Your cycle your choice

In this article, we focus on how we overcame the stigma around our periods by switching to reusable menstrual products. This not only allowed us to gain more knowledge about the impacts of disposable menstrual products on the environment but also allowed us to feel empowered by our choices. We hope that by sharing our experiences you feel empowered to embrace your cycle in a new and sustainable way.

Alternative #1: Menstrual Cup

Menstrual cup with a drop of red glitter. Image via Canva.

Switching to reusable menstrual cups HUGELY impacts the amount of garbage produced by a menstruating person. It’s estimated that an individual might use up to 15,000 sanitary pads and tampons during their menstruating life, while the estimated number of menstrual cups is only between four to 32 in the same timeframe.

There are dozens of different menstrual cups available that range in colours, materials, and prices. The DivaCup is made in Canada using medical-grade silicone—plastic and BPA free—and lasts up to 10 years. Besides meeting quality standards expected of medical devices, Diva International is also a Certified B Corporation, which means the company meets social and environmental standards and is transparent and accountable. Also, DivaCup has a program called DivaCares that advances menstrual equity worldwide through education, advocacy, and increased access to products.

Ana’s experience

I have known about menstrual cups for almost 10 years. The first time I ever heard about it, I was in my teens and felt a lot of shame about menstruating, so I did not pursue it. Years later, growing to know more about the cup and becoming more aware of the negative impacts single-use menstrual products have on the environment, the idea became more appealing to me. 

While I wanted to decrease my environmental impact and shift to using the menstrual cup, I was quite hesitant at first because I had never used tampons at all, only pads. The cup also comes with the additional responsibility of cleaning it after each cycle. For those reasons, I predicted a challenging adaptation and kept postponing the shift. In October 2020, IGNITE hosted the Let’s Talk Menstrual Cups with DivaCup event where students had the opportunity to recieve a free menstrual cup and learn how to use it. I figured I couldn’t pass on this opportunity, so I attended the event and have been using the cup ever since.

The first cycle I used the cup was very hard for me emotionally. I had to confront years of stigma and shame for something that occurs naturally in my body. I almost gave up, not because I felt physical discomfort, but because I had to dig deep into an irrational shame that has been building up my whole life. It was very difficult for me to face something I thought I overcame long ago in such a raw manner—I never dealt with my period so intimately before. My wish to adopt more sustainable habits, however, was much bigger than anything else, so I persisted. 

I’m currently in my third cycle using the cup and I can say I have fully adapted to it. It’s very practical and it doesn’t even feel like I am using anything. Many times I would have rashes from using pads, with the cup I have no such thing. Another benefit is that there is no odor at all. Seeing my garbage can empty is also a great feeling. 

Overall I recommend the menstrual cup. The adaptation might take a while, but keep trying. Don’t feel bad or embarrassed if you are tempted to go back to the old and reliable single-use products, shifting to the cup likely won’t happen overnight.

Ana recommends inserting the cup in the shower. If you’re new to menstrual cups this might make it easier the first few tries.

Alternative #2: Period Underwear

White underwear with red glitter on it. Image via Canva.

Period underwear can last from six months to two years, which is much better compared to the 12 billion pads and seven billion tampons thrown away every single year.

Thinx is a period underwear brand that is designed to last—it’s machine washable, reusable and absorbent. The company’s goal is to be completely waste free by 2025 and values sustainable manufacturing and ethical sourcing. The underwear is made in a factory in Sri Lanka where female leadership, employee well-being, and sustainability are their goals. Thinx has also partnered with organizations such as Girls Inc., Safe Horizon, and the Alliance of Border Collaboratives for the GiveRise program which promotes puberty education and access to menstrual products.

Laura’s experience

Transitioning to period underwear was difficult at first, largely because of the stigma surrounding period underwear being ‘disgusting’ or ‘gross.’ Most would assume that period underwear is like wearing a diaper, but slowly I researched more into the product and analyzed these remarks and saw them for what they were—false and restricting to women. I realized that I wanted to embrace my period, after all, its going to be a part of my life for a very long time. My period is what has also made me strong and powerful. I was tired of feeling ashamed about something that should feel liberating. I decided that I wanted to be empowered, and that is what led my research into the Thinx period underwear line. 

When I first learnt about Thinx I took the quiz on their website to find out which underwear would best match my flow. I ended up getting two types: the Hiphugger and the Super Hiphugger. The Super Hiphugger was said to hold one and a half menstrual cups or five regular tampons, it was the ultimate test for the first day of my cycle.

