What is a menstrual cup? Incident at California’s Capitol sparks interest

Google searches for the words “menstrual cup” dramatically increased Friday evening into Saturday, as news broke out that a anti-vaccine demonstrator threw one from the gallery filled with blood at state senators, splashing lawmakers on the final day of the legislative year.

Rebecca Lee Dalelio, 43, was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism, misdemeanor battery and four other counts related to disrupting official state business, and posted bond Saturday morning.

In its news release on Friday, the California Highway Patrol didn’t use the term menstrual cup, instead saying they were investigating a situation where a demonstrator threw a “feminine hygiene device containing what appeared to be blood.”

So what is a menstrual cup?

It’s a flexible, medical grade silicone cup woman can insert in their vagina to collect menstrual fluid in order to prevent leaking.

Menstrual cups are a healthy, cost-effective and waste-free alternative to using a pad or tampon. Woman can wear them longer than tampons — up to 12 hours — and wear them in the pool, according to period advocacy group Put a Cup in it.

The cups were invented in 1867, predating pads and tampons. But they didn’t gain popularity until recent years.

Studies suggest between 11 and 33 percent of women are aware of menstrual cups on the market, and largely gained exposure because they are reusable and eco-friendly.

Periods, and the historical ways women manage them, are not often included in historical records, because how periods were understood in culture and religion. While there have been many styles and inventions that worked like menstrual cups in indigenous communities, menstrual technology didn’t become commercialized until women started to work outside of the home in the late 19th century — requiring them to manage their flow for longer periods of time.

While pads and companies like Kotex became more popular among women, menstrual cups will always remain one of the more earlier, efficient and cheaper methods to period management, albeit having more competitors in today’s world.

Menstrual products are a $3 billion industry in the U.S., according to Nielsen, a consumer research company. The average woman will spend about $400 on pads and $1,800 on tampons in her lifetime.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.