EFFECTIVE: Menstrual cups are fast gaining popularity. Pictures: Supplied
EFFECTIVE: Menstrual cups are fast gaining popularity. Pictures: Supplied

Menstrual cups offer a U-turn

By Sipokazi Fokazi Time of article published May 27, 2017

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For millennia, the monthly menstruation cycle has been the source of myths and some bizarre practices with many women taught that it’s unclean, smelly, while in some religions menstrual bleeding is considered impure.

While many stereotypes persist today, menstruation is actually one of the major indicators of the health of a woman.

It simply means that a woman can create life and this is a way the body prepares itself for new life. What could be more clean and sacred than that?

Rona Mirimi, an entrepreneur and long-time campaigner for women’s health, argues that while menstruation blood might smell slightly metallic when it leaves the body, this blood may actually develop a smell when it is trapped in a sanitary pad or tampon for extended hours. The smell may be coming from the dying red blood cells that nourish the growth of bad bacteria.

But many women, who are eco-conscious and penny wise, are now switching to menstrual cups, which seem to be making a comeback.

According to Mirimi, who recently introduced a range of menstrual cups known as IrisCup, menstrual cups are fast gaining popularity with many women from developing countries such as South Africa, switching from tampons to these 21st century sanitary cups due to their many benefits - both for women and to the environment.

A menstrual cup, which is made from a soft medical grade silicon, is worn internally like a tampon by moulding itself into the shape of the vagina, but it collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. You simply empty the fluid into the toilet - and it doesn’t need to be changed as frequently as tampons or pads. It is also not disposable. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours before they need to be changed.

We asked Mirimi why menstrual cups were gaining popularity over conventional sanitary wear such as tampons and sanitary towels.

Why are menstrual cups better than a tampon?

Menstrual cups are so much better for your body and the environment. A menstrual cup is most often made from a medical grade silicone that is moulded into a small cup designed to collect the blood. It is unlike a tampon that is supposed to absorb the blood and in the process, also absorbs the other fluids. This is why we feel very dry during our period when it is actually the other way around.

How sterile are these cups - aren’t they a big risk for infections?

As with all things, it depends how you clean your cup. When you get the menstrual cup for the first time you need to sterilise it in boiling water for few minutes. While you are having your cycle, every time you take it out you rinse it with a natural soap and you can put it back. If you are in public toilets you can wipe it with toilet paper (remove the first couple of layers of paper from a public roll before tearing off the piece you use for your cup) and reinsert it. Wash it when you get back home. Another way will be to take a bottle of water into the toilet with you and rinse our cup over the toilet. A third option, is sanitary wipes. As always, clean hands are the first barrier against infection of any kind.

How cost effective are menstrual cups versus other sanitary wear options and how viable are such cups?

This is good for your pocket if you can use 1 cup for 5 years; think how much money you are saving every month!

It is good for our environment as it generates less waste.

Prior to disposable sanitary products being available, women used cloth that was washed and re-used. While the advent of tampons and sanitary towels has removed this odious task for the modern woman and allows freedom of movement and activity, there are associated health risks and an environmental impact.

Once your period is over, you need to sterilise the cup and put it in its pouch for the next month. Menstrual cups last 5 to 15 years, depending on the manufacturer. It is that easy.

How safe are menstrual cups, especially for for young girls who are virgins?

The IrisCup is perfectly safe to use, but in terms of what one understands a virgin to be, there are two perspectives.

If you understand a virgin to mean a girl that still has her hymen, my answer will be that the cup might tear it. If you understand a virgin to be someone who has never had sex then using a menstrual cup is perfectly fine.

How do you tell when a menstrual cup is full and doesn’t it get messy when you change it?

Another great benefit using the menstrual cup is you learn to know your body. You get to know the volume that you bleed and how your vagina feels during your period. You feel it when it’s full. You start to feel less “dry” and that is your sign to empty your cup.

Could menstrual cups be a solution to the lack of sanitary towels that poor young girls are currently experiencing in South African schools?

It could be an amazing solution but I believe it needs to come with education on this subject. I believe it needs to come with understanding why menstrual blood is not unclean despite what society teaches us to think.

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