Written by Chen Su Zanne • Photo by Mum.org
A look back into history, and you’ll find that menstrual cups have been around for over 100 years.
The first cup was patented in 1867, and in the 1930s, the cups battled it out in the market against their equally whacky sisters—the tampons. Both are outlandish objects (at the time), and both required insertion into our vaginas. How did tampons become only second to pads and not the menstrual cups?
If an astounding 91% of women who tried the menstrual cups said they’d recommend one to a friend, then something somewhere isn’t right. Actually, there are several reasons why it took a century for the cups to become mainstream.
Let’s start with the juiciest bit: Doing business in the pharmaceutical line.
Don’t know what a menstrual cup is? Click to read.
Sorry ladies, but period business is still business
Think about this for a minute: Which is more profitable—a product bought once and used over five to ten years or a product that requires repurchase every month?
Mmhmm. Pharmacies and feminine hygiene companies earn a lot with sanitary pads and tampons, which give them more incentive to stock those over menstrual cups.
Why not stock both? Business-wise, bringing menstrual cups to the drugstore opens a possibility of losing loyal pad and tampon customers. And remember, a cup can last for years. That’s losing year-loads of sales for every cup convert.
Thankfully, the trend is catching on. Some women-led period cup businesses are growing leaps and bounds in profit. Even Tampax—the world’s largest tampon company—has manufactured a cup of their own. Ladies, the future is (finally) here!
Period marketing is a problem
“Do you have a pad? My monthly friend is here,” we whisper to a friend or colleague.
When it comes to menstruation, women keep it low because, you know, commercials tell us that bleeding from our vaginas is shameful. And the blood? Unclean.
That message is so embedded into our society that we have a string of euphemisms for it, like time of the month, I have a “visitor” or an “emergency”, and crazier ones like Niagara Falls or Shark Week.
Let’s not get started on how we discreetly transport pads like we’re carrying a bag of drugs.
Whether or not we are aware of it, the impact is evident. Many women avoid getting up close and personal with their vaginas, let alone putting fingers into the bloody mess to pull the cup out. Just the thought of it may make some go, “Eww, gross!”
The disgust makes us gravitate towards a product that requires the least contact with our privates—the sanitary pad, and this effect is what pharmacies want.
Had menstruation been marketed differently, maybe more women would be comfortable with their own body and blood, and pick what makes menstruation better, like the period cup.
For the benefits of using a menstrual cup, click here.
Persistent cultural taboos
Perhaps vaginaphobia started somewhere close to home. Our mums, particularly Asian mums, keep a tight lip about menstruation until it happens. How many of us panicked when we first bled from down below only to have our mums tell us it’s normal?
Then there’s the whole sanctity of the hymen. A woman’s virginity is often associated with an unbroken hymen. This cultural and religious belief kept women from using the menstrual cup out of fear of “breaking” the hymen, though there are many other ways to “pop” the cherry—like playing sports or doing stretches, but that’s a topic for another day.
P.S.: We use quotation marks because we do not actually break the hymen but stretch it.
We are menstrual creatures of habit
We really are. Most of us still use the same brand of pad or tampon that our mums, aunts, or sisters introduced to us during the first menstruation. Strangely, we never bothered to look for alternatives.
If we started with a pad, that is what we will use until we reach menopause. The same goes for tampons. And that applies to all the other period dos and don’ts too. Pineapple and cold drinks? Cannot. (Because mum said so.)
But maybe it’s time we give alternative products a try.
The menstrual cup may come across as unintuitive and awkward to use at first. There is a learning curve, but it gets better after each cycle. Who knows? It might be the best feminine hygiene product ever made.
The scandalous TSS
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare bacterial infection. You can only contract it when a specific type of bacteria is transmitted through an open wound or from blood to blood.
Tampons are commonly associated with TSS, yet that did not stop the sales of tampons from booming because of how rare TSS is.
When it comes to the menstrual cup, the fear of contracting TSS is on the rise again. It might be a matter of perception since our fingers go in. Then again, women insert plenty of unsterilised objects into our vaginas, including vibrators and penises.
Is it time for the menstrual cup to shine?
We say, “Bloody, yes!” It’s about time.
Chalmers, the founding mother of the cup, said that modern women lived in a time different from their mothers and should employ an avant-garde approach to women hygiene. Mind you, that was 100 years ago.
Things are finally changing. Women all around the world are starting to accept and embrace the menstrual cup. If not now, then when?
There has to be a better way than tampons and pads, and the answer lies in the age-old innovation—the menstrual cup.
Find your perfect menstrual cup here.