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Period Story Podcast, Episode 79, Amaia Arranz: Menstrual Cups Are The Most Eco-Friendly Period Product

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Amaia Arranz. Amaia is the CEO of Ruby Cup, an award-winning social business that works to combat period poverty around the world. 

In this episode, Amaia shares: 

  • What it was like getting her period as a teenage girl in Spain in the 90s 
  • How getting her period was a combination of being a part of a VIP cool girl club with a big dose of shame attached 
  • Some of the myths she learned growing up around tampons, virginity and sex
  • How menstrual cups work and exactly how to use one 
  • The social mission at the heart of Ruby Cup, including their buy one, give one model 
  • How they work with their NGO partners to provide menstrual education and to ensure there are the right conditions, including clean water, to use a menstrual cup safely
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Amaia says that if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, get angry, get pissed off, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. 

Thank you, Amaia! 

Get in touch with Amaia:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Amaia, thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you, learn more about Ruby Cup, but let’s first get started with a question I ask all my guests. Tell me the story of your very first period.

Amaia Arranz:

Hi Le’Nise. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited about our conversation. My first period was, I think I was 13 or nearly 13 and I think I was the last girl in my class getting her period. And with all these things, you don’t want to be the first one, you don’t want to be the last one. So by the end I was really kind of praying for it because my friends were saying things like, oh, I have cramps, but you can’t understand yet. And so if you feel like a baby a bit, I just want to be a big girl like the others. But then my period did arrive and the first thing my mother said was like, oh my God, now you could get pregnant. And I completely freaked out because I was a very young child. I was nearly still playing with my dolls, not quite, but probably in secret sometimes. Nowhere near having sex, nowhere near having boyfriends. So when she said that, completely freaked out. I was like, what do you mean? It felt like a heavy fast track into something I wasn’t ready for at all. So even though the technicality of the physical bit I was ready for, I have another sister as well, that emotional side, that thing of, oh, now you are a woman. That completely, no, I wasn’t ready for that at all.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so you weren’t ready, but did you know when you actually saw the blood, what to do and what was going to come next?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I guess. I went to a very good school in terms of reproductive health education. I had a mom that told us about it and I had an older sister, which I think is always a massive factor. It’s also older sisters, they love to teach us things. This is a tampon, this is a pad. So I knew the physical bit, the bleeding, the pad, what to do. You have cramps and to be all coy in physical education class, oh, I cannot do it today. But I think, yeah, I knew that the physical technical blood part of it, but I wasn’t so prepared for everything else that comes like PMS or I don’t know, change in moods or how people might view you or how you might even consider yourself. Now you’re a menstruating woman or an adult let’s say.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Can you say more about that, the changes in how people view you and how you view yourself?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I think this is changing a bit now, but a bit slowly in my opinion, there is still this thing of, oh, now you are menstruating, now you are a woman. Well, you are not actually. Our periods are arriving, I mean in terms of population earlier and earlier, I think in the last hundred 50 years, on average it’s gone from arriving between 12 and 13 to 11, 12. There are many factors for this, it’s thought to be a higher consumption of meat, more processed food, pollution. We don’t really know why, but periods are arriving earlier when you are 11, 10, 11, 12, you are not a woman. And I think this concept that now you are a woman, the whole kind of connection between periods, reproductive health, sex, the cycle, you have to know that. I mean knowledge is power is your body. You have to know it and own it. But to have this kind of implication and now you are on your period, you are a woman, you are more up for grabs let’s say. Yeah, I don’t really like that. I think it’s very negative.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so for you, when you got your period, how did it change how you felt about yourself if it did in any way?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, as I said, I was very bookish, loved my dolls kid until an older age than average, which is absolutely fine. But then the other conversation you have with friends about tampons and pads and also bras and body hair, it is like one day you are literally playing with dolls or watching quite childish TV programs and nine months later you are talking about whether wax or shave your legs and tampons versus pads and different bras. And that’s fine because how your body and your mind and your soul are growing. But they think very often I felt a bit brought by what was happening around me rather than me feeling actually ready. And it kind of felt it was happening very fast. All these things are now, maybe nothing wrong with makeup or anything like that. I’m just saying that it seems that now puberty, teenage happens very soon and menstruation is a milestone that makes you go from feeling like you can still be a child to suddenly you are a young woman, which you are not at 12, 13 at all. And that can be quite disconcerting and especially if you take into account, the male gaze. I grew, I was a teen in the nineties, so all these things, Britney Spears being a sexy school girl and so on. It’s very confusing, what do you mean a sexy schoolgirl? What the hell is that?

