Drawing of a menstrual cupBy Liz Mutter ’15

Volume XXXVI, Issue 1, October 4, 2013

You’re at Val snagging a cinnamon swirl muffin before your 9 a.m. class. On your way out, you rush past the video of Gandalf head-bobbing and into the ladies’ room. What you expect to be a quick in-and-out restroom experience turns out to be a disaster: your period just started, and shit—you don’t have a tampon!

On occasions like these, having a period seems like the absolute worst. Imagine a world, though, where you never have to purchase or carry around another tampon: You don’t have to make that monthly CVS run, figure out sneaky ways to bring a tampon with you into the bathroom (tucked into the waistband of your jeans, anyone?), or have a panic attack because you left one in overnight and you probably-might-definitely-maybe have Toxic Shock Syndrome!

In May 2013, I discovered that this world is real and made possible by menstrual cups. What the hell is a “moon cup,” you might ask? Menstrual cups are reusable, flexible cups worn internally, like a tampon, that collect, rather than absorb, menstrual fluid. Brand names include the Mooncup, the DivaCup, the Lunette Menstrual Cup, and the Keeper Cup. Each brand will boast its own distinctions, but they’re basically all the same. Buy one once and use it when necessary by emptying it into the toilet a few times a day, rinsing and repeating, cycle after cycle, year after year. Other alternatives to the menstrual cup include reusable cloth pads, which are similar in principle to cloth diapers. Brand names include GladRags Cloth Pads and Lunapads. Since college students enjoy doing laundry as much as we enjoy finals week, cloth pads aren’t my favorite option because yes, they must be laundered. They’re still worth considering, though, as are menstrual sponges (which apparently are a thing). A quick Google search of any of these products or brands will reveal informative websites with purchasing info, FAQ, customer-use stories, and how-to videos.

Although disposable feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons seem to be the norm at Amherst, there are three major reasons why one should consider other options for managing menstrual cycles: cost, environmental impact, and user experience.

Let’s say your period usually lasts five days and you use one pad, two pantiliners, and four tampons per day. That amounts to 60 pads, 120 pantiliners, and 240 tampons in one year (Of course, this usage will vary person-to-person). Now say you purchase your products at the CVS in town. In order to meet your yearly needs, you have to drop around $70. In contrast, my Mooncup cost just $24.53 on Amazon and will last up to ten years. That’s a ten-year savings of about $675!

A second reason why switching to reusable menstrual products is advisable is that it avoids the negative environmental impact of disposable menstrual products. It’s easy to simply support the idea of environmentally-conscious efforts; what’s tougher is identifying specific behavioral changes that actually contribute to these efforts. Once I thought about the ultimate destination of all those pearly plastic applicators, reusable products became a no-brainer.To get a sense of the impact that disposable feminine care products have, consider the following:

“It is estimated that approximately 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators are being sent to North American landfills annually. On an individual level, each of the approximately 73 million menstruating people in North America will throw away 125 to 150kg of disposable menstrual products in their lifetime. Moreover, these products require hundreds of years to biodegrade, particularly if wrapped in the plastic baggies commonly provided for this purpose as part of their packaging.” – http://lunapads. com/why-switch

Reusable products will save you money and are better for the environment. That’s great, but many people still have hang-ups about the user experience. If your gut reaction to using these products is disgust, bear with me for a minute. Think back to the first time you used/attempted to use a tampon. It took me so long to figure out where it was supposed to go that at one point, I seriously convinced myself that I must not have a vagina. I finally found it one fateful day when my options were to figure out where a tampon went or stand around feeling sorry for myself while my friends careened down waterslides at Soak City. Still, I wasn’t quite doing it right for a while – I didn’t put it in far enough or pull it out at the proper angle. The point is, it took time for me to adjust to using tampons, just as it took time for me to adjust to using a menstrual cup. With a bit of patience, you’ll soon figure out how to insert it, how to tell when it’s sealed, how to clear out the little holes (fill the cup with water, stick your hand over the top, and squeeze until water pushes out of the holes), and how best to grip it to pull it out.

Now that I’ve got the process down, I’m reaping the benefits of using reusable feminine products. I don’t have to carry around extra tampons in my purse, I only have to empty the cup twice a day, and I’ve eliminated any embarrassment or disgust I had about my period. Since menstrual cups are worn internally, you can do just about anything while using one– swim, sleep, shower, attempt to set the world record for number of consecutive backflips, etc. Another perk: you can insert the cup before your period starts as a safeguard and it won’t dry you out like a tampon would!

I’m aware that there are Amherst students already using menstrual cups. For instance, Anna Young ’15 is “all about the DivaCup. It’s definitely a game changer. At first I thought it would be super gross emptying out the cup, but then I realized a garbage full of bloody tampons or pads is 1000x worse than a little flushable blood in the toilet. Most importantly, I can dance on social windowsills without fear of leakage or a tampon string peek-a-boo. I completely recommend the switch!”

So use those Amherstian critical thinking skills and weigh your options. Reusable products just might be a better fit for your wallet, your ethics, and your lifestyle.