What do a race car driver, student, E.R. nurse, engineer, and firefighter have in common? In this case, they’re all badass menstrual cup/disc users who sing the praises of making this switch to a reusable product. For many of these individuals, using a menstrual cup or disc helps make their already tough jobs easier.
But First — What Is a Menstrual Cup?
Menstrual cups and menstrual discs are reusable menstrual products that are folded, inserted, and worn inside the vaginal canal. However, unlike a pad or tampon, these devices do not absorb, but instead catch, the menstrual blood.
They can be emptied, washed, and reused, worn safely for up to 12 hours. Cups and discs are made from medical grade silicone, latex, rubber, or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer), and are an eco-friendly alternative to disposable products.
Photo courtesy of Allison
Allison, Mule Packer
Meet Allison. She works supporting crews in the backcountry, currently of Sequoia National Park, in California. This means she is fairly off the grid for months at a time, packing in and out every supply she needs, and often by herself and just her mules. She says, “I live a very active, outdoor lifestyle. I started looking for other options because packing out used tampons is just not fun.” For Allison, the switch was “a way better solution.” She continues, “With leave no trace ethics, you have to pack all that stuff out…For me, having reusable products, just having that one cup or that one disc and being able to dispose of everything out there, and not have to pack out all that waste is a real game-changer.”
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Stephens
Kelsey Stephens, Race Car Driver
Kelsey Stephens, a race car driver from Edwardsville, Illinois, expresses similar sentiment. “The biggest upside for me is that I don’t have a lot of great access when I’m racing for the weekend. When we stay at a campsite, I have a bathroom at my camper, but otherwise, a lot of this motorsport, I’m out in the woods for very extended periods of time, with only access to a porta potty.”
Beyond bathroom access, Kelsey also found a cup easier because of her active life style: “I had an issue once where we went through a water crossing, and the water shot up into the car, and soaked me from the waist down…The disposable pad soaked up all that dirty, muddy water…With a cup, I don’t have to worry about that…Knowing with my cup in, if I’m out in the elements, I don’t really have to worry too much about anything being absorbed or soaked up.”
A Solution for Any Occupation
But someone doesn’t need to be driving a race car or working in the backcountry of national parks to find a period cup more useful. Making the switch can benefit other occupations as well.
Molly, an engineer in London, says that “Especially in the early days of my career, I would be so anxious because I was always surrounded by men…And you would have meetings that would go on for three hours in a room with no breaks. And if you did want a break it was always a song and dance.” She says that originally, there weren’t trash cans in the restroom. Simply, none of the men had thought of it.
Potential Benefits of a Menstrual Cup or Disc
Michelle Plunkett Gingrich, an artist and worker in a long-term care facility, expressed that “I’ve always had really heavy periods, and tampons aren’t comfortable. Pads aren’t comfortable. They chafe you, and they cost a lot of money, and they feel gross. It doesn’t seem like a solution. It seems like a band-aid.” And what if you don’t have a single-use pad or tampon with you? Michelle continued, “They can do this thing called mandating you, which means if they don’t have staff for the next shift, they can tell you to stay. So if you’re planning on going home, and you don’t have tampons in your bag or pads…but if you have a cup you’re set for days.”
Photo courtesy of Quanah Hundley
Quanah Hundley, Firefighter
Quanah Hundley, a firefighter in Texas, had similar appreciation for using a cup. “You never know. There’s days when we’re not at the station hardly ever…And it’s very strenuous work, in full gear. There are no bathroom breaks. So, being able to put [the cup] in in the morning…and be ready for the rest of the day…makes it so much easier. I don’t have to worry about it.” And not worrying while on the job is key: “I don’t have time to stop for that. There’s people who are depending on me, both my community and my co-workers.”
Torri O’Dell, of Alberta, Canada, used to work in childcare. And using a cup made a difference. “You can’t sit down very often. You can’t always get away to go to the bathroom…With a cup, it was like this is easy.”
Menstrual Cups Are Eco-Friendly and Cost-Effective
For others, different pros of the cup take the lead—like keeping products out of landfills and being budget conscious. Gaby, a student in Ontario, Canada, expresses, “For me, a big part was being reusable, not having to waste for the environment, but also money-wise…It’s cheaper, it’s really convenient of only having to change it pretty much every 12 hours.”
Natalie Marr, an O.R. nurse in Spokane, Washington, had similar concerns: “The biggest thing for me was that it’s a more sustainable period product…that they last about ten years, you don’t have to buy period products all the time which can be extremely expensive.”
Potential Drawbacks of a Menstrual Cup or Disc
It’s understandable though that cups aren’t for everyone. And even for avid menstrual cup or disc users, they have their imperfect moments.
Access to a Sink and Single Stall
Kelsey, while out driving race cars, says that “That is the downside, that the cup can be a bit messier to deal with, should I have to in a porta potty somewhere, where I don’t have a good sink or something to wash it off.”
