The first time I gave the menstrual cup a try it was a complete failure. The concept was very unclear, I had zero expertise, nobody could demonstrate it in person and eventually, after a cycle or two I gave up on it. It is very easy to settle for a more relaxed alternative like sanitary pads because they’ve been around for quite some time now and they’re much more accessible and convenient to put on. But, everything comes with a price, and the shortcomings of a pad were plenty like rashes, uneasiness, frequent leaks and stains on clothes, lesser mobility and a lot of irritability. The repetitive nature of such drawbacks led me to speculate on what I deserve, being a menstruator, and what I really get.
I got down to widespread research on other alternatives that were available in the Indian markets and decided to go for tampons. These required lesser manoeuvring of the product and provided more fluidity of body movement. However, an abbreviation kept popping up every now and then while opening fresh packs- TSS. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but life-threatening condition caused by the overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, or staph that gets stuck into the body and releases harmful toxins. It’s often found to affect those who use the super absorbent variety because a tampon, warm and soaked with blood, is an ideal place for bacteria to grow. Moreover, it was just as problematic as a pad because there were leakage issues and sleeping with tampons inside the body for too long wasn’t an option.
Digging deep into how a menstrual cup is really used, its pros and cons, different types and folds, I found myself questioning how it first came into being and why a majority of us still prefer using a sanitary pad instead. Living beings don’t adapt to changes easily because apprehension about something new and the fear of the unknown plays a massive role in it.
Evolution of the Menstrual Cup
Catamenial Sack- S. L. Hockert (1867)
S. L. Hockert from Chicago, Illinois invented the Catamenial Sack  in the year 1867. The idea of a Catamenial Sack was the first prototype of a menstrual cup. It was a rubber pouch connected to an adjustable length wire (via a screw on the front) that was further attached to a belt worn around the waist. A string attached to the bottom of the pouch was to aid in the removal of the pouch just like a string in tampons. The wire was presumably rigid and was to help hold the cup in place and in shape to avoid it from slipping off or coming out. It often featured a small sponge for extra absorbency. There is no evidence of it being manufactured.
First Menstrual Cup Patent- McGlasson & Perkins (1932)
An early version of a bullet-shaped menstrual cup was known to be patented in 1932 by the midwifery group of McGlasson and Perkins. However, it was never commercialized and made available for the general mass.
First Commercialized Menstrual Cup Patent- Leona Chalmers (1937)
After the invention of menstrual cups in 1932, Leona Chalmers decided to take them a notch higher and make them available for the general mass. Hence Chalmers commercialized usable menstrual cups in 1937. She patented a design of a menstrual cup that was made from latex rubber, was soft as well as firm enough to not slip out. Her patent application stated that the design won’t cause “uncomfortableness or consciousness of its presence”. It also allowed women to wear “thin, light, close-fitting clothing” without belts, pins or buckles that would bother them or would show like the Catamenial Sack.
First Brand –‘TASS-ETTE’ later ‘TASSETTE’ (Latex Rubber, 1950s)
The 1930’s menstrual cup brand, “Tass-ette,” came up after Leona Chalmers designed the same. It faced hurdles during World War II as a shortage of raw material, latex rubber, occurred and the company was forced to stop production. After the war in the early 1950s, Mrs Chalmers made some improvements, modified the structure and patented a new design. Thus, it was re-launched as “Tassette” at the end of the 1950s with a bigger advertising budget. This cup was not well accepted even though women were far more progressive than in the 1930s they were somehow not ready for a menstrual cup with the idea of reusable internal protection.
First Disposable Menstrual Cup-TASSAWAY (1966)
It was important to address problems that popped up concerning emptying or cleaning the Tassette cup. Those who were happy with the product didn’t feel the need to repurchase another since it was a reusable product. So, in the late 1960s, Tassette Inc. decided to come up with a solution to the biggest problem they were facing. They patented and began manufacturing a new disposable menstrual cup, “Tassaway,” to compete with the emerging market of disposable menstrual products. It was a big success and extremely popular in Europe.
