Our series on reusable menstrual products has received a lot of questions and queries from women wanting to make the switch from disposable menstrual products. As we have discussed previously, disposable menstrual products come with several questionable environmental and human health antecedents.
For one, the environmental footprint of using a disposable sanitary product is very large. A wood pulp based napkin uses up pulp from old heartwood trees, contributing to the decimation of our forest cover. A modern SAAP napkin or a tampon uses highly specialised derivatives of plastic which itself emerges from the fossil fuel industry.
Again, a whole lot of technology has gone into producing this SAAP which was itself derived from incredibly ancient fossil reserves from the earth which is a finite resource. Read more about the peak oil crisis here. And our alternatives today are much more sophisticated than the “smelly old rags” sanitary napkin ads are always ranting about.
One of the set of emails we got at Krya came from users of menstrual cups. Many cup users wrote to us about the comfort, and invisibility offered by this reusable menstrual product.
I personally confess to an irrational fear of internal menstrual devices. Despite Srinivas being a brand manager in our earlier life of a major brand of tampons and despite the samples he brought me to get me to try one, I was freakishly unreceptive to the idea.
But the many many users of cups who have managed to get over this initial apprehension have gone on to experience a whole lot of comfort and security around their periods. And of course, compared to cloth napkins which we have been discussing, menstrual cups involve very little maintenance.
So for today’s piece on menstrual cups, I have Preethi Raghav, sharing her story of
About Preethi Raghav
Preethi Raghav is a very interesting young lady. She is one of the most committed vegan and animal rights activists we know, and does a lot of stellar volunteer work for Blue Cross along with her husband, Raghav.
Preethi has just started a venture of her own to provide cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery alternatives made from terracotta. Preethi’s beautiful terracotta jewellery is made following special eco friendly process. She has designed her own terracotta stove that does not use electricity and does not emit too much of smoke to create her earth friendly pieces.
In addition to No Harm Charm, Preethi creates educational content for an NGO working towards providing quality education to rural children, and helps conduct healthy-cooking workshops for SHARAN (a not for profit working in the field of disease control following a cruelty free, whole grain, plant based diet). Previously, She spent a year heading the English department in a government aided tamil medium school, where English was being introduced for the first time.
Preethi’s other interests include Krav Maga, painting, warli art and doodling. She takes great interest in conservation and other related issues threatening our planet and has been an ethical vegan for more than 3 years now.
Preethi put all her principles to practice in her wedding which served only vegan and cruelty free food where no silk or gold was used.
Here is Preethi sharing the story of her switch.
The horrific sight of used disposable pads thrown carelessly on the terrace of the school I taught me, made me decide to make the switch.
It was a rainy afternoon in 2011, when I was having fun teaching English to an enthusiastic bunch at a slum, in the heart of Chennai. I had planned a spoken English lock and key activity, and so needed a larger space. That’s when I decided to take the kids to the school terrace. As I reached there, a poor sight awaited me. I saw at least 5-10 used sanitary pads, thrown uncovered on the building terrace. Just before I could ask the children to do a U-turn, they started running all over them, like they were used to it.
This incident shook me. I couldn’t get that off my mind. I immediately took responsibility and began research on how periods should be hygienically managed, so I could talk to the girls about it.
Talking to my friends did not help: I was just 19 at the time, and all that we were exposed to then, were sanitary napkins. With Google’s help I stumbled upon the existence of menstrual cups and cloth pads. It was then that I decided to make the switch, but honestly I took almost a year to get rid of the “sophistication” that disposable sanitary napkins offered me.
I loved the green-ness of a cloth napkin, but did not like its wet-ness.
Chennai being super hot, I always love some rain and wetness outside, but I did not like feeling wet inside – this was something I disliked even with sanitary pads.
But then once, while I was reading a little more about menstruation to prepare a presentation on the same, I hit upon an informative article that spoke about the essential vaginal fluids that are discharged during our periods, and how they are helpful in maintaining the pH levels.
A year later I developed a hyper sensitive skin condition called dermographism. This condition meant that using even a cloth pad would trigger intense itching in my body, which is when I decided to switch to the menstrual cup.
I loved the neatness and dryness I could experience with a menstrual cup
When I began using the she Cup, I loved it. I additionally needed to put in no extra effort to wash it and dry it. However, I must add that it needed me to do a bit of gymnastics to try to figure out the best way to fit it in for it to seal well, but, that’s because I didn’t see the many helpful videos online then. After about 2 cycles of trying it, I loved it!
