Updated: May 5
Many people who menstruate are constantly discussing how to make their periods more sustainable. An individual that menstruates uses anywhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons in their lifetime, most of which ends up in landfills. Although organic products tend to decompose more quickly, the most popular period product takes anywhere between 500-800 years to break down. From trying a menstrual cup to using period underwear, the conversation surrounding alternative period products tends to create a sense of uncertainty and unease. This trepidation is natural since these sustainable products are relatively new and only began gaining popularity in recent years. To assuage some of those fears, the members of Project Stree have shared their experiences with alternative period products.
The primary fear of trying an alternative period product such as a menstrual cup is not knowing where to start. So much of the information on media, such as YouTube videos or online articles, can be misconstrued and leans towards misinformation. Here are reliable accounts from two members of Project Stree that have used a menstrual cup for multiple cycles.
Product: Menstrual Cup, Lunette brand
Duration of use: About 1 year
Product: Menstrual Cup, Saalt brand
Duration of use: About 1 ½ - 2 years
What was your first experience with the cup?
Kate Kramer: It’s a learning process for sure, and you definitely need to do a lot of research beforehand as well as read the instructions. I feel like a lot of the horror stories that are associated with a menstrual cup could’ve been easily avoided if [cup users] had read through the instructions. I didn’t necessarily choose to use a backup [like a pad or period underwear] because I felt like I didn’t need one. It was definitely uncomfortable at first, but it got easier and more manageable since you don’t need to change it as often [as pads or tampons].
Juhi Patel: I started using [the cup] the week I was going to get my period in order to practice getting it up there. At first I couldn’t figure it out but kept attempting to put it up, and eventually, after about 2-4 days, I figured it out. I recommend trying to use [the cup] in the shower, which was more effective, and after that it was really easy. I did use a pad my first time just in case, but there was no need since there was zero leakage.
How long can you wear a cup?
Kate Kramer: I usually only clean it once in the morning and once in the evening.
Juhi Patel: You can wear the cup for about 8-12 hours.
What were some major hesitations you had before using the cup?
Kate Kramer: I had slight hesitations since not many people use them and there was a major stigma around them due to constant horror stories from other people such as the cup getting stuck or the cup leaking throughout the day. And there was a level of fear out of the fact no one uses them, and there isn’t a lot of information out there about them. But honestly after I just went for it, it was great.
Juhi Patel: I didn’t have any major hesitations but there was a small fear that the cup would get stuck inside, and I was worried it wouldn’t even fit inside in the first place because my vagina wouldn’t be big enough.
Did you try multiple sizes?
Kate Kramer: I didn’t try multiple sizes of cups beforehand.
Juhi Patel: I did a lot of research to determine the size and used a chart to determine my cervix size. [I] used that to figure out what size would be best. I also started with a soft cup over a normal cup [a soft cup is easier to squeeze down and tends to exert less pressure] due to my sensitive bladder, and I also think that the soft cup is a good beginner’s cup.
Can you wear the cup throughout your whole cycle?
Kate Kramer: I used it all the way through. Sometimes when using tampons you need to use a pad or liner near the end of the cycle and I thought it would be a similar situation… but I find it so comfortable, I use it all the time.
Juhi Patel: I wear it throughout my whole cycle. Even if I am spotting, I still wear it on those days.
What lifestyle works best for the cup?
Kate Kramer: I think the cup works well for everybody, and I think everyone should use them. It also allows me to be more comfortable when playing my sport [equestrian riding] as well.
Juhi Patel: I recommend it for every lifestyle. Recently I was on a flight on my way home and I was so comfortable the whole plane ride because you forget you’re on your period.
What is the cleaning process?
Kate Kramer: When you take it out, you run it under cold water to prevent staining in the cup and then, after your cycle, boil in hot water for 15 minutes.
Juhi Patel: I rinse it even when I take it out during my cycle and I boil it before and after my cycle. Every few cycles, I will wash it with a specially made soap that was made by Saalt, because you don’t want any bad chemicals up your vagina, so you have to use proper soap. If you clean it and maintain it properly you can use a cup for more than 4 years.
Did you experience fewer cramps?
Kate Kramer: I used to have bad cramps that went away after taking birth control, so I didn’t see a major difference.
Juhi Patel: I don't think I have seen any major changes in my cramps.
Anything else you would like to add?
Kate Kramer: Everyone should use them, the minute I started using it I thought, “Why haven’t I been using it my whole life?” The cost and environmental friendliness are unbeatable.
Juhi Patel: I love the cup, and I think everyone should try. It takes a while, obviously, to get used to it. My sister has been practicing and trying to use a cup for her period. I think everyone should use a cup because it just feels so much cleaner than a pad and it also hurts a lot less when taking it out like a tampon.
Like the menstrual cup, using period underwear can also cause fear and uncertainty: Will it leak? Does it feel gross? Can I wear it on heavy days? Another member of Project Stree, who uses period underwear, helps us answer these questions.
Product: Period underwear, Period brand
Duration of use: 7 months
What was your first experience with period underwear?
My first encounter with period underwear was through Instagram ads such as Thinx, Nix, etc. But I quickly dismissed the underwear as an option since they were so expensive. Forty bucks for a pair of underwear? No thanks! But after I started volunteering at Project Stree, I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint. The menstrual cup wasn’t for me, so I tried to find reasonably priced period underwear. After doing some research and reading reviews and blogs like this one, I decided that the Period brand was the most easily accessible at around $12 per pair. I didn’t have any leaks or problems, even when I used it on my heaviest day.
What hesitations did you have before using period underwear?
Period underwear technology has come far over the past decade. When I first heard about period underwear about five years ago, people complained about experiencing leaks and discomfort while wearing the underwear, despite the high price point of most period underwear brands. That’s what prevented me from trying it for so long. However, as more products were developed and period underwear seemed to become more mainstream, that has become less of an issue.
What lifestyle works best for the underwear?
I feel like it works for most lifestyles. I even work out while wearing the underwear, although I am not the most athletic person. I recommend you try period underwear if the cup doesn't work out for you. However, if you do tend to have a heavy flow, consider using multiple pairs a day or just use it on a lighter day.
How long can you keep it on?
I can wear the heavy-flow underwear all day on my heaviest day. I felt nervous the first few months but now it feels more secure than wearing a pad.
What is the cleaning process for underwear?
You rinse out all blood in the sink or shower, and then after the water runs clear hang up the underwear to dry. After your cycle, wash all your used pairs together.
Does it feel gross?
Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel gross at all. As South Asian women, some of us wash ourselves with water after using the restroom. Doing that while using period underwear helps me feel clean. But even if you’re not comfortable doing that, it would still feel like wearing normal underwear.
What is the lifespan of one pair of underwear?
Each pair lasts three years.
Anything else you think people should know about period underwear?
Everyone has their own preferences on underwear and period products, but just give it a try and withhold your judgment. Also, do your research beforehand to figure out which brand works best for you!
Starting a new period product can feel nerve-wracking, however, it can also be exciting and liberating. Before trying any new product, doing research beforehand, reading the instructions, and keeping an open mind can help at the beginning of your journey. A cup or period underwear may not be the best fit, however, there are many other products out there such as menstrual discs, organic pads, or tampons, all of which can help make periods more sustainable. The fear of trying the product is temporary but the benefits to the environment and your bank account are long-lasting.