So I mean, yeah, it can be a bit confusing that thing of supposed to be much more mature in terms of your sexuality than you probably are ready for. If you are, it’s fine. I’m not saying one should not do that if they feel that way, but I think teenagers are very easy to, you can get influenced very easily by the crowd, by TV, by culture, by magazines and all these things. And you may be feeling a bit like that you are forced or not maybe forced, but really encouraged to grow up faster than you really are.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I actually really agree with that. I think that there is this, along with this idea that having a period and menstruating and ovulating makes you a woman, which it doesn’t. There are so many things that make you a woman. It just feels like there’s this kind of expectation that okay, childhood is over time for the next phase. When I say this to my son a lot, and I don’t think he really understands it, but enjoy your childhood, enjoy not having any responsibilities, enjoy feeling free. Don’t worry about this and that ,your worries worry about what’s happening. Don’t think about what’s happening at school, think about your friends, but don’t rush for the future. And I do feel like there is this kind of acceleration happening. You see it on social media, on TikTok where it’s okay to experiment with makeup and all of that, but when you see these girls they’re like 11, 12 and they’ve got a face full of makeup, it’s very kind of jarring because you look at them and you think, you’re extremely young and it is great to experiment but don’t grow up too fast because basically I think what I’m trying to say.

Amaia Arranz:

I completely agree. I just want to clarify. I have nothing against Britney Spears. She’s fantastic. It’s more I don’t think I was portrayed not a sexy school girl. I completely agree with you. Also, there are things, I think it was a few years ago, I lived in the UK for a long time. I remember when I think it was Primark, suddenly they had a two piece bikini with a bit of how say, filling on the top area for seven year olds. The thing is this idea of, I don’t know, taking the fact that all children playing to be adults a bit and taking it to an extent that we’re pushing them into a direction that, I mean some will be ready, some are very mature and some are not.

But yeah, and also I think with social media and TikTok, this idea that you have to look at by also how you feel inside growing up I’m becoming more mature. I’m being ready to take on more responsibilities and being more responsible for your body and your sexuality and your fun and so on. It’s also that it’s mainly something happening inside in your personal development. It’s not only signaled by something physical like a period or having boobs or wearing lipstick and it’ll be good I think. My kids are very small, but I have teenage nieces and nephews and I do see that they could get a bit more support into developing the internal skills to cope with the facts of growing up.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And for you, once you got your period and then you kind of went into your teenage years, what was your experience of your period?

Amaia Arranz:

I was this thing really, it was this dichotomy. On the one hand you have a period, you’re a woman, you wear a bra and you epilatt and you wear eyeliner whole thing together, like being in this kind of secret club. We never tell the boys about these things and those pads going under the desk and it was something fun and cool about it. I mean, I do not have the bleeding. I didn’t have period pain until my late teens, but when I was 14, 15, 16, it was nearly something fun going to the beach. I don’t think I shot off today because I’m wearing a pad. But then at the same time there was this thing about how it’s like the secret being fun, but the shame also being very intense. I do remember it’s a secret, but it can turn into dirty shame quite quickly.

Once when I was, the first year I was menstruating, so 13, 14, probably like 14, my period was still quite irregular. So I never knew when they were coming. And then I got my period and I was in a school and I stained my jeans and it was literally the end of days, what am I going to do? Someone leave me a jumper, I’m going to have to go home in the middle of the day, change my whole outfit and probably get face surgery and change my identity. So know what? It was so embarrassing and it was like, I mean I realized thinking why do I have to feel so embarrassed about this? The boys are playing football outside and bloodiness all the time and they’re not going like, oh, I have a bloody trouser. This is horrible. So I was aware of that and I be like, I know this is really, sometimes if someone says something about period, people pull a face or say like, oh, it’s a bit disgusting, we don’t really need to hear about it.

