A whopping 12.3 billion sanitary napkins are used in India annually, as per estimates. The number is huge and can be taken as positive, given less than 50% of girls and women of reproductive age in India have access to disposable sanitary napkins. Any step towards furthering menstrual health should be lauded. However, there are environmental repercussions when it comes to sanitary napkins and tampons, which, when discarded, end up in landfills and take years to decompose, impacting the environment badly.
A product that is increasingly gaining prominence in terms of environmental impact and efficacy is the menstrual cup. “Among menstrual cups, napkins, and tampons, cups are the best as these are highly effective and environment friendly. These are more comfortable too,” says Dr Ritu Sethi, senior consultant- gynaecology, Cloud Nine Hospital, and Apex Clinic, Gurugram.
“Silicone or latex rubber is used to make the small, flexible menstrual cups. Unlike pads and tampons that absorb the menstrual blood, cups collect it,” explains Dr Meenakshi Bansal, consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, New Delhi. “So tightly fold the menstrual cup and insert it like a tampon without an applicator right before your period begins. When used appropriately, you should not feel it. It is similar to inserting a diaphragm or a birth control ring,” she adds.
These come in three sizes: small, medium, and large. “The small size is normally reserved for people under 30 who have not given birth. The medium one is for women over 30 with a history of childbirth. The larger size is often for people above 30, as well as those who have a heavy flow and have given birth,” the doctor explains. Dr Sethi recommends consulting a gynaecologist before buying a menstrual cup.
Just like size, these are available in different materials, says Noureen Aysha, co-founder of FemiSafe, a feminine hygiene brand. These include medical-grade silicone, rubber, and latex, which can last up to a decade.
When your period starts, tightly fold the menstrual cup and insert it like a tampon. Remove it after 8-10 hours, depending on the flow, the gynaecologists explained. “To remove it, begin by washing your hands with soap. To reach the base, you may need to carefully pull the stem (if your cup has one). Pinch the base once you can feel it to break the seal. Then, slowly pull down until the cup comes out, pinching the base to prevent spills,” explains Dr Bansal.
You can reuse the same after rinsing with water. “Just wash it properly, sterilise it and store it for the next month in a cotton bag,” says Dr Sethi. If not cleaned and sterilised well, there can be chances of infection.
For those with vaginal dryness and who are new to using it, a menstrual cup lubricant can be useful. Although not mandatory, menstrual cup lubricant is beneficial for those suffering from vaginal dryness otherwise, it might be difficult to insert the cup. Such as, if you are on contraceptives and have hormonal fluctuations, so you can end up with vaginal dryness, says Aysha. Hygiene products brand Sirona offers a water-based lubricant that helps with easy insertion. One needs to apply the lube on the rim of the menstrual cup, fold and insert it, says its founder Deep Bajaj.
Cleaning the cup during the menstrual cycle is essential too. The process is simple. “Every time you remove and empty it, thoroughly rinse it with clean water. After your period has ended, soak your cup in a pot of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. This ensures that it is completely sterile,” explains Bansal. Several companies have also come up with menstrual cup cleaners to keep the cup free of any blood stains or odour.
On sterilisers, Bajaj says, “Since a menstrual cup is reusable, it is important to keep it clean and ensure that it is free of germs. This can be done by putting the cup in boiling water in a kitchen utensil. To make the process simpler, Sirona offers a menstrual cup steriliser to help sterilise the cup before and after every cycle. It is an electronic device where one needs to add water, place the cup, cover the lid and plug it in.”
Speaking on which is best among sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual cups, Dr Bansal says, “Menstrual cups are recommended for pain-free periods. It is not only a healthy alternative for you and the environment, but it is also a cost-effective product.” These also hold more blood than other methods. “The product helps solve the problem of pad rashes, stains, and restriction of movement during periods,” says Bajaj. When it comes to cost efficacy, one Sirona cup costs `399 and can be reused for up to 10 years, the founder shares. On the other hand, sanitary napkins and tampons are recurring purchases.
Doctors and firms are witnessing a rise in the sales and adoption of menstrual cups. “The use of menstrual cups has surely increased, owing to increased awareness and the rising desire for sustainable menstruation and convenience,” the Sirona founder said. He also attributes the rise to “the rising mindset shift from taboos like virginity”. Menstrual cups, since inserted, can make one lose virginity is a popular misconception that holds people back from trying these.
Social media, where many share informative content on using and the experience with menstrual cups, has also played a role in popularising the product.
Speaking on sales, Bajaj says that Sirona reached the milestone of 10lakh-plus menstrual cup sales recently. “Comparatively, tampons are a small category, and we forayed into the pads category very recently,” he says.
Experts say menstrual cups are an environmental-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. The fact that these can be reused for years is a prominent reason. However, material matters too. Femisafe, which “only deals with sustainable menstrual products”, offers menstrual cups that are made of 100% medical-grade silicone cured with platinum. There is also medical-grade silicone cured with peroxide. However, “during the treating process, peroxide is released into the environment, which is not good,” the founder explains.
Despite the menstrual cups checking all the right boxes, sanitary napkins continue to be the most popular. The reason is that “there is no learning curve required here, and it is also something that has been passed on from generation to generation when it comes to menstrual hygiene or product,” says Aysha.
Then there are misconceptions around tampons and menstrual cups that their usage can make you lose virginity, the product might get lost in the body, it may loosen the vaginal opening, or it might be painful, Bajaj says.
Advertisements too play a role here. Since pads are recurring purchases, you generally see ads for them compared to menstrual cups, which are one-time purchases.
“Even schools or TV ads do not introduce other period care products apart from sanitary pads. It leads to a lack of awareness and knowledge,” Bajaj adds.
Know your menstrual cups
- Women of any age can use menstrual cups
- These do not cause any vaginal discomfort or worsen menstrual cramps. However, it can cause pain if inserted too close to cervix
- Like any menstrual hygiene product, these can leak if not inserted properly
- Any product can cause a skin allergy, urinary issues, and infections. In rare cases, this can also happen with menstrual cups
- These do not pose any hindrance to physical activities
- You can swim using them. Just empty your cup before entering the pool and insert it properly
- One can have sex while using a menstrual cup. Disposable menstrual products can be used during intercourse since they are positioned right below the cervix, are made of soft material, and are meant for single use
- It is normal to feel uneasy the first time you use a menstrual cup. However, greasing your cup can help with the process