JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, toasts the menstrual cup in an article published this week.
I learned of menstrual cups while experiencing homelessness in 2019. As a man, I did not even know menstrual cups existed until I learned of women experiencing homelessness using them.
“The menstrual cup is a typically reusable, flexible, self-retaining intravaginal menstrual fluid collection device,” according to the JAMA article. “Increasing public knowledge and acceptance of the reusable menstrual cup can reduce waste, simplify menstrual hygiene, and provide accessibility for resource-poor communities. Although disposable products may be convenient because they do not require cleaning, menstruating individuals may be motivated to use menstrual cups for environmental concerns and reduced need for purchasing hygiene supplies.”
In fact, more than 1.8 billion people per year menstruate every month, according to the article. That’s a lot of tampons and maxi pads headed to the landfill.
Stealing tampons out of desperation
Women experiencing homelessness who use menstrual cups avoid having to get sanitary napkins other ways, such as by stealing them. The most difficult thing about being homeless as a woman is the monthly bill, most ladies will tell you.
“You always have to carry wet wipes, it’s gross,” commented one formerly homeless woman in a NewsBreak story in 2021.
While there are organizations that hand out tampons to homeless women, they’re scarce. Most women I talked to said they steal the tampons.
“I hated having to steal, it was terrible, but I didn’t know what else to do,” said one of the women.
Menstrual cups cost between $10 and $40
According to the JAMA article, few women use menstrual cups, which have been around since the 1930s. There are about 200 brands of cups and they cost between $10 and $40, according to the article. Most people make their money back in savings in six months, the article said.
“With more than 45 billion disposable menstrual products discarded annually, the benefit of waste reduction is significant because menstrual cups can be used for years,” according to the article. “The shelf-life depends on frequency of use, cleaning, and storage, with the mean being 2 to 4 years in most reports. Most cups will have some discoloration after use, but this does not compromise function.”
Using menstrual cups does not come without risk. “A meta-analysis of 43 international studies with 3,319 participants indicated that five women reported severe pain or vaginal wounds, six reported allergies or rashes, nine reported urinary tract complaints (of those, three with hydronephrosis), and five reported toxic shock syndrome after use of the menstrual cup,” according to the JAMA report.
“Menstrual cups are not associated with change in vaginal flora, with some data indicating decreased rates of urogenital infection, including bacterial vaginosis, compared with sanitary pad or tampon use.”
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