The night before I felt my period coming I used the Super Hiphugger underwear and wore them for the entire day. Keep in mind this was the heaviest day of my cycle and there was not one leak. I was shocked by this outcome. The absorbency of the underwear was incredible, I wore pants and went out and did not feel scared in the slightest. The Super Hiphugger underwear did become a bit uncomfortable near the end of the day, even though there were no leaks, it felt a bit too wet.

Its truly all about individual preference. I wear my Hiphugger pair on days when I use the menstrual cup because I like to back it up with the underwear just in case. As a woman, I’m always scared of any leaking through my underwear and onto my pants, the Thinx underwear took away that fear.

Let’s be honest, some days we don’t have the energy for cleaning or inserting mensural cups, and underwear seems like the quickest and easiest way to go. Now we can do that without the worry of leakage, what a joy! 

In the interest of transparency, I think it’s necessary to address a legal matter that has come up in regards to the chemicals used in Thinx underwear. In a recent article by the Sierra Club a study was conducted to test the chemicals used in the groin area of the underwear. They found high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) chemicals that can have a number of harmful effects on the internal and external body. This is quite concerning as a consumer of the brand, so I decided to dig a bit deeper into the research behind Thinx’s safety certifications and qualifications. I found that on the Thinx website, it states they’re independently certified through STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®, which includes REACH requirements. This reassured me that there has been accurate testing and regulation of the substances used in the underwear to perform the way that they do.

Ultimately, Thinx has denied the claim of PFAS chemicals in their underwear and has the certification and regulating board to prove their part in ensuring the safety of their consumers. I still have concerns, and I will continue to research into the matter to make sure it’s the best option for me.

Laura recommends using period underwear and a menstrual cup on your cycle’s heaviest day for extra protection. 

Alternative #3: Reusable Pads

Reusable pads are made of many layers of fabric so they can absorb blood without leaving an odor. Compared to disposable pads and tampons that come wrapped in several layers of packaging, reusable pads usually come wrapped together or are purchased in a reusable leak-proof bag. Plus, reusable pads can last up to five years!

Did you know, many small businesses have started making reusable pads? Another great opportunity to support local companies.

Three reusable pads in different sizes.
Three reusable pads in different sizes. Image via Canva.

Sara’s experience

I’ve been using reusable pads for almost a year and I haven’t reached for a disposable pad since. About a year ago I started becoming more environmentally conscious and looking for ways to reduce my waste. I soon realized my use of disposable pads was quickly filling up my garbage bin. I wanted to try something new, and with the many alternatives on the market today, I chose reusable pads because I thought they were the easiest way to transition to a zero-waste menstrual routine. 

Although the pads themselves were easy to use, the stigma around using reusable products made the experience emotionally difficult. I had opened up to some friends and parental figures about using reusable pads and felt shame from their reactions. To many people, using reusable products is seen as unsanitary because you are more responsible for handling the blood coming from your body. With disposable products our periods are easily overlooked. The product is used and thrown away. But when using a reusable product, more time and effort has to be invested in cleaning the product and making decisions on which reusable product is the best choice for you.

Even though we’re taught about menstruation in our pre-teens, it’s still something most people choose to hide and not discuss openly. The choice to use a reusable product means the choice to spend time focusing on our menstrual cycle, the choice to handle what comes from our cycle, and the choice to embrace it. 

After putting the opinions of others behind me, I decided to purchase reusable pads. The reusable pads I bought resemble a disposable pad, but the wings that would usually fold over the underwear have a snap button to stay in place. During the day and throughout the night, the reusable pads stay in place and are comfortable to wear. In my experience, they feel similar to wearing underwear and it’s easy to forget you’re wearing one.

The only difficulty I’ve had with the reusable pads is keeping them in place when working out. The pads don’t move much when they are on, but a quick readjustment is sometimes needed when using them during physical activity. 

From the first use onwards, my experience using reusable pads has been simple. Considering reusable pads are almost the same as disposable pads, they are a great option when wanting an easy swap that promotes a positive environmental impact while saving money in the long run.

Sara recommends purchasing a few reusable pads. Depending on the intensity of your flow, you may need to wash your pads more often during the week.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the different ways we can embrace our period. The three of us encourage you to challenge the stigma attached to menstruation and look past the negative narrative surrounding it. The options we provided are purely suggestive and we hope you continue to research the ways disposable menstrual products impact our environment, and take the time to think about how to honour your cycle.

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