So on the one hand it was like a path to a VIP cool girl room to have your period and be like a teen girl. On the other hand, there was so much shame about it about, I also remember when the first girls started using condoms, and this is really insane, but remember it was the nineties and it was in Spain and so on, and they were saying it’s a bit, not slutty, but oh, a bit too much a tampon, sorry, called tampon using tampons instead of pad like oh, you put it inside and I don’t know, there was this thing about it. And then yeah, mainly the thing about the blood being something super disgusting, not something you talk about and having to hide it not only by choice but also by not being disgusting. You hide your period, you hide your products and I do really wonder what it does to a young to be told that she might be smelly or dirty for a few days every month and her body is doing something that is going to be doing anyway, but you should hide it and only talk about it in.

So I find that not super great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Where do you think this instinct, because this is something I hear a lot, this shame, I have heard a few of my guests say that when they got their period, they felt like they were in this club and it was cool and they thought it was so awesome to be able to have their tampons and their pads. But then the majority of my guests have talked about shame and where do you think this shame comes from?

Amaia Arranz:

I think the shame comes from the patriarchy, an ingrained misogyny in our unconscious about the female body. I think it’s, it’s just really screwed up the fact that we still live in a society that seems to value motherhood in women in a way it doesn’t fatherhood in men, you really, I mean I’m not saying anything this, but you really become a woman when you have a child. All the celebrities that haven’t had children being so pitied while the men are not and so on. So it’s like being a mother, it’s this really important thing in the life of a woman and what’s going to happen if you can do it or if you don’t want to do it, how suspicious, how weird.

At the same time, the same biological process that allow us to become women is disgusting and then in between period and pregnancy is the female sexuality, which is still surrounded by taboo and shame. So I think that’s what it is. I mean, I don’t want to get into massive conspiracy theories here, but I think there is so much fear and taboo and lack of acceptance around the female body that the period has become a bit of alike a scapegoat because it’s so visual, so bleeding, something you have to do every month, you have to do something to manage the bleeding coming out of your vagina. I think many people, many men are terrified of it because it also is a symbol of our power. We can birth life, we can have children. So I think that where it comes from, it’s too much. I mean I think it’s too much to bear in a way.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I agree. I think that these taboos, they exist in so many cultures and there’s the religious side of it, there’s also the cultural side of it and then there’s the whole idea, the patriarchal side of it. What do you think we need to do to move past these taboos, to move past this inherent feeling of shame that seems to permeate once you get your first period?

Amaia Arranz:

Well, I think proper period education is key. But you know what? I used to think, and I’ve been working in menstrual education for more than a decade and I felt so strongly like girls need to know about periods. They have to be empowered, they have to be told how to manage them, how to think proud of them and so on. What maybe the boys too, I mean, I dunno. I think sometimes when you are very passionate feminist, you’re like boys, men, you have enough attention, you have enough resources. But actually now I’m getting older and hopefully a bit wiser. I think generally young people are very lost when it comes to their bodies and their sexuality and we’re not giving them enough support. I think there is still this fear that if we talk to them about sex a lot, they won’t want to do anything else but have sex all the time or something like that.

So sexual education, menstruation, a two hour lesson in a school and that’s it. Like what? That’s not enough. It’s we going to keep on talking about this. So I think it’s education and then culture. For example, when I was in the nineties, all the ads for tampons are path, were like this beautiful models, actual models like roller skating, white shorts and being confident and beautiful and it’s like you, you are so separated, so away from that reality when you’re feeling bloated and tired and you don’t want to wear white shorts and you don’t want to wear rollerskates. I mean I think we need to have more thought of menstruation in books and TV series I is happening more and more and movies and just making the human body and especially for teenage people, sexuality, reproductive health period, something ongoing in a school. No one thing that they’re taught once about but something that have workshops, have role play, tell people about different products.

