[photo by Becky Striepe]

The average woman in the U.S. uses around 16,000 tampons during her menstruating years. That equals a lot of waste. In 1988, a field study found that 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads and their packaging end up in America’s waste stream every year. Disposable pads and tampons are wasteful, and on top of that they’re not even necessary. There are reusable alternatives to both pads and tampons. Some of these products seems a bit daunting at first glance, but with a little practice they’re as easy to use a conventional menstrual products. Gentlemen, this could be more information than you require, so you may want to avert your eyes.

 

Cloth Pads

Cloth pads are pretty much a no-brainer. I know, it might seem gross at first. The companies that manufacture disposable menstrual products spend millions each year on advertising to make girls and women feel like our periods are something gross and shameful. That’s just not true. Is caring for cloth pads any more disgusting than throwing disposables into the bin, where they sit until you take out the trash?

There are tons of options when it comes to cloth pads. You can find them handmade from organic materials, with wings or without. They make maxi sized ones and minis.

Whatever you choose, care is pretty simple. After use, just rinse the pad until the water runs clear. Some women soak their pads to prevent staining. Once you’ve rinsed or soaked off the majority of the blood, just toss them in the wash! Voila!

 

Menstrual Cups

 

Cloth pads are a pretty easy swap. They work just like regular pads, aside from the rinsing and washing. It seems that women find the idea of menstrual cups a little more daunting. Tampons took some getting used to, though, right? Menstrual cups have a learning curve, too, but once you get the hang of it they’re so much more convenient and less expensive than tampons! Most cups cost between $35 and $45. That’s just seven to nine boxes of tampons. Since you can keep your cup for 10 years, it pays for itself pretty early in its lifespan.

I will admit it: the idea of menstrual cups freaked me out. The shape scared me, and, to be honest, they just looked huge. What finally convinced me to give these things a go was seeing a picture of a Diva Cup next to a tampon that had been soaked in water. The cup was no bigger! There are several companies that make menstrual cups, and most offer a guarantee where you can return it to the manufacturer or store for a refund if you’re not happy. Make sure to ask when you’re picking out your cup – some women find that a particular brand works much better than another. Popular brands include the Diva Cup, The Keeper, and The Moon Cup.

The tricky part with learning to use a cup is insertion, but with a little practice it becomes just as easy as using a tampon. To insert the cup, you can use a number of different folding techniques. The C-fold is probably the simplest and is a good place to start.

Once the cup is inserted, you want to make sure it opens and gets a good seal. I have better luck getting mine to open if I open it before it’s inserted all the way. Once it’s inserted and open, give it a few turns to make sure you have a decent seal. The seal is what keeps your cup from leaking. Most cups have a little stem on them. If it’s bothering you, just trim it a bit with scissors. Trimming the stem too short might void your guarantee, though, so read the fine print before you snip too much off!

Most companies recommend emptying the cup just a few times a day. During light days, you can sometimes get away with emptying it just once! If you’re at home, it’s a good idea to rinse the cup before reinserting. Don’t worry if you have to empty it while you’re out and about, though! Just dump the contents into the toilet, reinsert, and rinse it when you get a chance later on in the day.

A lot of women can just reach up and grab the cup to remove it. If you can’t reach it, try to sort of bear down, like you’re having a bowel movement. That should push it to where you can grab it with your fingers. Give it a pinch to break the suction, and just pull it right out. Don’t try to pull it out by the stem. I promise that it won’t work, and it might even be a bit painful.

There are a variety of ways to clean your cup. The Keeper website recommends washing the cup with soap and water after each period and storing in the bag that comes with it. You can also rinse it in a vinegar and water solution. Before using it again, just wash it one more time, and you’re ready to go!

 

Support

 

Just like learning to use tampons, you might need some support and advice when you’re transitioning to using a menstrual cup. The ladies over at Menstrualcups.org are a great resource. There is an extensive archive, where you can read about other women’s experiences. You can even ask your own questions, though you do have to get a LiveJournal account to post a question to the community.