The It Could be Better site has had a survey up for a couple of months – here’s the link if you’d like to fill it out - and I’ve decided to start analysing the results. The survey asks visitors to the site why they do or do not want to use menstrual cups, what they like and dislike about them, and what information they're looking for.
People were asked to name what they think some of the best things are about menstrual cups. A few themes come out of the open-ended questions - including that cups are considered good for swimming and travelling. And camping and exercising. Loosely speaking I guess this means they’re good for moving around – if you don’t feel like being tethered to a bathroom, bag, and/or shop, cups might be the better option.
A few basic stats first - of people who had tried a menstrual cup:
- Everyone (100%) agreed that cups were better for the environment than disposables
- But everyone (100%) said that disposables were easier to buy and find than cups (so, cups are much harder to find in shops)
- For saving you money, 80% said cups were better for your wallet and 20% said cups were similar to disposables
- People were split about whether cups mean you worry less about your period: 50% said cups meant less worry, 40% said they were similar, and 10% said they were worse than disposables.
- Similarly, 40% of people said cups were safer and cleaner than disposables and 60% said they were similar.
So menstrual cups are thought to be better for the environment, but are much harder to find in shops (this site hopefully helps). They are generally considered cheaper; and the jury is split as to whether they mean less worry and less mess –that’s up to you to decide. You might be one of the women (roughly half, sometimes more) who prefer cups to disposable products, or you might not.
In the survey people were asked to name some of the best things about menstrual cups. A few themes come out of this that I hope to discuss in time (including the bad bits!) but the one I’ll discuss first is that people often mentioned that they are good for swimming and travelling.
Some comments from the survey:
“They're far more practical for swimming and dance…. I also find they're far more convenient for travel, as you need to carry far fewer things with you”.
“The situations where a menstrual cup is especially good are those when I know I'm going to be rushing around for a long period of time, with limited or no access to a bathroom, e.g. when travelling”.
“You can wear them much longer even on heavy flow days without having to change whereas must change tampons every 3-4 hours, which has been so good when travelling or doing an all day activity”
“They are great for backpacking/camping”
“They are good for travel, parties, swimming. Leaving the house generally. Not having to pack in advance like you're a baby. Not having to find bins. Getting a surprise period - no big deal! Liberating”.
“I can think of many travel and party situations which were unnecessarily complex or uncomfortable, what a waste of 20 something time”.
“Business as usual” - what are the advantages?
Why might a menstrual cup be better for active situations - like travelling or swimming? One reason is that they mean less packing and shopping – if you’re heading overseas, disposable products often mean either taking up large swathes of your bag with (or having more bags full of) pads and tampons, or spending time attempting to buy disposable products in countries where you don’t really understand the products. Going to the supermarket in a strange country can be enlightening, but you might also wish to draw a line somewhere. Cups also mean less time and hassle trying to figure out what to do in a strange or dirty toilet environment – they hold more, and you have to change them less frequently.
Basically a cup can mean “business as usual” more so than disposable products can. If you're doing something wet or new (or both) you might be thinking about your period less if you choose a cup. And obviously I think about periods a bit because I'm writing this, but generally speaking if you're on a tropical beach (say - as an example of both wet and new) you probably have other things you'd rather be thinking about. But it’s up to the individual – it might depend on your own situation or preferences. What I can say for sure is that no-one in the survey mentioned menstrual cups being worse for travelling or swimming. Also, the majority of the survey respondents said they enjoyed exercising and travelling. So it might not be representative of everyone.
Swimming came up a few times in the survey. Even when you’re closer to home, say, at the beach, a cup means just one thing to pack rather than many, and it also means far fewer times where you have to check up on what's happening with your period. Thinking about the options - personally I actually can’t process the scenario of going to the beach with a pad. But I guess you would sit on the sand which, efforts at urban beaches aside, is really the lesser half of the sand and surf combination that makes up a beach. In fact I think the beach is in large part the joy of getting rid of the sand in the water. With tampons, going to the beach (and into the water) is possible but it means changing every couple of hours and them getting waterlogged (this was specifically mentioned in the survey a few times as being particularly undesirable); and having an appropriate bin to dispose of them in. Generally speaking, the nicer the beach, the less likely such a bin is likely to exist. All those delightful vistas of empty if palm fringed tropical beaches - where will you change your tampon?
By contrast, with a menstrual cup you actually don’t have to change for as long as 12 hours, it won’t get water logged, it holds up to 3 x as much as a tampon, and you won’t notice it. Potentially you could go swimming all day and not really think about having your period. There are some risks though – the ever-present fear of leaking being one of them, plus the challenge of getting used to putting a cup in, and the ever-confusing question of how to empty a cup in a public bathroom being another. For those of you who for some reason always earnestly sought to avoid PE class at school by submitting a powerfully vague note saying you were “sick” on swimming pool day – you might not be interested either way. In the meantime here are some relevant links on swimming:
Advice on sports and travel from Diva Cup: http://divacup.com/how-it-works/sports-and-travel/
A video from someone in a bikini: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-C4p3Dtz74
Mooncup testimonials about swimming: http://www.mooncup.co.uk/about-the mooncup/testimonials.html?tags=swimming
And for those that want to be talked out of it, a worst case scenario: http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/1657783.html
On the travel and camping front, some people buy a menstrual cup because of their interest in camping in wilderness areas where you’re not to leave any behind waste. With disposable menstrual products, that means either being a jerk, or carrying all those used items around with you. Cups mean far less waste and far less to carry. For slightly less extreme endeavour of backpacking – cups are cheaper, lighter, and great for long bus trips when there is basically nothing great about long bus trips.
A few relevant links:
Women on the road: http://www.women-on-the-road.com/diva-cup.html
“Every good backpacker needs a menstrual cup”: http://blog.goeuro.co.uk/menstrual-cups-travel/
Some comments from travel site “her packing list” on the benefits of cups for travelling: http://herpackinglist.com/2011/02/diva-cup-to-the-rescue/
That last post includes a line stating that cups promise “being naked with confidence”. No strings attached. Always a good line to end with.