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Musings of a Cup Evangelist

As I started packing my office backpack with clothes, food and laptop, one thing completely escaped my mind. I had just started on my periods that morning. 4 years ago, it would have meant absolute upheaval of my day – Carry X amount of sanitary napkins for the Yth period day. A dark coloured dress was a must and so was a tight underwear to hold that little mattress in place. Now walk and sleep like a stiff zombie for 5 days so that monthly output can be captured with precision without spilling.

I am an amateur long distance runner since last six years or so. I also use my cycle for commute at times. Traffic in Bangalore, the worst bane on Bangaloreans these days, made me switch to biking more often last year. All that I needed to forget that I was bleeding like a mini faucet, was a tiny little cup that collected the menstrual flow. And voila, I had a little more space in the bag and I could concentrate on the traffic and riding my bike safely, rather than wondering if the pad has shredded or whether I am sweating or bleeding on my clothes.

The little cup of joy or the menstrual cup as it is known among cup-evangelists, is not a hardsell by a long mile. But if by mistake you run into a cup evangelist, they will hold you by your shoulders, shake you violently and tell you that it is THE best thing that EVER happened to them and GOOD GOD! if you don’t buy one right away and don’t promise to use it soon after, they will keep bothering you to buy one till you do. It is a virus. And guess what! You may just catch that virus and do the same to another non-cup user. What is so wonderful about that cup that make users sing paeans of that small silicone receptacle? Have you ever wondered, how many women actually love their sanitary napkins this much? I am sure there are no hands going up. So, why do women love their menstrual cup?

As I said before, it is not a hardsell at all. Most cup users are transformed by this little device from period hating creatures to I-forgot-my-period dames. There are a couple of differences relating to how a cup works compared to a sanitary pad or a tampon. While the pad and tampon are meant to soak up the menstrual blood, cup collects it. Pads are worn externally, while cup, like the tampon, is internal. And thats the difference really. Instead of waiting for the mess to come out and create a scene, the cup gets to work in collecting it right before the mess is created. Smart right? Of course it is! Menstrual cup was invented and patented by a woman, a stage actress called Leona Watson Chalmers. That was in 1930s. Around the same time a physician invented tampons and filed for patent. If you want to know why one became more popular than the other, please read the rather long history here. The key takeaway from the article is the following statement: “The menstrual cup is a great innovation that makes for so-so business; the tampon is a so-so innovation that makes for great business.” It is just economics you see, why one product does better than another, not because it is better but because someone sold it well and the product had good potential of making money over and over again.

I grew up watching sanitary pad commercials which are all too frequent on TV considering the taboo and silence that surrounds menstruation in this country. Once I started my periods, I could never understand these ads. Expecting someone to believe that you can jump in the air wearing white pants, sleep on a white sheet and not walk like an gym newbie who overdid deadlifts and all that while balancing a sort of mattress between one’s leg is truly a tad bit too much. Every napkin ad I saw on Indian television has the same story – Girl achieving professional success or a good sleep or both by using a sanitary napkin. The truth is the following and I am sure every woman suffering the sanitary napkin will agree. You feel icky on your periods. If you do a bit of physical activity wearing the napkins (May God bless you if you are an athlete), you get rashes and cuts on inner thighs. You are not too sure of wearing light colours. You just want it to get over! Lets face it, sanitary pads are not a great product for a woman of 21st century, in terms of convenience of use, personal comfort, economy or disposal.

The first time I heard about the cup was on Facebook more than 3 years ago. I probably ordered it the same day without any further research (for what could be worse than a sanitary pad, so bring it on!). I think I had no issues in getting used to it. It must have been easy because I cannot remember any out of ordinary incidents such as cup getting stuck or the cup not going in. I did once forget the cup inside for many days. And when I bought a bigger cup for heavier flow, I could not get it to open properly. But all that is past and little details. The major shift from the moment I became a cup user, was the liberation I felt on my period days. I was more cool about period days. I became a normal person on my period days, when I could go about my normal life without balancing a mattress between my legs. I never bought sanitary napkins again. I went on a run without worrying about rashes. I never threw a sanitary pad in the trash again, I cant remember anymore, when I got my last one or when I will get the next. And yes, I did become a hardcore cup evangelist, the type who wants every woman to use the cup and feel liberation from one annoying thing in life – sanitary pads.

Lot of women new to the cup are afraid to use it. They buy it and wait for inspiration. And I tell them that eventually they will use it and they will be very angry with themselves for delaying that decision for the fear of unknown. So, is it difficult? On a scale of 1 to 10, I will rate some of the most difficult tasks known to woman kind on period days. Manoeuvring Bangalore traffic in rush hour on a bike – 9. Wearing sanitary napkins while swimming – 11 (an impossibility!). Running a marathon on the first day of periods on a sanitary napkin (ouch) – 9-10. Visiting religious crazy relatives who think used pads cannot be allowed in the trash cans at home, so you have to walk out to find a disposal for it – 8. Now, difficulty level of using a menstrual cup is probably between 0 to 2, differs from person to person. Additionally all the above activities drop their difficulty level by at least half except the religious relatives one (which drops to zero!)

When I bought my cup nearly 3.5 years ago, there was only one brand available. The market for menstrual cups available now in Indian market is big now with atleast 10 types in different materials, sizes, stems, colors and hardness. I see many girls starting from 15 to 45 year old women using it. I feel that all those who rejected my talk about menstrual cup few years ago as a crazy whacky thing to talk about, are now at least considering to use it. I am quite sure that in the next few years, menstrual cup will catch on big. Not because it makes for great business but because it is such a good invention that every woman will want to have one or a few!

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