Menstrual cups are for Black people, too
Using menstrual cups transformed my hateful feelings towards my period.
by Neesha Powell-Twagirumukiza
I’m on a self-ordained mission in the name of periods. A few months ago, I came across a story in Teen Vogue about Black people who menstruate and are disgusted by menstrual cups. As a Black menstruator whose quality of life improved once I began using menstrual cups, I charged myself with spreading the good news about them after reading this story.
A menstrual cup is a product made from flexible medical grade silicone that’s inserted into the vagina during menstruation to collect blood. Like its name implies, it’s shaped like a cup.
RELATED: Black youth need more than public health strategies that read sexuality as diseased and immoral
Menstrual cups were heaven sent for me. I spent my adolescence and young adult life dreading my period. Often, wearing a tampon and a pad at the same time wasn’t enough for my heavy flow, resulting in plenty of bloodstained bottoms. I wanted to sink into the floor when classmates saw evidence of my period.
Perhaps even worse than the shame of bleeding through my clothes was peers catching a whiff of the unpleasant odor emanating from my soaked pad. Some old school people call menstruation “the curse,” and growing up, I agreed with that moniker. What had I done so wrong to deserve this inconvenient monthly visitor?
To add insult to injury, not only was my flow sometimes heavier than my supersized pads and tampons could handle, but also, menstruating was so painful that it disrupted my everyday life. I missed work and social events due to cramps holding me hostage. Eventually, I learned that the culprit of my period woes is probably an endometrial cyst on my right ovary (I say “probably” because endometriosis can’t be formally diagnosed without having an invasive procedure to confirm it).
For too many years, I felt powerless when it was “that time of the month.” I thought pads and tampons were my only options because nobody ever told me otherwise—not my mom, gynecologist, nor my friends. During my mid-20s, social media is what put menstrual cups on my radar. By then, I was a part of the reproductive justice movement, so I was eager to explore reproductive health options that were new to me.
Using menstrual cups transformed my hateful feelings towards my period. I wondered why I hadn’t began using them sooner—this product that’s been around since 1932. I believe that it’s in part because of the particular period taboo in Black communities that A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez wrote about in the aforementioned Teen Vogue article, and other Black menstrual cup users that I spoke with agreed.
Keamber Pearson, a freelance photographer in Atlanta, thinks Black people may view menstrual cups as something solely for white people since they’re not yet mainstream and also as something that carries stigma.
“I feel like there’s a lot of sexual stigma in general around reproductive organs in the Black community, so not being in tune with yourself in that way might turn you off [from using a menstrual cup],” Pearson says.
Mattie Mooney, a health educator in Seattle, echoes Pearson’s sentiment about stigma around sex in Black communities and says that young Black people are shamed simply for starting their periods and get labeled as “fast.”
“I feel like Black women, people socialized as Black women, and people with uteruses who menstruate have been kind of socialized to think that their bodies are dirty, and I think a lot of that just comes from white supremacy and the narratives around Black bodies,” Mooney says.
Period taboo is preventing Black menstruators from experiencing a product that can be life-changing and period-affirming.
I no longer worry about bleeding through my clothes or smelling fishy. Instead of blood soaking through my pad, it collects in my menstrual cup for 12 hours, at which time it’s recommended to throw it in the toilet. I no longer feel like I’m wearing a wet diaper, and my menstrual cup is so comfortable that it’s easy to forget that I’m wearing it. While menstrual cups didn’t cure my cramps, I have friends who say that using a cup has definitely made their cramps better. To lessen my cramps, as well as my flow, I got an IUD, but I’ll leave that story for another time.
Another benefit is that I’ve saved a significant amount of money by using a menstrual cup. The Penny Hoarder estimates that using a menstrual cup saves menstruators $100 a year. DivaCup recommends that you replace your cup once a year, but they also say that it can last up to four years. They aren’t cheaper than pads and tampons upfront, but they pay for themselves in the long run. I love not having to buy pads and tampons monthly—they’re unfairly taxed and would be be free to all menstruators in a just world, as should menstrual cups.
Also, menstrual cups don’t contain the toxins pads and tampons do. Ami Zota, an environmental health professor at George Washington University, found that fragranced menstrual hygiene products may raise a person’s exposure to phthalates, a class of suspected endocrine disrupters that’ve been linked to developmental issues. Dioxins, which are found in tampons, have been classified by the World Health Organization as “highly toxic.” Additionally, menstrual cups don’t turn the vagina into a breeding ground for bacteria like tampons, which can create micro tears in the vagina that invite infection.
Finally, let’s talk about sex, baby. It’s a much cleaner affair to wear a menstrual cup while having non-penetrative sex on your period than a pad or a tampon. The cup traps the blood, but all the fun fluids are still able to come out and play.
Of course, not everything about menstrual cups is rosy. It can be difficult to get the hang of inserting one because most of us aren’t familiar with the nooks and crannies of our vaginas. Some folks may be averse to sticking things up their vagina, period, so menstrual cups aren’t a viable option for them.
Menstrual cups aren’t accessible for people who don’t have full function in their fingers or arms, which a friend pointed out to me when I mentioned writing this article. They’re also not suitable for other disabled folks for myriad reasons. Furthermore, cleaning menstrual cups in public bathroom with multiple stalls is awkward as hell because people can see you cleaning blood out of your cup at the sink. Like any other product out there, menstrual cups have their fair share of cons.
“I would say as with everything when it pertains to your body, do your research and know what’s for you because everything is not for everybody,” Pearson said when asked what she would say to Black people considering using menstrual cups.
RELATED: A meditation on intergenerational trauma and how we raise Black children
Jovonna Monet, a flight attendant in Dallas, began wearing a menstrual cup at the suggestion of a mentor who was also a Black woman. She believes that using menstrual cups promotes confidence in your reproductive health and highly recommends it to Black menstruators.
“I would say be comfortable enough with your body to want to know what’s going on with it, you know? To have an intimacy with your body — it’s just important, and it’s worth it to me,” Monet says.
Mooney hopes to introduce their child to menstrual cups when the time comes, which makes me happy. Many of us who use them grew up disconnected from our bodies, but that doesn’t meant that future generations have to be. I plan to continue spreading the good news about menstrual cups so hopefully one day they become normalized for Black people of all ages and are rightfully viewed as the transformative devices they are.