This is happening now. It’s so fantastic. I never knew until I was quite older that you could have anything back. Tampons and pads, I mean no one product is going to work for everyone until people are different products. If someone has a very heavy period, don’t just put them on the pill. Maybe there something else they can do. So I think we need to take more time and effort and care to educate people and create also a pop culture about it that it’s more, I don’t know, instead of asking all young, bright, lovely celebrities, if they’re going to have children, ask them about how they’re doing with their period, don’t ask another woman again, how is it being a working mom? I ask her, Beyonce, you’re jumping on the stage for five hours a day every day of the month. What happens when you’re menstruating on that stage? What do you do? How do you manage it? I mean, yeah, let’s get more creative with this.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That’s such an interesting line of questioning because yeah, you do see these athletes and actors, they’re doing these very intensive jobs and thinking about the heaviest day of your period where you do feel tired. Yeah. How do you navigate that? It’s so interesting to think about, but I do think coming back to this idea of education in schools, getting boys involved is so important. And I see this on my TikTok. I get a lot of questions actually from men around fertility. How do I help my partner? How do I know when she’s ovulating? How do I help her? And if we had this education earlier where it was all the kids in a classroom not separated by gender and they learn about the biological side of it, they learn what’s normal isn’t, that it kind of reduces a lot of the fear that you see with men around this.

Like, oh, well I can’t go to the shop and get tampons or pads. It’s weird. Or even when women having to hide their products because they don’t want anyone to see it because they think, oh well I don’t want anyone to know. It’s just all of this stuff starting really early in an age appropriate way. I think it’s so, so important. I do this, my son, I bring it back to him because I just think it’s so interesting. He knows the work I do and he hears me talking about it all the time. He hears my conversations and so he knows about periods, he knows about all of this. And I had to say to him, because his school just became co-ed, and I said, there might be girls in your school year who they might get their period if you see them and if they have a stain, offer them your jumper, make sure that they don’t feel embarrassed, let them know in discreet way. And he hadn’t really made that connection and of course he wouldn’t.

Amaia Arranz:

That’s amazing. I mean that’s the thing. It’s like imagine if every boy was told that if you see one of your schoolmates with stains or struggling or something, don’t laugh at her or don’t mock her. Just be supportive and nice. Imagine what difference that will make. I mean it’s amazing. Of course it starts at home as well. I should have said that as well, that parents could do some support on how to talk about these things. I hope this is changing, but I mean my dad will have never spoken to me on my periods. I mean, he’ll just, if my mom and my sister were talking about it, he just say, pull a face and walk away. So yeah, once again, it reinforces this idea that it’s a VIP club, but it’s kind of shameful depending on who you are with which, yes, I think emphasize that this dichotomy when you’re a teenager and things are either great or really bad, but it’s really good that you are talking to your son in that way because I think it’s the only way.

And also, I don’t know, you hear more and more women saying, I had super heavy periods of very painful periods. I was talking to this woman talking about periods at work who suffer from extreme anxiety from the fact that on the first day of her period she couldn’t move with the pain. She could vomiting pain and she had a very high pressure as well. So if she thought that her period might coincide with a presentation, she’ll be taking something for anxiety as well. It can affect you that badly. And if you go to the doctor and that doctor hasn’t got the resources or the training or the knowledge to help you, so many women end up finding they have endometriosis very later in life when they have fertility issues or polycystic ovaries or actually there was a way to make this better for them. That was just a contraceptive pill, no shade on the pill.

But there also other ways of addressing these issues and just doing, oh, periods are painful and dirty and it’s a woman’s job to put up with them. Well, maybe it’s not as any other thing that it’s making your life quality worse. It’s completely worth assessing and seeing if there’s a solution for it. But you cannot do that if you’re too embarrassed to talk to someone. I mean, there’s someone in my family, a teenager in my family who has a very heavy and painful period. And her mother is really trying to go to, the doctor has to check if everything is okay and she refuses if 16-year-old, she’s really even. She like, no, no, no, has embarrassing. I will never do that. And her mom who’s a teacher trying to encourage her and it’s like, wow, still no.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. Yeah. I want to go back to what you said about in your teenage years when girls were starting to make the switch to tampons and it was seen as slutty. I’ve never heard that. I just think that’s, and this is any kind of menstrual product where you have to insert it. There is a lot of misconceptions talking about how you lose your virginity and it’s just wild talking about it. But thinking specifically about the work that you do with Ruby Cup and menstrual cups, there is still a lot of fear around menstrual cups, the insertion, managing it. Can you talk about why that is and actually why menstrual cups are so beneficial?

