By Danielle LaBerge
OK but..... Y tho
This concept may sound gross at first, but let’s take a close look at the truly gross parts of the disposable period products that we accept as facts of life. When we’re done, I promise that a reusable silicone cup and leak-absorbent, machine-washable period underwear really will feel like life-changing replacements for disposable pads and tampons.
Life or Death: Tampons come with a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) if you leave them in for too long. A super-absorbent tampon hanging around in your vagina is a breeding ground for staphylococcus bacteria. If tampons are not changed every four to eight hours, it can cause:
rash on your palms and soles
sudden vomiting or diarrhea
Yikes. The super-absorbent synthetic materials most responsible for TSS — CMC, polyester, polyacrylate rayon, and viscose rayon — have been pulled from shelves, but tampons still in use today still carry a risk of TSS, and because of that, you have to change your tampon at least every 8 hours.
However, a silicone menstrual cup can still grow bacteria, which is why it is important to get in the habit of being a clean freak in that regard. Wash your hands before inserting and removing, wash it with soap and water every 12 hours, and boil it for 10 minutes at the end of every cycle.
It is generally recognized as safe to sleep with a cup in without getting up to empty it in the middle of the night, unlike tampons, which have to be changed more frequently.
Waste Not: One person’s cycle uses an average of 11,000 disposable tampons and pads over their lifetime. That’s 1,000 pounds of waste in a landfill, where it takes 450 years to decompose. If that number doesn’t gross you out, how about…
One person’s cycle uses an average of 11,000 disposable tampons and pads over their lifetime. That’s 1,000 pounds of waste in a landfill, where it takes 450 years to decompose.
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I Never Budgeted for This: You are going to buy disposable period products every month for decades. DECADES. Might as well throw money in the garbage every month. You’re losing money on not just tampons and pads, but stain remover, extra laundry, extra toilet paper. The cost of disposable tampons alone is projected at $1,733 for one person’s lifetime. Another estimate puts the lifetime cost at $3,150, with $7 per month going to disposables over an average of 450 cycles during a person’s lifetime. Who signed up for this?
Periods Are Taxing: Necessary medical equipment, including bandages used to stop blood flow, are exempted from sales tax in the US, but in most states, tampons and pads are not considered a necessary expense. Even though you are going to buy essential hygiene products every month for decades, you are forced to pay tax on your disposables. Laws are being proposed to remove the tampon tax in a handful of states, but why wait? You can smash the patriarchy in your sporty y-fronts.
Heavy User: A regular tampon holds about 5mL of fluid, a jumbo tampon holds 10 mL, but the average cup size is 30 mL so it will take longer to fill up even if you have a heavy flow. You empty the cup when it fills up or every 12 hours, making the routine much more manageable.
For Shame: As someone with heavy flow and a history of an irregular cycle, my reality was scrambling to find disposables (and the money to pay for them), leaks ruining sheets and clothes, feeling like trash when I had to hide a stain with a sweater tied around my waist and feeling gross about my body when I threw away used period products. My thought process behind all of this was that a period is something to hide — to throw away, to feel unclean about, not a normal part of life — I was ashamed, in other words. And none of us can afford that.
[I thought that] a period is something to hide — to throw away, to feel unclean about, not a normal part of life — I was ashamed, in other words. And none of us can afford that.
Love It: I started loving my period instead of dreading it when I switched from tampons to a reusable menstrual cup. I loved it even more couple years later when I switched again from pads to period underwear that could be cleaned and reused and worn just like normal underwear.
Washing and caring for the products as part of a reusable cycle lifted years of body shame from me. Instead of feeling gross and abnormal, I felt clean and normal, at home with my body. The only comparison I have is a party invite when you have nothing you can wear vs. when you get the same invite but know you have the perfect outfit in your closet at home. And that party happens every month!
Honestly, I made the switch just to save some money and keep plastic out of my cooch and the landfill. I’m the last person who ever thought I would love my period. And to give credit where credit is due, it probably helped that my hormones evened out— sorry teens, just enjoy the rollercoaster!
HOW DO I DO IT THO
If you want to kick body shame to the curb, save money and the planet, all while keeping yourself from dying of sepsis, here are a few pro tips:
[ WATCH: MADDY TESTS THE DIVA CUP ]
Menstrual cups come in more than one size, because vaginas vary in size. I was lucky that the first one I tried fit well but do a little research. You may need to try a couple to find a good fit for you.
Putting in a cup takes some practice, and it is more involved than tampon insertion, so it could trigger dysphoria for trans folks who menstruate. If you’re willing to get all up in there, here’s the best method:
Fold the bendable cup with the opening forming a U-shape
Using your other hand, hold back your labia
Push in the cup with the fingers, rotating a quarter turn until the cup opens on its own and forms a vacuum seal against the vagina walls.
There’s no applicator like a tampon, and it will be a little messy your first few tries, but you’ll be a pro in no time.
Feel for the base of your cup
Pinch the base to release the suction — do not pull on the stem!
Once you feel the suction release, gently remove
Dump menstrual fluid in the toilet and sanitize cup before inserting again
It will stay in place until you decide to remove it, and when it’s in place, it won’t leak or feel uncomfortable. There are tiny holes in the sides of the cup to help create that seal, and when you clean out the cup, you will need to keep those clean. An awesome feature of the cup is a tiny measuring gradient, so you can measure your flow. When I fill the whole cup during the heavy part of my cycle, I feel a sense of accomplishment.
WHAT ABOUT PERIOD UNDIES?
Period underwear is super absorbent, but still can only hold enough to act as backup for my menstrual cup. For heavy flow folks, it’s a gamechanger to sleep with a menstrual cup and period underwear, instead of night pads that inevitably leak. Instead of waking up every month with stained bedding (because we’ve established that 8 hours is almost too long to keep a tampon in) you can have clean sheets and underwear that actually feels like underwear instead of a diaper.
If you have a light flow, maybe you can use period underwear on its own without leaks (sounds like freedom to me). A drawback of the ultra-absorbent underwear is increased damp and risk of yeast infections, so go with cotton rather than nylon period underwear. When you change the period underwear, you rinse them in the sink and let them air dry, then put them in with your normal laundry.
[ MORE: THE OVEE WOMEN TEST OUT FOUR DIFFERENT BRANDS OF PERIOD UNDERWEAR ]
It’s an investment to fully switch to reusable, but no one says you have to do it all at once. The menstrual cup will recover its expenses in the second or third month you use it, and same with period underwear. Both are reusable for a lot longer than that.
Are you ready to have your life changed?
Want a greener period?
Check out our BOX BOX full of sustainable, reusable and biodegradable period products.
Danielle Laberge is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from biodegradable products and gluten to interior design and technology.