Why Are Women So Reluctant to Use Menstrual Cups?

There's a lingering sense of shame about handling one's own body.

menstrual products
One lasts a few hours, the other several years.

@inga_zaiat via Twenty20

Every time I get chatting with a group of women about menstrual cups (something that happens with surprising frequency!), I am surprised at how few women have embraced them. The menstrual cup has been absolutely life-changing and freeing for me, and the idea that some women choose to keep using disposable tampons and pads is nearly as baffling as if they continued to wear sanitary belts or Lysol douches. Aside from the occasional woman who says a cup is uncomfortable, I just don't get the unwillingness to try.

Salomé Gómez-Upegui (who shares my devotion to menstrual cups) attributes this to astute marketing on the part of pad and tampon manufacturers. In an article for The Guardian, she explains how, in the early 20th century, primitive wool and vegetable fiber rags gave way to higher-tech, more absorbent cellucotton sanitary napkins, inspired by nurses' observations of wartime bandages. Companies like Tampax and Kotex quickly jumped aboard, packaging and marketing these disposable products as the solution to women's period problems, while simultaneously making periods out to seem gross and dirty. 

This ongoing sense of shame and the need to keep one's bleeding as secret as possible (think "crinkle-free" wrappers and tampon applicators and strings that allow one to insert and remove without ever coming into contact with blood) have made it difficult for menstrual cups to enter the mainstream, despite the fact that they've been around for a long time. Cups require women to get comfortable with handling their bodies at a vulnerable time, but many women have been conditioned to think this is wrong. Elizabeth Kissling, author of "Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation," writes,

"Those demands [of handling oneself during menstruation] are hard to reconcile with the pervasive cultural messages that menstruation is a dirty, contaminating force one must eliminate with the illusion of perpetual freshness."

Chris Bobel, associate professor of women's studies at the University of Massachusetts, told the Washington Post that there are stronger social taboos surrounding women's menstruation than even reproduction or female bodies. "We have a very uncomfortable relationship with women’s bodies, and we see menstruation as a problem that needs to be hidden or fixed." 

If, however, a woman can overcome that societally-imposed phobia of coming into contact with her own bleeding body, she will discover a world of freedom on the other side. Much in the way that disposable sanitary products made life easier in the 1920s and beyond, and were, in the words of Gómez-Upegui, "hugely emancipatory," I'd argue that menstrual cups are the next frontier of period emancipation.

With the latest cup designs, a woman can put it in and forget about it for 12-24 hours. She can exercise freely, feel fewer cramps, experience less dryness, empty it without removing and have sex (both in the case of Nixit), create no waste, and spend no money apart from the upfront cost. To get all that in exchange for becoming comfortable with one's own vagina and menstrual blood is a tremendous step forward for women.

Gómez-Upegui wants women to realize that period product manufacturers' claims of necessity are not true, nor is the idea that menstrual cups are gross or shameful. Get beyond that, and a world of opportunity opens up.