I have done the math. Pads cost +/-R40 x 12 months = +/-R480 a year. In 5 years, that’s +/-R2400. People who use tampons exclusively or along with pads have those costs to consider as well. A menstrual cup is R400 – R500 once off and you use the same one for 5 – 10 years. So you take money out of your pocket for this expense only a few times in your life. You also lessen pollution. Imagine all of that un-recyclable plastic that you add to the trash and that each person who menstruates also adds? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to ease the strain on your budget and on the planet as well? This is why I think menstrual pads are such a great solution.
I like Wikihow’s easy guide on how to use and empty your menstrual cup. You insert it similarly to a tampon and simply empty the blood out, wash it and then re-insert it. If you need to use a public bathroom, you can just go in there with your re-usable water bottle in order to rinse it out. It all takes some practice to be able to fold, insert, remove and rinse the menstrual cup properly but I assure you that after a few tries, it becomes second nature.I have been using them exclusively for a year and eight months and I can confidently say that I am not going back to pads or tampons. Interestingly, I used to keep a pad in each of my bags and car in case my period ever caught me off guard but getting better organised, keeping track of my period (without an app) and just knowing to keep my cup with me when it’s almost time has worked out really well.
One of my favourite things about menstrual cups is no longer being able to smell myself and knowing that I am on my period. I think fellow (former) users of pads know exactly what I mean; that slight odour that forms as you go from hour to hour, wearing your blood in a pad underneath yourself. This is true especially when it fills up quicker than you expect and you’re too busy to find a restroom or there just isn’t one around. Of course, the odour is not bad or good, but it does just hang there and I was excited to realise that carrying the blood inside myself instead and being able to throw it out makes for absolutely no odour at all. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours apparently but I like to wear mine for only 6 hours at a time. I am also happy that bedtime leaks, sleeping with a towel under myself or wearing double underwear is a thing of the past. As long as I sleep with an empty cup and wake up and empty it immediately, leaks are not something that I experience often. (To be honest, if I try to sleep for like 9 hours straight then, I do. I think it has something to do with being horizontal…)
My first cup was from the UK and I bought it from a vegan health store in Johannesburg. I didn’t enjoy it at all because the silicone was far too rigid. When I would fold it to insert it, it would not open all the way and that became the cause of constant leaks. As you can imagine, leaks are annoying to deal with and can happen at terribly inconvenient times. The first priority when you wear your cup is to find a method of insertion that works best for you and results in a comfortable positioning in your vagina. Another important aspect of comfort is the stalk of the cup. Often, when it is rigid or positioned badly, it may poke you and steal all of your peace. I’ve had an experience when I had to cut my stalk and the edge still hurt me so I sanitised my nail file and filed it down until it was smooth and no longer causing discomfort. The key is for it to be so comfortable, that you do not feel that it is there.
My second cup is from a South African brand called Mina Cup, introduced to me by the founder of the Mina Foundation, Zaakira Mohamed. I’ve had such a great experience with their cup and I recommend it highly. Then, a few months ago, I met social entrepreneur and founder of Elle Cup, Chelsea Hornby. This cup is also a South African brand that I enjoy using. The wonderful thing about both these brands is that they are led by women who are passionate, not only about reproductive health, but also about young people who menstruate having access to cups as a sanitary, affordable and eco-friendly solution for their monthly cycles. The South African Human Rights Commission agrees that the inaccessibility of sanitary products is a human rights issue, and activists such as my friend Pontsho Pilane have appealed to government to ease this burden on the many poor people who menstruate in our country. South African menstrual cup brands such as Elle Cup and Mina Cup are doing what they can to alleviate the problem, by allowing each individual purchase of a cup to also count as a donation towards a school child through their respective programmes with schools that serve pupils from lower-income households. As if the advantages of switching to a menstrual cup were not already as clear as daylight, you now have an additional opportunity to make a positive contribution to society.
In my journey so far, there have not been disadvantages that could not be solved with some quick, creative thinking (like with the nail file). However, I have been asked many times by women about the pain, discomfort and efficacy of the cup in dealing with heavy flows. The cup comes in two sizes (A and B) and that is determined by whether or not you have had a child and how old you are. Just peruse the websites to be clear on which is best for you. Questions about pain and heavy flows are ones that I cannot answer because its relative. I do think that if you have concerns, speak to your doctor first in case you have fibroids or other health issues worth considering before you try the cup. Both the Elle and Mina websites are useful for more information, purchasing a cup for yourself (or as a donation!) and getting into contact with them for further enquiries.
Thank you to both Mina Cup and Elle Cup for being proudly South African and doing great work!