Manisha Bidari, 19, has been contemplating if she should switch to menstrual cups from sanitary pads. But there are many things to consider before she makes the switch. First, a menstrual cup costs Rs 2,200. “Why are they so expensive?” she questions. Second, she does not know how to use and clean it. “Will it fit? I am scared if it will feel uncomfortable. Additionally, none of my family members use it,” she lays out her concerns. Despite being environment and user friendly, many are unaware about even the existence of menstrual cups. Others are confused where to get proper information. Right now the main users of this cup in Kathmandu seem to be teenagers and women in their early 20s (at least on the basis of our conversations with its users). After talking to six women who use menstrual cups and a quick chat with Shristi Shakya, the executive assistant at Putali Nepal, a non-profit which distributes and spreads awareness about menstrual cups, we believe it is an investment worth making. Here is why.
Easy to use
According to Shakya, 21, who has herself been using menstrual cups since 2014, it is “the best thing to use during your menstrual cycle”. First, the users do not have to worry about stains. The cup, once inserted into the vagina, holds the blood inside. You then take the cup out, throw the collected blood, and clean it with warm water to use it again.
“I love traveling and trekking so when I am using a menstrual cup I don’t have to worry about changing pads frequently. A menstrual cup is both portable and comfortable.” Using a menstrual cup, you can go for a swim during your period. You can run and jump. “There is a lot of freedom,” she says.
“I’d guessed the menstrual cups cost around Rs 600. When I found their real price, I was shocked. I was in a dilemma whether to buy it. However, it only took me a day to decide I wanted one for myself when I discovered its many benefits,” says Devashree Niraula, 23, an environmentalist.
But for someone who uses sanitary pads for say Rs 100 a month, why should they make the initial investment of Rs 2,200 on a menstrual cup?
Shakya explains: “You may not be willing to part with Rs 2,200 initially but you have to consider that the cup can be used for ten years. If you spend Rs 100 a month on pads, you spend Rs 12,000 in ten years. A menstrual cup becomes a cost effective product if you take a long view.”
Menstrual cups are not produced in Nepal and since they are imported, usually from India and Europe, the cost increases.
Putali Nepal has been importing and selling the cups from Europe since 2014. They currently sell 15-20 cups a month through their exclusive Kar.ma Coffee, Jhamsikhel outlet. “We hope increasing awareness will lead to higher sales,” Shakya says.
Use by young girls
Since menstrual cups have to be inserted into the vagina, many women are concerned that these may be difficult to use for young girls who are having their period for the first time. Additionally, as Nepali society still prizes virginity, won’t using a menstrual cup destroy your virginity?
“One of the main reasons why menstrual cups have not been able to sell more in Nepal is the social taboos associated with them,” Shakya says. “There is a misconception that once you insert something into your vagina, you are no more a virgin. Yes, menstrual cup stretches your hymen but it does not have any other health issues.”
So can a girl as young as 13 use a menstrual cup for her first period? Shakya replies in the affirmative: “This is why menstrual cups come in two sizes: medium and small. So young girls can use the small ones.” Does the size affect how much blood it can hold? “No. Only the width of the two cups are different but both will hold an equal quantity of blood,” she clarifies.
There are other benefits of using menstrual cups as well. They are environmentally friendly. If you use a menstrual pad or a tampon, you have to toss them aside after use. But you can use the same menstrual cup for a decade.
Additionally, there are health benefits. Chances of infection are high if you use a pad or a tampon. But not for menstrual cups. Shakya informs that they are made of medical grade silicon and have no side effects.
Shreeya Sharma, 21, who started using menstrual cups only a month ago, also vouches for the benefits of menstrual cups. “There are risks of contracting a ‘toxic shock syndrome’ if you use a tampon. There is a pungent smell when you use a pad. But menstrual cups have no such complications.” She admits that inserting and releasing the cup into your vagina may be uneasy for first-timers but it does not take long to get used to.