Others expressed difficulty using a cup when there isn’t a single-stall public restroom, with a toilet and sink inside. Natalie said, “The only con for me is basically, if we’re in a public bathroom and having to change it out…I like to rinse out my cup, and sometimes that’s not always possible in a single stall bathroom.”
But most people don’t have to change their cup more than two or three times a day, often once in the morning and once in the evening. Plus, there are ways to work around the lack of a single stall. Torri says, “You start using your cup, and you realize you’re not even bleeding that much.” Though everyone’s cycle is different, for Torri, “I should dump it at 12 hours, but physically, I don’t even have to…It makes me forget that I’m on my period.”
Either way, Kelsey comes prepared: “In my race car with me, I carry a ziplock bag, and it has alcohol spray…and wipes and stuff, so if I do need to address an issue, I have everything.” Allison has similar advice, especially for when outdoors: “Making sure you have a little kit for yourself. When I go to empty a cup, you want to bury whatever comes out of your cup…but bring a water bottle that has water I would drink and hand sanitizer. And I pack in and pack out wet wipes for that because sometimes you just need a little extra hygiene help there.”
For avid cup users though who’ve found their way through the switch, the pros far outweigh the cons.
Finding Your Best Fit — or “Goldilocks” Product
For others, the difficulty is finding the right cup or disc. Rachel Lapp, an E.R. nurse in Chicago, Illinois, says that “Finding the right cup or disc is kind of like dating…What works for one person and their anatomy and their needs might not work for someone else.” Rachel first tried a cup, and it didn’t work well for her, but “I tried the Flex discs, and it was like night and day. Complete freedom during my shifts. Come in, work my 12, 16 hours because of the auto-emptying and things like that, I can really work with no worries or any sort of leaking.”
Quanah had the opposite problem, but similar thoughts: “I tried a disc first, and I didn’t really like it. I found out the one I tried was just way too big…I did some research on [Put a Cup In It] and did the quiz, and found the Saalt cup…It took a little to get used to it, but it was amazing after that, and I’ve never gone back.”
Allison also explains, “I also think I got fortunate in that the very first product I found worked great for me…Some people just have to work a lot harder to make it work for them”
Other Factors to Consider
Anxiety around a cup is not uncommon. Molly says that, “when you look at the cup, some people think it looks quite big…It’s kind of one of those things where if it hasn’t gone well for you the first time, you’re less inclined to push through…maybe it’s difficult for some people with trauma or anything related going on, so that is something to be mindful of.” All of these are factors to consider.
Advice for Giving Cups a Try
Over and over though, the individuals I interviewed had similar advice. Kelsey said, “I started out slow. Maybe I would just try wearing it for a day or two, and then using cloth…I just allowed myself probably six months or so to really get confident and comfortable…But I let that process happen slowly, and I think that was the difference.” She explained that having cloth pads as a backup took some of the pressure off herself, to make the cup work right away.
Gaby says, “If someone is questioning if they should try it, I’d say try it, and don’t give up…When I first bought it and then when I actually started using it, was probably three years in between.” Stevie Marie, a vet tech in McAllen, Texas similarly expressed, “My advice would be don’t give up…You have to give it a chance.” Patience with yourself, and with the cup, seem to be key.
Even if cups aren’t for everyone, Stephanie says, “I at least want to let people know that there are other options.” Maybe a disc or period underwear is your perfect product. Or maybe sticking with disposable pads or tampons works best for you, and that’s okay. Allison says, “I also want to recognize that for some people, the comfort level is just not there…I want to support people wherever they’re at.”
Keep Talking About Periods
Looking to the future, the key seems to be continued conversation about periods and options for dealing with menstruation. Blythe Martin, a pelvic floor therapist in Canada says, “We need to talk about it. Yeah, we menstruate. And we have vulvas. And we have vaginas. And we have uteruses.” Kelsey had similar feelings: “Even if you don’t experience periods yourself, it’s still an issue that affects you…You know someone who menstruates, period. End of story…This is information that everyone should know.” Blythe continued, “What I hope changes for future generations of menstruating individuals is that…everyone has a better awareness of their body and how it works.”
Gaby said that “it actually opened up conversations with my partner.” Her partner has asked about her cup, and it provided a means of education. Gaby continued, “It’s a vulnerable thing, and it was cool being able to talk about it more with him.”
Quanah appreciates that “this getting to be a topic that people can talk about on the internet and out on social media…Now it’s more commonplace.” Allison similarly says, “I think it’s so important to be having these conversations…Let’s talk about hygiene. Let’s talk about menstruation. Let’s not make this taboo.”
Information and options are what matter, that way every menstruator can make the best choice for themselves. And who knows, maybe a cup or disc will be a game-changer for you too. No matter what period product you use, you deserve to find your best fit.
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