Amaia Arranz:

When it comes to any product to manage your period that are used by insertion like tampons and cups? There is, I think there are two taboos about it. One is virginity, the hymen, might the hymen break, therefore break my virginity if I put a cup or a tampon in my vagina. I think here is, I mean at Rubycup we work with in many different countries with people from all kind of cultures and religions and we always come from respect and say, this is not for you. It’s not for you. And they’re this fantastic company that makes washable pads. You should speak to them, no pressure at all. But we also say your hymen is a very thin membrane at the end part of your vagina and it’s very flexible and it’s different for everyone. Therefore your hymen could break when you are playing sports or riding your bicycle or climbing a tree or doing a medical examination.

But if you haven’t had sexual intercourse, you are still a virgin. And that if you hymen breaks and you may not even realize when it breaks because it’s not like loads of liquid weight in the earth point we breaking. Many people never realize when the hymen break and if you haven’t had intercourse then you’re still a virgin. There are people whose hymen is so flexible like a spiderweb so to speak, that they could have sex, vaginal sex and the hymen not break the first, the second, the third time. They may never realize and those people have had sex even if the hymen is intact, so to speak. So hymen and virginity are not synonyms, so to speak. So if you haven’t had sex, and for example if your wish is to not have sex until you get married, using a cup or using a tampon is not going to destroy that wish.

It’s not going to stop you from being a virgin. That’s one thing. The other thing is if we only talk about virginity in terms of penis in vagina, that’s also a very narrow view of what’s having sex and intercourse, which is something else to conceal altogether. So personally I think virginity is a social construct in itself, but as I said, we always respect everyone’s wishes and beliefs. We just say that the same way that the cup is not might or not break your hymen, it might break doing sex or not, it might ride your bicycle or not. There’s something to know. 

And then the other taboo surrounding anything being inserted in your vagina, which I think is that taboo we had in the nineties, at least in my school, is that because it’s always been portrayed that sex and a woman’s arousal happens when the penis goes into the vagina.

We’re watching a movie and they kiss and then they’re having sex and she’s super, super, super enjoying it with a kiss and a penis in her vagina. So I think there is this kind of this remaining idea that a woman could get super aroused and super excited and have an orgasm just by having a cup or a tampon or anything going into her vagina. So I think that’s the query comes from thinking, oh, if I put something in my vagina, it’s going to make me really, really horny and maybe that’s inappropriate. We had in certain places, not our users, our program participants receiving a Ruby Cup, but their husbands concerned that the women were going to be using Ruby Cup as a sex toy and start neglecting them inverted commas. We have had this. So and then what we did in this case is that we said, okay, why?

How about we have some women, adult women, community leaders use the cup and then they can vouch for the fact that unfortunately Ruby Cup is not going to give you a million orgasms. So then ly, so that’ll be the best product ever then. So yeah, taboo, taboo of the hymen virginity and is a taboo, I mean, I’m sorry to say I think it’s alive for most women and why sex can be so disappointing for women at this start because most women do not go into the peak of their ecstasy. Yes, they’re having something put into their vagina. So I think that’s why I think it’s also important to talk about this. Yeah, education is key and also not only on menstruation but also on women’s bodies and trying to give ourselves permission to learn what we like and go with that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then regarding menstrual cups themselves, so something that I see and it’s starting, I am seeing a bit of a shift, but there is a fear about, because it feels, for some people it feels very different. They’re used to hearing about pads, hearing about tampons, oh cups, how does it work? And there’s a fear of it being messy. How do I actually get it in? Can you just talk a little bit more about that side of it? 

