I was 12 years old when I got my first period. As is the norm in India, I was handed a sanitary pad by my mother and instructions to use it. Five years later, I came across a video by Buzzfeed India comparing reusable pads and menstrual cups.
This was a landmark video in my life because that was the first time I came to know that there were options to take care of period blood other than pads and tampons, and excited with the news, I ran to my mother telling her about these menstrual cups and asking for her permission to shift to these miraculous inventions of humankind. I was sure that she would be enthusiastic as well and say yes. However, my mother was strictly against it.
“Why, mamma!?” I whined just about being told to shut up with a glare. I never brought that topic up again but never stopped thinking about it either. It kept on bugging me. Pads, on the one hand, are usually handed to girls in India when they have their first period, and most of them continue using them for their lifetime.
Traditionally, pads are an absorbent item worn externally to absorb period blood. They are made from various materials depending on style, type, and country of origin. At the moment, there are mainly two types of sanitary napkins- Disposable and Reusable.
As is evident from the name, disposable pads are meant to be thrown away after use. The main materials that make a disposable pad include bleached rayon (cellulose made from wood pulp), cotton, and plastics. In some cases, fragrance and antibacterial agents are also added.
Disposable pads can be panty liners, ultra-thin, regular, super, overnight, and maternity. Each type has its unique quality and use. These pads, however, have to be thrown away after just one use and are said to be ecologically harmful.
Moreover, the garbage collectors at the dump have to take it off by hand, and that challenges their health as well. India is a country where period poverty is very much present, and not many menstruators have the purchasing capital to buy sanitary napkins every few months.
Therefore, they often wear ragged clothes instead of pads. While this is a prototype for reusable pads, it is very unhygienic and a cause for a lot of health problems. Reusable pads, as the name suggests, are pads that can be used again. They are made using a cloth and are meant to be washed and used again.
The wings are mostly wound around the underwear with buttons or velcro or, in the case of wingless ones, are just held in place between the body and underwear. While it is safe for the environment, friendly to the pockets (comparatively), they are not very effective in absorbing a menstruator’s period blood.
According to Aishwarya from Buzzfeed India, they were the cause of a very stressful period. Her complaints included them being not absorbent enough, constantly turning around, and the stains not going away despite washing them five to six times. Overall the reviews have been similar, pointing towards an ineffective product of absorbing menstrual blood.
The next most popular period product is tampons. Unlike a sanitary pad, tampons have to be inserted inside the vagina. If it is correctly inserted, it will absorb blood and start expanding.
However, alongside period blood, it will also absorb your natural vaginal lubricant, thereby changing the pH levels, increasing the chance of Toxic Shock Syndrome or TSS that is a life-threatening disease Lack of proper disposal options is another problem that endangers the environment.
Now, moving on to menstrual cups, which are gaining popularity among menstruators gradually. It is a bell-shaped cup that collects the menstrual blood and the stem that is used to handle the cup easily.
Unlike pads and tampons, a menstrual cup does not absorb period blood but collects it and has to be emptied after every 4-12 hours, after which it should be cleaned and inserted again.
Menstrual cups seem comparatively better than pads and tampons. While a menstrual cup costs a bit higher than pads and tampons when first bought, given the fact that one cup lasts for about 10 years, in the long term, menstrual cups make a smaller hole in our pocket.
It is also safer than pads and tampons, and unlike tampons, that like menstrual cups need to be inserted into the vagina, cases of toxic shock syndrome are very rare with menstrual cups. It is also environmentally safe, especially with the new biodegradable cups.
Comparing these three obviously declare menstrual cups as the winner. However, every menstruator also needs to consider various factors such as access to water, hygiene, and the course of the flow. However, it is advisable that every menstruator studies up on different period products and also teaches the same to the next generation.
Each of these products has advantages and disadvantages, and hence every menstruator needs to make an educated choice. So, let’s hope for a future where a menstruator is not merely handed a sanitary pad forever and for my mother’s permission allowing me to shift to menstrual cups.