusable products like menstrual cups, where harmful bacterial biofilms (community of bacteria and other microorganisms) can develop on the cup’s surface. This can also result from discolouration and deterioration due to prolonged repeated use.
Insertion and Removal:
For inexperienced users, insertion and removal can be a particularly harrowing and messy process, particularly during removal, where mishandling can result in spillage.
Public Place Difficulties:
Emptying and thoroughly cleaning a cup inside a public bathroom can be extremely difficult and inconvenient. While the cups can be rinsed over the toilet, and toilet papers and hand sanitizers can help, most may find the entire process unclean and uncomfortable.
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS):
TSS is a life-threatening condition caused by the buildup of harmful bacterial toxins in the vagina. Commonly correlated with tampons, most women, particularly those that solely use pads, are concerned with the use of anything that requires vaginal insertion.
The Bottom Line:
New feminine hygiene products are being introduced nearly every day. Carefully weighing the benefits and disadvantages can help you decide on which product to use. Yet what matters most is your own personal comfort.
However, if you are confused about using menstrual cups, or would like to know more about other available feminine hygiene products better suited to you, then do not hesitate in consulting with your doctor.
You can also book an appointment with a top gynaecologist in Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT professional for your concerns.