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, sure. I think something with cups, and I’m looking here for my own experience because I only started using cups in my early thirties. I’m 43 now, so I’m a cup user, but I did use tampons and pads for a very long time. I think it’s this idea you have to handle your own blood in a way. I think you still handle a lot of blood with pads and tampons, but there is something you don’t have to touch anything. And that also, for example with tampons, with applicators are so popular, at least in Spain, in the UK, some more people using the ones with no applicator. But in Spain, everyone, not everyone, but many people choose the ones with applicators. So you don’t have to put your fingers inside, you don’t get any blood in your fingers and all this kind of sanitized period. This is stay away from that witchy blood from my vagina kind of thing.

Okay. A cup is completely the opposite of that. You’re going to get close and personal with your blood and I think it’s amazing. It’s great. Okay, so for insertion, a cup, I mean we have lots of information and resources and videos in our website at rubycup.com, but basically it’s not that different to how you insert a tampon. What happens with the cup is that it looks like a small cup, but when you see it just like that, it looks very big compared to a tampon. So it can be a bit like what, but then you fold it and there are many folding method and when it’s folded, it’s actually nearly as small as a tampon with advantage that is made of very soft medical grade silicone. Whereas tampons, because they’re like cotton or the applicator is cardboard, they’re harder. So full look smaller, but they have bit rougher to an extent.

Whereas caps are very, very soft. So then you insert it in your vagina and then you let it to collect your blood while you menstruate and then you have to empty it. And this is the bit that everyone, including me, I mean I’m not looking down on anyone, it took me some time to get used to the cup. It is because then you do get very close with your blood because you have to take your cup out and especially at the beginning where you are still shaky and you’re still learning how long you can leave it for before it overflows. It can be a bit, oh blood everywhere and this can happen. But what happens after a while, you learn how to use your cup and you end up being able to remove it and empty it anywhere without even getting blood in your fingers. And it’s quite funny to see actually it’s not so much blood like this small cup full of blood and so on.

But what I was going to say is that it’s also interesting how we freak out about the idea of getting blood on fingers or making a mess in the bathroom. Most of us don’t bleed anywhere near as much as we think is the way tampons are that because they absorb the blood and they soak it up, it looks like there’s loads. But when you put in an empty container, it’s really not much. So even if you drop a bit of blood on the floor or in the bathroom, you can clean it up, it’s fine. It may happen to you the first few times you use the cup, but it’s just your blood. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not disgusting, it’s not horrible. Maybe interesting. Oh in there, oh it’s much darker or now it’s more red now it’s more brown. There is some, I mean I don’t know.

I really encourage people to try cups because I think there are a really fantastic product. They are the most eco-friendly product. They’re the cheapest product. But also because most of us are going to menstruate for about 35 years, we want to know what is there to know about all the products and then choose and maybe also explore one that makes us feel more like matey with our own body and our vagina and we’re, oh, now my cervix is a higher, now it’s a bit lower. I don’t know. I think there can be a lot of joy in it if you turn it around still thinking, oh my god, my blood, it’s fine.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting way of looking at it. Looking at the number of periods that you have, how long? So I think it’s between about 450 and 500 periods across the course of your menstruating life. And if you’re going to experience something that many times, why not just embrace it? It might be painful, it might be heavy, but embrace the kind of process of it. And part of that is getting familiar with your blood. I remember when I first started using cups, I was really surprised not just by, I was surprised by the color, I was surprised by how I would fill a cup and how I would have to empty it and how working all of, but the other thing I was surprised about was actually the smell. It’s this idea that a lot of us grew up as we touched upon this in the beginning of blood and our bodies and our vaginas being dirty and smelly vaginas.

And I was like, this isn’t smelly at all. And I just thought that was really, really interesting. And actually using a cup has helped me understand my body a lot more and it’s actually changed my period. I started using a really hard, a harder cup, I won’t mention the brand, but I then switched to using a medical silicone and it just made my period so much easier. And it, I have mild endometriosis so my periods can be painful, but they are so much less painful and I put that down to not using your standard conventional tampons or pads, but also giving my body the opportunity to just let the bleed just go out rather than everything being absorbed, which is what happens with tampons.

