Note: I’m talking about menstruation in this post. If you are uncomfortable with it — and I understand, because hemophobia and gender dysphoria used to make me uncomfortable with it, too — then please feel free to read something else today. Here is a picture of a lamb to help you think of other things.
Everyone else still here? Oh good, let’s get started.
A few friends have asked me about alternatives to conventional menstrual products, and I am happy to share what I have learned, since I have done a fair bit of research on the subject.
Conventional disposable products (i.e. pads and tampons) bother me a lot, for several reasons. Pads give me a rash, leak easily, smell bad before you even begin to use them, make all kinds of noise when you take the paper off the sticky part, can’t be worn with boxers or while swimming, and are terrible for the environment, both because of the chemicals used to make them and because they sit in landfills after you throw them away. Tampons dry you out, leak easily, have to be changed really often, could possibly give you toxic shock syndrome, and are terrible for the environment, for the same reasons that pads are. Both pads and tampons, being disposable, are very expensive over the course of a lifetime. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want those smelly chemically-treated things touching me.
So, what are our alternatives? Let’s see the contestants.
Contestant #1: Cloth pads
For those who prefer pads, such as those who don’t like having things inside them, there are ones made out of cloth. This has been done for a long time — what do you think people used before the disposable chemical wads came around? Now, though, we have things like waterproof fabric, so cloth pads are a lot better than they used to be.
I have not personally used cloth pads before, because I wear boxers, and pads only work if you wear briefs. If you’d like more information about this option, go check out Wallypop, where Sarah makes cloth pads and bags to put them in, as well as explaining how to use them. Another common type of cloth pad I’ve heard about is Lunapads.
My main fear about cloth pads was how to keep them clean, but then I remembered that blood comes out easily if you soak it in cold water, so all you have to do is soak them in cold water and then wash them normally. No reason to be afraid!
Contestant #2: Cups
I use a cup, both because I wear boxers and because I don’t carry a bag with me all the time that I could keep pads in. Cups are made of silicone, and they go up inside like a tampon and stay in place with a tiny bit of suction. I did a lot of research before buying mine, and the Menstrual Cups LiveJournal community proved to be the most useful resource I found on this topic.
Cups seem a little bit expensive (the most commonly known one, the DivaCup, is regularly $39.99) but just remember that it will last you several years, probably even longer. I’ve heard they can last ten years. Compare that to how much you spend each month on disposable products and I’m sure it will save you money in the long run.
I chose the Diana cup by Lunette, partly because of its flexibility and size, partly because it’s green, my favorite color. Lunette has cups in blue, green, purple, coral, and clear. It came in a recycled cardboard box without any plastic, which I really liked, though they also sent a free sample of their Feelbetter wash which comes in a plastic bottle.
Diana and me
For reference, back when I used tampons I used the smallest size, and the euphemism in the title of this post is laughably inaccurate — there is no time of the month for me. I am so irregular that it’s almost pointless to even keep track. Sometimes it lasts for three days, sometimes for twelve days. Sometimes it comes twice in one month, sometimes three times a year, and once when I was fourteen or so it skipped two years. I was Catholic and thought God had answered my prayers; the return of my period after two years was just one more thing that made me believe God did not exist. And, more important for this post, sometimes it’s heavy enough that I end up with a big mess, and sometimes it’s so light that I could have used one tampon for a week if that wasn’t likely to kill me.
Using the smaller size of the Lunette, I empty my cup in the morning before I take a shower, and that’s it. I’ve never filled it to the top. The smaller Lunette holds 25 ml, which is more than the biggest tampons I’ve seen. The only time it’s ever leaked on me was when I put it in wrong and it got kind of sideways and broke the suction. I rinse it out with just water, put it back in, and don’t think about it again for 24 hours. When I do get paranoid and check it in a public bathroom, I just dump it out and put it back in without rinsing, and that’s fine. At the end of the cycle I boil it to make sure it’s clean.
The first month I had a bit of trouble getting the cup in, because the silicone was still slightly stiff and I was nervous, making my muscles tense. The opening of the cup just looked way too big to fit. But I was patient and tried again later, and now I put it in easily every time. I also found that the stem was too long for me, so I trimmed the whole thing off. Once the cup is in place, I don’t even feel it anymore. I always forget it’s there.
How it has helped
I’ve found that avoiding disposable items is usually better all around, whether it’s tampons or tissues or cheaply-made clothes that will need to be replaced in a year. Having a menstrual cup instead of using tampons or pads has saved me money, cut down on waste, and made my life more comfortable. I like being able to forget about how my body doesn’t match my gender, and I like the simplicity of having just one small item that is going to take care of this problem for years to come.
If you have any questions I might be able to answer about cloth pads or cups, feel free to let me know in the comments, or head on over to my contact page and send me a message. I would love to help.