There are more reusable menstrual products than ever to choose from these days. From silicone or latex rubber menstrual cups, which catch and hold blood inside in the vagina, to super-absorbent and leak-proof period underwear, more and more women are forgoing disposable pads and tampons for these long-term products that they can wash and reuse.
Why? Well, there are several reasons:
- Environmental reasons
The average woman uses up to 20 pads or tampons a month, which
equals about 240 per year. Multiplied by 40 (the average number of years a woman menstruates), that’s 9,600 pads or tampons used in one woman’s lifetime. Now, multiply that by the number of women in the world—over 3.5 billion—and, well, that’s a lot of waste going into our landfills. Most pads and tampons contain chemicals that end up getting soaked up by the earth and released as pollution into our groundwater and air. And the disposal of these products (and their packaging) is only part of the problem. Making them creates pollution, too: for example, the production of polyethylene plastic—the stuff that makes disposable pads stick to your underwear—is a harmful environmental pollutant.
- Comfort reasons
Many women hate the bulky feeling of disposable pads. Pads can shift around, making them less than ideal for athletic activities. Additionally, pads can sometimes end up feeling soggy, sweaty, or sticky due to the materials they’re made out of. Period underwear, however, feels just like regular underwear, can’t shift out of place, and isn’t bulky at all. Prefer tampons? You may have noticed that tampons can be uncomfortable in their own way. Because they absorb not only blood, but all of your vaginal secretions, tampons can leave your vagina feeling dry—especially towards the end of your cycle, or if you choose higher absorbency tampons. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, don’t absorb anything at all—they just collect the blood. For this reason, it’s even safe to wear them on the day your period is expected, but before it actually starts.
- Economical reasons
Let’s take our average of 20 pads or tampons a month, again, and say that a box of 20 pads or tampons costs around $7. That’s $84 a year, and $3,360 over the 40 years that the average woman menstruates. While reusable options might seem expensive at first—about $30 for a menstrual cup, and between $15 and $40 for a pair of period underwear—keep in mind that some menstrual cups can last up to ten years, and period underwear lasts about as long as any other pair of underwear. So in the long run, reusable menstrual products can save you a lot of money.
Now that you have some good reasons for making the switch, the next question is: which type of reusable menstrual product to get? The two most popular choices are menstrual cups and period underwear. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each:
Like a tampon, a menstrual cup is worn inside your body. You can do anything with it that you’d be able to do with a tampon—swim, dance, play soccer, do yoga. Inserting it takes a little bit of practice, but once it’s inserted correctly, you can’t feel it at all—you might even forget that you have your period! You can wear it for up to 12 hours, depending on your flow (but most women have to empty it more frequently, at least during the heavier days of their periods). Emptying the cup and reinserting it is not as messy or difficult as you might think, but one downside is that it can be tricky in a public restroom.
Period underwear is basically underwear with a pad built in. It might sound gross, but it’s not: the underwear is made out of special layers of fabric that absorb all the blood, so you don’t feel wet, and an anti-microbial lining prevents odor. Wearing it feels just like wearing regular underwear. Unfortunately, however, you can’t swim in it. And while most period underwear absorbs up to 2 tampons’ worth of blood, that probably won’t get you through a heavy day. It’s also a more expensive option than the menstrual cup, since you’ll need multiple pairs to cover one monthly cycle.
If you’re really ready to commit to using reusable menstrual products, why not try both a menstrual cup and period underwear together? This option provides infallible protection from leaks, and allows you to go swimming if you feel like it. You can buy fewer pairs of period underwear than you would if you were relying on them alone, and on lighter days, you can wear them and pretend your period is already over.