4. The Mechanisms of Destigmatization
4.2. The menstrual product stigma and first steps toward destigmatization
4.2.5. Social risk of trying new products
about identifying and talking openly about such issues. There seems to be some kind of vicious circle where the difficulty in talking about problems with menstrual products because of the stigma keeps people from expressing their wants and needs. As a result, manufacturers do not think consumers have any issues with the products, so manufacturers tend not to change products, or develop new kinds of products to suit consumers better; thus, the stigma is reproduced. Secondly, there is a high level of trust in the government, especially in Sweden, to regulate products intended for oral intake, alternatively used on or inside the body, which implies that consumers are less likely to question whether such products might be controlled and safe or not. Third, and finally, menstrual products are often seen as a commodity, or a product that does not deserve much attention from regulators, because it is a ‘necessary evil’ and people would rather think about it as little as possible.
accordance with the stigma. But this does not apply to all people. Increasingly, the destigmatization is contributing to, and influenced by, more consumers who are willing to engage with their bodies and their menstruation by, for instance, using a menstrual cup.
Using a menstrual cup implies getting blood on one’s hands, blood in the toilet that needs to be cleaned out, washing the cup and reinserting it, and not least, developing a technique for insertion as well as discovering the correct position for the cup to avoid leakage, which can take several cycles for some. Hence, menstrual cup use requires a different type of interaction and intimacy with one’s menstrual blood and body, which, over time, becomes a normal part of one’s everyday life, thus destigmatizing the experience of menstrual blood and menstruation for that individual. It also implies a certain level of social risk to try this new product, since it might fail, resulting in visible blood stains. As Moscherosch stated,
“I would say the social risk is high everywhere. I don’t know any country where culturally it’s fine if you have bloodstains on your clothing. I don’t think so. I don’t know any country where this is easily accepted. It’s a horrendous experience, no matter where you are. This is not something that you want to experience.”
This could signify that for those willing to take such a risk, the fear of bleeding through is not as great as for others, implying that they do not experience the stigma as strongly or are willing to take the risk.
The use of menstrual cups further teaches users about how much they bleed, as it becomes visible in a whole other way than when absorbed into material such as a pad or tampon, and about the insides of one’s own body, which is not something that is encouraged among women in other circumstances, at least not openly. This can be seen as increasing users’ menstrual literacy, which in turn contributes to their knowledge about menstruation in general. This matter is further discussed in the section on education and knowledge.
Because it is uncommon that women are encouraged to explore and learn about their menstruation, Drevik states that she is impressed by those who are daring enough to get to know their own body and menstrual cycle by using a cup.
Especially because it can take time, can be messy, and takes some dedication to pursue successfully. More specifically, starting to use a menstrual cup implies going through a number of steps, from my own experience and numerous discussions with friends and manufacturers: 1) figuring out what cup size and
shape will suit your body and flow; 2) paying a larger sum upfront than for other menstrual products in the hope that it fits and you figure out how to use it, and do so for a longer period of time, so that in the long run, it becomes a cheaper alternative; 3) researching insertion techniques, including different ways of folding the cup to insert it in the easiest way for oneself and trying it out, which can often be uncomfortable; 4) figuring out the correct positioning of the cup for your body, which is often different for everybody depending on, for instance, how low or high one’s cervix is; 5) ensuring that the cup is inserted correctly by feeling around it with your fingers, possibly twisting it and pulling gently at it or cutting off the tip, so that it does not chafe or stick out; 6) hoping that it does not leak and doubling up with other menstrual products such as a pad or liner because the likelihood of getting it right the first time is rather slim, since research can only get you so far and you have to figure out what works for you; 7) taking out the cup with your fingers and getting blood all over your hands and emptying it in the toilet, rinsing with water, and reinserting; 8) spending up to three menstrual cycles to figure out how to use it without having any leakage; 9) figuring out how often you need to empty it, depending on the day in your cycle and how heavy your menstruation is that day; and 10) boiling or otherwise deep cleaning the cup between cycles in a pot that might be used for other purposes as well or dedicating a pot for only that use.
This process might entail different steps for different people. Some do in fact get it right on the first try, such as Lisa Perby who was so happy, she started her own company selling them. Others try several different cups and never find the right fit. Regardless, going through the process of learning how to use a menstrual cup implies a certain level of dedication toward getting to know your body, and committing to not being afraid of engaging intimately with your genitals and menstrual blood, the smells, getting it on your hands and possibly clothes, and investing a larger sum upfront than one might for other menstrual products.
Engaging with your menstrual cycle, and menstrual blood to this degree, as opposed to when using disposable products where all you do is insert it into your vagina or underwear, take it out, and throw it away implies that users often become more comfortable with their menstruation and thus the notion of menstruation in general, which contributes to destigmatization of menstruation and menstrual products.
The notion that Solgun Drevik is impressed with further implies that those she refers to should be proud – the opposite of ashamed, which is the traditional view of menstruation. Therefore, the menstrual cup and engaging with one’s body and menstruation can be seen as a way to contribute to the destigmatization of menstruation and menstrual products on an individual level. Furthermore, getting to know one’s body in this way is often referred to as body literacy, which will be further addressed under the section on education and knowledge. Drevik stated that,
“tampon users are more used to handling the products, but I am very impressed with girls who use the menstrual cup and think it’s okay to handle [the blood] in that way. I am very impressed. […] There is a technique you have to learn, so there is some muck and sloppiness, and actually, you are much closer to your own blood than both tampon users and pad users. That is why it isn’t breaking through because there are still so many people who don’t want to know of, want to see, want to feel, or deal with all of that.”
Furthermore, for those using menstrual cups, there are clear limits to how destigmatized they feel about menstruation. For instance, it is still very unlikely that you might see a woman rinsing her menstrual cup openly in the sink of a public bathroom, as Moscherosch points out,
“I have not heard that women take their cup to the sink and rinse it in a public bathroom, I don’t think that happens.”
In summary, because of the stigma on menstruation and menstrual products, users are mindful of the risks implied by trying new products, which shapes the market in terms of what types of products are released and how willing or daring consumers might be in trying new products. Increasingly, menstruators are willing to try the menstrual cup, however. This signals that they are becoming more and more comfortable with their menstruation, which likely contributes to the destigmatization of menstrual products further. On the other hand, even menstrual cup users are unlikely to experience destigmatization to the point where they would rinse their menstrual cup publicly in front of other people.