Amaia Arranz:

I could not agree more. I could not agree more. It’s such a different experience. And the smell thing as well is very interesting because I mean smell is also smell. One day you get a bit sweaty and the other one goes MIA, it’s fine. It’s just a bit of a smell. But sometimes the smell we relate to pure smell is because most tampons are cotton, they have bleached the cotton and so on. There are a number of chemical products in there. I’m not saying they’re harmful, but they are in there. So therefore that has a chemical reaction with your blood. It’s having, if you sweat a lot and you wear a cotton T-shirt or nothing, even the smell is completely different to when you wear a polyester or lycra t-shirt. It’s kind of that comparison, if that makes sense. Yeah. I have never come with this before, but anyway, and I think that’s what happens with the cup because it just collecting your blood, not absorbing it. So the experience is completely different. And then in terms of, I think for me logistically, I had not thought about this, but with tampons, you have to have the right absorbency for that day because taking out a tampon that is not full, it is my friend says like licking a wooden spoon, so it’s

Le’Nise Brothers:

So uncomfortable!

Amaia Arranz:

We can’t have all the sizes at home and our back and at work it’s just a pain. The first time I went on a holiday with just my cup, there’s my little organic cotton little bag with my cup inside instead of lagging tampons. Oh tampons. So the tampons, my tampons and my paths and then you go to a bathroom and what do I dispose of everything. I mean just the experience is so much more pleasant and I really love what you said about embracing our period. This is kind of like hippie mindful saying about if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. What are you doing here? You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, yeah, get angry, get pissed off, reach about it, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. If that is what works your boat, go with it. Rather than trying to fight it and say, I’m not being as productive and not able to run 30 marathons these two days. Well maybe your body is not going to find that so horrible after.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that analogy, that metaphor. I think it’s brilliant. I want to just switch a little bit to talking more about Ruby Cup, the company. You have a model where someone purchases the cup and then another cup is donated. Can you talk a little bit more about where the cups are donated and why these places were chosen?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah. Well basically when the program, I mean Ruby Cup was always going to be a social business. It wasn’t something that came after. The aim was always to find those people that were facing period poverty. I know poverty means not being able to handle your period in a way that is safe or dignified, missing a school, missing work, lower self-esteem in certain parts of the world. It puts you at risk of falling into toxic relationships because you depend on your boyfriend to buy your pads and so on. So that was always the aim of the company and there was, I think it was in 2011, could it be, there was a small study in Kenya, in Nairobi, I think it was with 80 cups, I think they were Mooncup actually showing that the women were very receptive to using a menstrual cup. I mean we’re talking about caps are why well known now, but 10 years ago and in East Africa there were not known at all.

So there was always this concern that you’re going to go to people that to have a problem and you are going to offer them a solution they don’t want, which obviously it’s not the way to go. So basically the first solutions of Ruby cup started to happen in Kenya in 2012. That’s when I joined the company in 2012. Basically we teamed up with a number of locally based NGOs that were working. At the time, it was mainly school girls because there was this whole thing like 10 years ago about keep girls in a school, save a girl, save a generation, and so on and so on. This idea that if you are able to help a girl from dropping off a school or getting pregnant or getting married off at 12, if you’re able to keep her, let’s say, I wouldn’t say in the good and narrow, but let’s say in a school and safe for until she was 18, 20, that her future could have a completely different shape and she could be much more of an owner of it.

So we started distributing the cups mainly in schools, and this was in Kenya at Tanzania and Uganda. And those started in those countries basically because we found some really, really fantastic locally based partners that were super committed to deliver a product education support, peer support and network of trainers and make it long-term. They should really need to provide the person receiving a caup. If you’re talking about rural Uganda with education support, you have to have everyone on board, the school staff and the parents and the religious leaders and so on. So when we found this organizations committed to this, this was what we wanted and it was great because we’re also super committed to be accountable for our work. Something we do very, very thoroughly with our partners is to follow up with the people receiving a cup and collecting data whether they’re using it and if using it is a positive experience for them or something they have to because they have money for nothing else.

