Brains in Fashion

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Let's Talk Menstrual Cups...

by Cat Edwards

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15th March 2019

Within the past few years, a surge of support for feminism and a desire for greater environmental protection have joined forces to reignite interest in a little device – the mighty menstrual cup.


While menstrual cups may seem like a bright new idea, the earliest reported use of similar products dates all the way back to the late 1800s! Back then, they were referred to as a “catamenial sack” and were a complicated apparatus with a sack attached to a belt. It may not surprise you to hear that these were never commercially successful. A few decades later, a new menstrual cup known as the “menstrual receptacle” made its way to women. This device had a component which was inserted into the vagina and led to a larger vessel that collected the blood. This improved invention even allowed the woman to empty its contents while still wearing it.


The most similar menstrual cups to the ones we use today didn’t come about until the 1930’s when a woman named Leona Chalmers proposed a rubber cup to be inserted and held within the vagina by itself with no need for any external components. As this was the first successful menstrual cup, it was the also the first to highlight the economic problems -  namely that a product that lasts several years isn’t likely to make much money for the manufacturer. This is possibly why there has been a dormant period for menstrual cup popularity. Despite this, in 1987, the Keeper cup was created and has stood the test of time. You can buy one today, more than 30 years later, making them the oldest menstrual cup on the market.​


Fig.1 Leona Chalmer's menstrual cup patent in 1937

Menstrual cups available now are the result of a development called medical-grade silicone. It is used in medical devices and hospitals because it is designed to be ‘biocompatible’, in other words, it is safe to use on living tissue.


Periods can cause a financial strain regardless of where you are in the world. Recently, the VAT on sanitary items in the UK has received a lot of attention. After all, women can’t help that they need these items so why are they taxed? Although these products are subjected to a reduced rate (5%) compared to the standard (20%), the fight for a zero-rate on the basis of necessity rages on. Similarly, in many developing countries, girls are held home from school because of shame surrounding their periods or lack of finances to buy the necessary hygiene products to manage in public places. The lack of discreet disposal options is also a problem for many women, for whom cultural stigma is a concern.


Menstrual cups side-step many of these issues. One menstrual cup can last a woman several years, as with correct sterilisation, they can be reused month after month. Considering how expensive pads and tampons can be for women, who are struggling financially, removing the need for regular purchasing of these products means saving hundreds of pounds over the course of one menstrual cup’s lifetime. Most women find they only need to empty their cup once every 12 hours, meaning they can do so discreetly and privately in their own homes.


At the end of the day, menstrual cups may be a tiny device but they solve some pretty hefty problems!


Deciding to switch to a menstrual cup is just the beginning – from here on, there are a range of other factors to think about, such as: what size to use, how you’ll choose to clean yours and where to turn if you come across any questions along the way. For any of these concerns, head to, where TOTM can help you understand menstrual cups and other sanitary items, so you can make the best decision for you.