Claire Fallon recently wrote about menstrual cups for Huffington Post, with the title “My Diva Cup, Myself: A Love Story” - but the content is a long way from the earnest musings on bodies and the environment that you might imagine when the words ‘love’ and ‘cup’ come together.
Instead, Claire is at some pains to characterise herself as not being environmentally responsible, and as someone who rarely makes consumer or personal choices based on the environment. She also describes being somewhat uncomfortable with (or in) her own body, at least in the past.
To some extent this type of article might be cynically viewed as a “good cop bad cop” type routine of marketing, carefully leveraging identity politics (“I’m an everyday guy/girl just like you and I still like this unconventional new product!”). But the key point Claire is making is that despite not necessarily buying into some of the values associated with menstrual cups, she still prefers them for her own reasons - comfort and convenience. The article talks about how easy it is to ‘set and forget’ – the 12 hours without worrying, the lack of toxic shock syndrome risk, the lack of odour (from oxidisation, that you find with pads and tampons), and the financial savings. In her case, the discussion is about a Diva Cup, although as the article notes, it’s worth trying different brands as they do differ.
All these kinds of factors can be complementary to values-based reasons for using a menstrual cup. Yet it’s interesting to ponder where they do and don’t overlap. I know of women who persist with cups, despite having some issues with them, because their environmental values are so strong. Conversely it seems a lot of women and girls don’t try them at all because the environmentalist image associated with them is something they avoid – and yet, they might (like Claire Fallon) find cups to be better for them personally. And for many others, they might make the switch to cups for environmental reasons, then be pleasantly surprised by the personal benefits.
It highlights the idiosyncrasies of how and why people make decisions. It seems a product is often sold, in large part, on the strength (or weakness) of what it represents rather than what it is in a pragmatic sense. In the case of menstrual hygiene products, it’s particularly strange since women go to so much effort to hide the fact that they’re menstruating anyway.
“If someone as lazy and squeamish as I am can use a menstrual cup”, ponders Claire, “ most women can. So why is it still such a niche product?” The article suggests that a key reason cups are still ‘niche’ products – despite a possible mass market appeal – is the common (nay, near universal) phobia women and girls have of touching or acknowledging their own genitals. They do seem to be considered radioactive by some, hence:
Of course the internet is awash with trillions (I assume – ok let’s be conservative and say millions) of images of things being inserted in vaginas. The seemingly innate (I would say cultural except the cultural aversion to menstruation is universal) repulsive power of menstrual blood is the controversial part of the equation. As recent ‘controversies’ suggest, the prospect of acknowledging, let alone possibly seeing or touching, menstrual blood is approximately the equivalent of declaring war on first-born-male kittens.
Setting that aside, the fact remains that women and girls regularly need to – however reluctantly – acknowledge their periods. So for all the fray of the internet, you still have your own choices.
An interesting point is that Claire tried a cup when she was younger and inexperienced with sex, and found it too hard. Later, in her mid twenties, she revisited the idea and found it much easier. So perhaps cups are right for some people but not others, and with timing also a key factor – I’ve heard a few people say they doubt they would have gotten the hang of one as a teenager. That’s not to say the same would be true for all teenage girls, but perhaps it's a lesson in being open to change in your own habits. Check out the original article for full musings on the topic, including some notes on the increasing marketing profile of cups. Cups are becoming better known but it’s still extremely unlikely you’ll see one in a supermarket or other major store (‘drug store’ in the US). Articles like this one suggest their profile is raising slightly. Hence: