Friday, April 1, 2011

This One's for the Ladies

Hello again!  I've been having an internal debate about this post, but have decided to just put it out there.  If there are any gentlemen reading, however, trust me when I say that this post is for the ladies.  I'm going to talk about "girl stuff," and not the type of deep-dark insights into the psyche of women that men wish they understood.  If you are not comfortable with mention of "that time of the month" and what to do about it, please stop reading right now.  I'm going to talk about feminine hygiene.  I've made that as clear as I can, so if you read on and this post makes you uncomfortable, you can't say I didn't warn you.

As a woman, there are a few days each month when I generate a lot of extra trash.  Disposable feminine hygiene products are quite convenient but, whatever your product of choice, it has to be disposed of in some way.  Personally, I've always been a tampon girl.  A couple of years ago, we had some pretty major sewer issues at our business.  While trying to find the problem, our plumber called me into the room where he was working to show me everything he had pulled out of the line.  The bulk of the completely disgusting pile was tampons.  Apparently, though they are "flushable" in that they will go down when flushed, they do not degrade or break up like toilet paper and can stay in the line indefinitely.  The other disposable options go straight to the trash, almost all involve plastics, and many contain chemicals.

But what's a girl to do, right?  I'm so glad you asked!  About 6 months ago I stumbled across the menstrual cup, which is just what it sounds like - a reusable cup to collect menstual fluid.  Admittedly, I first thought, "NO. WAY."  I started reading reviews just to see what kind of crazy lady wants to use such a thing.  However, most of them didn't seem crazy at all, and some were awfully convincing.  I almost gave up on the idea when I read one review that suggested this may not be the best product for those who are squeamish about their own body fluids.  But, I have made a commitment to myself to try new things, so, reluctantly and with low expectation, I bought one. 

Several cycles later, I am a true convert.  The first month, my poor husband had to listen to an endless litany of my surprise and wonder at how comfortable and convenient the cup is for me.  Though I do find it a little gross, it's no worse than the disposable options and the benefits far outweigh the gross factor.

So, what is this thing and how does it work?  There are several brands on the market, but I have the Diva Cup since that is what was available where I was shopping.  It's a medical-grade silicone cup that is inserted similar to a tampon.  Rather than absorbing the menstrual flow, it is collected in the cup.  The wearer will then empty the cup into the toilet periodically, wash the cup, and reinsert.  No wrappers, insertion tubes, tampons or pads to flush or throw away!

Now, I love the earth-friendly benefits, but I wouldn't be using it if there were not also practical benefits.  It is just as comfortable as a tampon, if not more so.  I got lucky in that the first brand I bought "fits" me comfortably, but some reviewers suggested that you may need to try more than one before you find the best one for you.  There is a small learning curve on how to insert it correctly, but, trust me, you will know if it isn't right before it makes a big mess.  I also recommend a little water-based lubricant to help with insertion, especially on less heavy days.

My favorite benefit is that it only needs to be emptied about every 12 hours.  Because it simply holds the fluid rather than absorbing into a fibrous material where bad stuff can grow, there is no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.  You can wear the cup while sleeping all night!  On my heaviest day, I empty it first thing in the morning, around mid-afternoon, and before bed.  The other days I only need to empty it in the morning and before bed.  I no longer have to stock my purse and make sure I have enough supplies every time I go to the restroom.  I have not had any problems at all with leakage or unexpectedly needing to empty the cup, but it would be easy enough to do just about anywhere if I did. 

There are other benefits as well!  No more running out of supplies at inconvenient times, unplanned trips to the store to buy supplies, or worrying if I have enough with me when I'm out - in fact, I don't have to carry anything extra with me at all.  No more nighttime messes or bulky nighttime protection.  And, because the fluid does not come in contact with the air, there is very little odor.  Once in place, I can forget about it for 8 - 12 hours at a time.  It is just as discrete under clothes or bathing suits as a tampon.  I haven't given it the full swimming test but I have bathed with no leakage and no water held in the cup afterward.

Now, I have also been trying Lunapads pantyliners - a cotton, washable, reusable pantyliner - as backup in case of leaks.  Since I have very little leakage - just the occasional spot or two - I haven't really put them to a true test.  Given my squeamishness, I don't know how I would feel about reusing them for heavy flow, but as a backup for the cup it isn't really different than washing and re-wearing underwear.  They are pretty bulky compared to disposable pantyliners, though, so I don't use them as often as I could.  But, if I only throw away 4 or 5 liners each cycle, that's a big improvement!

So how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind:  Healtier for my body by avoiding the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.  There are also often chemicals used in the production of feminie products which remain in the final product (such as bleach which remains as dioxin, a carcinogen) that are not healthy for the body.
Time:  I can skip the unplanned trips to the store and shopping on the feminine hygiene aisle.  Less time spent changing product throughout the day as well!
My Wallet: The upfront investment is a good bit higher, but over time I'll save the cost and then some!
The Earth:  Reducing the chemicals and almost zero waste cycles!

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