Menstrual Cups and Their Use in India
1 October 2021
Menstruation is a cyclic biological process experienced by women and girls every month. Menarche refers to the onset of menstruation around the age of 12 years, marking the beginning of adolescence in girls. Menopause refers to the permanent stoppage of menstruation around the age of 45-50 years, after which a woman can no longer produce eggs and reproduce.
In a developing country like India, proper management of menstrual hygiene and well-being is taken for granted. There is a serious lack of awareness regarding various aspects of menstruation, like the biological process, its meaning and importance, effects on health, and the products which can be used for management. Surprisingly, this lack of awareness prevails not only in rural India but also in urban cities of India. Despite continued efforts from the healthcare system, menstruation continues to be associated with a social stigma.
Menstruation is a natural process that is essential to the continuity of life, yet people, including the well-educated, hesitate to talk about it openly. Some menstruating women are still forced to follow certain taboos that are both baseless and derogatory.
The sanitary products used by women all over India are- sanitary napkins (either disposable or reusable), tampons, cloth, menstrual cups, and period pants.
The use of cotton pads or cloth increases the rate of infection and is highly unhygienic. Nevertheless, it is a product of choice for numerous rural women because of its easy availability and low cost.
Sanitary napkins are hygienic but the major drawback is their disposal. Menstrual waste has taken a toll on our environment. A female uses approximately 15-20 sanitary napkins per month. This data is enough to gauge the level of menstrual waste generated in a heavily populated country per month, let alone in a year. Not all sanitary napkins are bio-degradable. The non-biodegradable ones need to be incinerated, or they end up in some landfill. The bio-degradable ones are too expensive to be spent on every month.
A menstrual cup is a product that is not only hygienic but also economical. Unlike sanitary napkins, which can be worn for a maximum of 6 hours, menstrual cups last up to 12 hours. Reusable menstrual cups are long-lasting and can last from 6 months to 10 years if properly cared for.
Despite the above-mentioned advantages of menstrual cup use, most Indian women have not even heard of this product. Among the women aware of such a product, only a few use it. A recent study on adolescent girls showed that most were aware of the benefits of a menstrual cup, namely:
Yet when it came to using, some certain myths and doubts were brought to light:
Lack of awareness
Fear of insertion
Fear of infection
Unaware about cost
In another study, participants were shown an awareness video and encouraged to use menstrual cups. Their feedback was recorded after 8 weeks. 43% rated menstrual cups as better than other products, while 36% rated them as equal. 64% found it difficult to insert the cup for the first time. Almost all women had no difficulty in removing the cups. There was a reduction in the difficulty of insertion over time. No staining was observed, and 76% of the women who had previous issues with staining were satisfied with menstrual cups.
All these results make it clear that India does have the potential to use menstrual cups. Hindering this shift is the uncertainty associated with stepping out of a comfort zone. Hence, the need of the hour is to spread awareness. Whether it may be through advertising, word-of-mouth, peer talks, discussions, or increased availability in pharmacies, more and more women have to be made aware of the benefits of using menstrual cups. Only then will we move towards a more sustainable lifestyle as well as a healthier environment.