THE KEEPER (1987)
Reusable menstrual cups came back into the market in 1987. Another cup made out of latex rubber called ‘The Keeper’ was manufactured in the United States. The popularity picked up at a good speed as women were much more progressive and discontinuation of menstrual cups was not seen as an option thereafter.
MOONCUP- First Silicon Menstrual Cup (2001)
The first silicone menstrual cup that became popular in the market was the UK-manufactured Mooncup in 2001. At the beginning of the 21st century a new material, medical-grade silicone, was integrated into the design which yielded great success. It ensured women a safer period cycle without latex allergies. Since Mooncup was a huge success Lunnette, Diva Cup, PeeSafe, The Women’s Company and other such brands started manufacturing the same kind of cups.
Pros & Cons of Menstrual Cup
It’s rightly said that we decide which pattern we really want to break and not let it trickle down to the next generation. When I thought of giving the menstrual cup a second try my mother was apprehensive about it too. Reading up the pros and cons, watching tons of informatory videos and a lot of self-exploration helped me more than I expected to not just understand the concept but also formulate an opinion of my own. I never found a proven drawback or medical threat with regard to cups but somehow the number of women who feel comfortable using a cup is just a handful compared to the vast chunk willing to settle for sanitary pads.
A menstrual cup in its true sense is a bell-shaped silicone cup that is folded for a smoother insertion into the vagina. It slides in and pops open to form a seal against the walls of the vagina. This helps catch all the menstrual fluid and can be emptied according to one’s convenience. This is not just the ‘real game-changer’ but a life-altering experience altogether.
The blood doesn’t get a chance to flow out and spread like jam on bread, hence there are no chances of irritation, odour, infection or rashes. Concerning flexibility and mobility, one can easily spread their legs and sleep in whichever position they want because gone are those days of uncomfortable sleepless nights. It provides comfort without making one conscious about its presence inside the body. Swimming with the cup on makes life so much easier.
Emptying it according to the flow of blood depends from person to person but it can hold blood up to 12 hours at a stretch which is very convenient for someone who’s travelling, attending lectures, working long hours or even lying around like a sloth. One must note that menstrual cups don’t make the vagina dry, they keep the good bacteria intact, and are not associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) in any way. Hence it’s a win-win situation for all! Cups are also very environment friendly and avoid adding to a lot of unnecessary waste that’s hardly biodegradable.
Sustainable Development Goals
United Nations (2015) adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and these SDGs are structured and well defined, in such a way that they address important problems from the health and sustainability perspective. However, Menstrual Hygiene is not explicitly mentioned in any of the SDGs but still directly linked to achieving several SDGs. SDG 3 ensures healthy lives and promotes wellbeing for all at all age; SDG 4 ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning; SDG 5 which is all about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls; SDG 6 ensures availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all and SDG 8 that focuses on decent work & economic growth. Menstrual health and hygiene are thus intertwined with various SDGs and a slight positive change in one creates a domino effect in all the other SDGs too.
There are a lot of developing countries and talking about menstrual health and hygiene is a comparatively difficult task even today. Many communities are hesitant to embrace menstrual cups because of moral concerns about hymen, virginity, masturbation, and its potential to act as contraception.
Though we’ve transitioned into an advanced world there are a lot of women who still use old cloths, rags and cotton to soak their blood instead of proper products due to poverty, illiteracy, unawareness and other factors that play a crucial role which increases mortality rates and diseases day by day.
Educational institutions hardly hold menstrual awareness workshops for students in developing and underdeveloped countries. They glorify basic information in the name of awareness and certainly keep the boys away from it. That’s exactly how regressive our understanding of period blood is as a society and the role of men in menstruation remains a far-fetched dream. The stigmatized status of menstruation questions the basic menstrual needs of women hence it’s disturbing to witness how the 21st century continues to pursue a stoic silence on the issue regardless of the impact. Menstrual cups have evolved over all these years and it’s high time we consider evolving too!
 S. L. Hockert, “Catemenial Sack,” 12-Nov-1867.
 International Journal of Health Sciences & Research (www.ijhsr.org) Pg- 379; Vol.8; Issue: 5; May 2018