For the past few months, I've been using the Keeper Cup instead of tampons. And I love it.
For someone frugal-minded who works in women's health who wants to reduce the amount of waste put into the environment, as well as possibly be more in touch with her own body, a menstrual cup is such a no-brainer I can't believe it took me this long. Here are some of the advantages I've noticed:
1) Reduces waste. 14 BILLION tampons, pads, and applicators end up in landfills every year. Do you want to be a part of that? I don't.
2) Fewer health risks. Conventional tampons, even those that are supposedly dioxin-free, have been found to have measurable levels of the chemical dioxin in them. Dioxin is linked to cancer, endometriosis and a variety of other health risks. There are so-called "organic" or 100% cotton tampons, but they have not been demonstrated to be any safer than regular tampons. They're also linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome, most likely because the wicking action of tampons dries out the vaginal walls and creates tiny tears by which bacteria can enter the bloodstream. The cup collects instead of absorbs, so normal vaginal secretions aren't affected. While there is theoretically a possible TSS risk with menstrual cups, it's much smaller than with tampons.
3) Less expensive. The Keeper is $35 and lasts up to 10 years, if not longer. $3.50 a year? That's $0.29 a period! Definitely cheaper than paying full price for tampons, and even gives CVS a run for its money.
4) More convenient? I like the fact that I don't have to worry about "having another tampon" with me at all times. I store the Keeper cup in its cloth bag in a pocket of my work bag, and then it's always around when I need it. You can also insert it proactively, which is definitely contraindicated for tampons; this can be especially helpful for those who experience spotting or irregular and unpredictable periods. While I've tried keeping backup tampons in my purse as well, the wrappers inevitably degrade or the tampons get smashed and it seemed like there was still often not one available when I needed it. This left me begging a co-worker for one, crossing my fingers (and my knees) and going without, or heaven forbid, dropping a quarter in the slot (which often doesn't work!) for, heaven forbid, some kind of crazy SCENTED tampon from a machine. I won't even go into the social and health implications of those. And, you don't have to deal with the embarrassment of flushing a tampon and clogging somebody's toilet or septic tank!
However, I put convenience with a question mark because I know there are those that question emptying the Keeper while anywhere but home. Even somebody as ballsy as I am can't really envision walking out of the stall, chatting lightly with someone while rinsing my menstral cup into the sink, and then waltzing back into the stall to reinsert. Luckily, the Keeper only needs to be emptied about every 12 hours (and I've gone longer), so I empty it before I go to work and when I get home, and don't even think about it the rest of the day. And most women don't even work 12-hour shifts. (The rubber one--I can't speak for silicone models--also makes some squeaky noises as you fold it into shape, and I could see where the more self-conscious would find that embarrassing as well.) However, others note that you can easily empty it into the toilet and just wipe it out with toilet paper when out in public.
5) Effectiveness. Since I've learned to use the Keeper effectively, I haven't experienced the leakage that is pretty common with all kinds of tampons. Because it's held in place by suction instead of by the vaginal walls, you don't have leakage around the cup. I've heard it's possible with a very full cup, but I've been surprised that even after 12 hours, the cup is rarely more than 1/4 full for me.
1) Requires comfort and familiarity with your body. There's definitely more visual and tactile up-closeness with your body when you use a menstrual cup. I view this as a good thing. I think it would be especially helpful if young girls could get comfortable using them--it would help eradicate the view of their "lady business" as something dirty and mysterious, and also serve as a visual indicator of how much blood one really loses during a given cycle. (Less than I thought!)
2) Learning curve. It has one. But then, you have this with tampons too. I remember an entire period where I walked around bowlegged because I didn't realize that the applicator had to be fully inserted before the tampon was deployed...I thought you just positioned it nearby and sort of launched the tampon. Needless to say, it didn't launch very far, and was incredibly uncomfortable. I've also talked to girls who knew to insert, but didn't realize that one then REMOVED the applicator. OUCH! The Keeper cup takes a little time to realize how to insert and remove comfortably, but time spent getting to know your own body is a good investment, in my opinion.
3) Convenience/neatness? Once again, depending on individual circumstances and squeamishness, this can go both ways.
4) Need especially good hygiene. If you're not careful about washing your hands BEFORE you go to the bathroom, the fiddling necessary to first figure out how to comfortably use the Keeper cup could place you at risk for a UTI, just from normal skin bacteria.
If you're ready to get on the bandwagon, you can get one here! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
As a side note, I use the regular rubber Keeper, but there are several silicone menstrual cups available as well. The Keeper Mooncup, Mooncup UK, Lunette, and DivaCup are a few; you can also find side-by-side reviews and comparisons of all types. Most come in two sizes, one for women who have given birth and one for those who haven't. (I found it especially interesting that the wording on the Keeper site recently changed to say "women who have given birth" vs "those who have not given birth OR have had C-section.")
Personally, I chose the Keeper because I thought the rubber looked and felt like more of a natural product than silicone, but I know many people are very happy with the silicone products. I also liked that the Keeper had a 3-month return policy, no questions asked (well, okay, one question: did you trim? Most people trim the stem on the Keeper for comfort, and you can NOT return it if you've trimmed more than half the stem. Don't ask me why. You can't use the the stem for removal--like a string on a tampon--because of the SUCTION!--so there's no reason they should require the stem to be left intact). In case you're not as pleased with yours as I am with mine, the return policy is something that's worth investigating before making the investment.