I found the idea of inserting a sizeable menstrual cup inside me a bit nerve wracking.
It took me a day’s time to get used to it inside, but, I had to make the try to realize what a wonderful alternative this is. However after a couple of days, I hardly felt it! And the dry feeling was simply so comforting (they don’t dry us out completely the way sanitary pads do, since they just collect the discharge).
I found many reasons to continue to stick to my menstrual cup.
When I started, I simply wanted to help myself from the dreadful hours-long itching that I used to have before due to dermographism. Later, because of the simplicity in usage, I continued to love using my menstrual cup.
Even on my heaviest flow days, I have worn it for 7-8 hours at a stretch before having to empty it, and it still wouldn’t stain.
I also get to measure my periods, which I can’t say is very useful, but very fascinating, and I feel very connected to my system with those measures. Menstrual cups can hold nearly 2 times more vaginal discharge than what a cloth pad absorbs. At times, on my heavy flow-days, I use both the cup and the cloth pad together.
My family and I have found the transition to reusable menstrual products much easier because of the cup.
After fine tuning my mind to accept the switch, I find there is no other discomfort. My partner thinks it is a neat system, as I do since the blood isn’t absorbed like in a cloth pad. So are no external smells or any evidence of blood at all.
I held some myths in my head about menstrual cups which had to change before I accepted the switch.
The greatest myths I held in my mind were :
Myth1- The insertion of a silicone cup, and it’s possibility of leading to infections
Myth2- The disposal of the blood while I’m outside, especially in our not-so-neat public toilets
From the studies available, silicone is widely studied as an implant and is considered non-toxic and inert. Most cups available in the market are medical grade silicone. So there isn’t anything to worry!
As far as disposal is concerned, this is such a charmer! I just need to empty the contents and wash it with clean water. Worst case, once, while on a long distance journey I simply cleaned it neat with a tissue and reinserted. I no longer have to hunt secret places to hide my used pads or look for safer ways to dispose one.
Disposable sanitary products are unhygienic!
Ask any restaurant cleaner and they’ll tell you, that they hate throwing used sanitary napkins and tampons for the decaying stench they have. Ask a corporation worker, he’d tell you that most public (especially govt. schools) bathroom outlets are clogged with stinky used napkins and poor them; they have to remove them all! So I feel at least in a country like ours, we’ve all the more responsibility to contribute to lesser/NO waste of these kind, to help maintain better hygiene.
I know a lot of women including you, Preethi have some inhibitions to trying out a cup. So here’s why you should:
- Just Rs.799 to manage your periods for 5-7 long years! (Save money)
- No washing and drying
- Works well for all activities- swimming (can’t wear a cloth pad too), dancing, jumping, exercising, sky diving…
- No chemicals / pesticides (Cottons are highly sprayed crops accounting for almost 10% of pesticide sprayed. So unless it’s organically made cloth pads, why take the risk of using it?)
- Can proudly say’ I have nothing for the landfills!’
Preethi’s note to Preethi: I am still not sure if I want to try one Preethi, but May I say your point is extremely well made? Thank you!
Krya’s note: Preethi’s point about pesticide sprayed cotton is a valid one. All of our garments, unless stated otherwise, are sprayed with a super high dose of pesticides and fertilisers. Cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed cash crops around the world, along with coffee and there is concern about the dermal absorption of these chemicals when using this fabric – especially around your intimate areas.
That said, cloth is still a great option compared to disposables. Of course Preethi’s case for menstrual cups is still valid.
Both Eco Femme and Jaioni have plans to launch an organic cotton range of pads. We advise women using the cloth pads until then to pre-wash the pads atleast 4 – 5 times to remove superficial chemical traces like dyes , bleaches and starches – this will also help improve the absorbency of the fabric. Our washing guide will follow in a few days on how you should do this and your main washing. And whenever available, we would strongly advice replacing your stash with organic cloth napkins.
Thank you Preethi Raghav for that candid, straight from the heart set of answers to our questions.
Please do support Preethi’s work in cruelty free, earth friendly jewellery by exploring her work here and liking her Facebook page.
Some additional links to get you started:
- She Cup is an Indian brand that creates menstrual cups – you can read more about their work here
- Here are some links Preethi recommends to understand more about how you should use and wear the menstrual cup
More green period information:
To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:
- Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
- Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
- Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
- And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
- Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
- Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
- Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
- Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
- Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.
If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.