So our adoption rate across the board, then we started working in Malawi, then in Nepal then we have a number of projects in the UK, in Spain, but across the board our adoption rate is about 82%. This means that out of 10 people that receive a cup on day one, six months later that is still using it, eight out of 10 are still using it and we think it’s a very, very good result. In some cases can be like 95% or 75%, but we believe that we have created a system of education and peer support and continuity and sustainability that is really working and really allowing people that will otherwise be using newspapers and old socks or just sit and bleed on the floor. Now they have 10 years of fast free stress-free period, and also access to education about their bodies. We developed a really great, if I say so myself, training curriculum to support the NGOs we work with because we are nothing without them, that we are a tiny company but work with and now we work with some really big NGOs and so on, and we love it, obviously have so many resources and I take videos and we love it.

But to work with those small organizations that are there in the field helping every girl, every woman try to provide all the support they can and then them continuing the work. We wanted to also give them the resource of having posters and a handbook for the trainer and flashcards and things like that. So we’re very committed to the educational part of it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love that. Education is so important to take the fear and the shame out of this topic. I wanted to ask more about the logistics side of the cups and in places like where you might be working with NGOs who are distributing cups in slums. So I interviewed someone earlier this year who has a charity that donates cups to Kibera, which is the largest slum in Kenya. And one of the issues that they faced in the beginning was the cleaning of the cups. They ended up having to work with a company that creates cleans water from rainwater and uses that as a way to clean the cup. Have you had this issue in some of the places that you work with?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I mean something we do with our new partners is either via a questionnaire, via an interview. We always do bit of a vetting process, like there are a number of questions we ask and resources that need to be in place. And one of them is how are you going to ensure that the users can use the cup safely? Are they going able to wash their hands? Are they going to be able to boil the cup? And we feel that if in an area they don’t have, because everything you need to use the cup safely. I know this is not available for everyone in the world, so I’m very respectful of that. The fact that many people don’t have even that much water, but is to be able to wash your hands, which hopefully you’ll be able to do regardless whether you’re using a cup or not.

And then one cup of clear water once a month that you have to able to boil. So of course gas or fire are involved, that’s what it is. And if that’s not available, if that’s not possible, we really ask the partner, the potential partner to take step back and see if that can be solved somehow. And this is an issue, it’s something super serious. We take it very, very seriously. And for example, some feedback we had, we worked with Save the Children in Northern Kenya a few years ago, and it’s a very, very dry area and we were very concerned about the water, but they were telling us the fact is that if you’re using rags for your period, you also have to wash those and that really needs out of water and soap. So they were like, okay, let’s see if we can redirect some of the water that’s being washed for washing to wash the cup.

And it was super successful that project. And then what happen is that a massive drought came in and then there was lack of water and food and medicine. So Menstrual Health project had to be parked because bigger, more urgent needs came into place. So it’s always a bit of a thing. We always try and ensure that, I mean we always ensure that our partners have resources at the time so that people using the cup can so safely. And it has happened that at some point, especially in certain areas, very dry areas, some refugee camps, perhaps the resources stopped being available and we have to stop the project because it’s not really, we want to do no harm, let’s say. Yeah,

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think that’s so important and so interesting because in these conversations about menstrual health, so for example, Menstrual Hygiene Day early, which is I think the 28th of May, there’s always, every year without fail, there’s controversy about the name. Why is it still menstrual hygiene? And I think it’s really a Western perspective where it’s not, periods are a hygiene issue because you need to have clean water and access to water to be able to wash your hands, to wash any menstrual products that you use. And some places they just can’t use reusable products because they don’t have the resources to be able to clean them effectively. So it’s very interesting to have a global perspective and also to hear how you as a company are tackling this issue. In terms of the cup itself. And you also do underwear. Where can people find the products and do you have anything coming up that you’d like to share?

Amaia Arranz:

Yes, thank you for asking that. Well, you can find us www.rubycup.com, and we have menstrual cups. We have a size small and a size medium, and there is a test that you can take and you take the test to see which is the size for you, and then you get a 10% discount. So do that. We also have Kegel exercises so you can work with your pelvic floor. And we also have Ruby cleans, which are small sterilizers you can bring about if you’re traveling or you’re on holiday or you are sharing house with many people it’s somewhere you can boil your cup without using a pot, let’s say. And there also have, we recently launched menstrual underwear. It’s called Flow Freedom, and well check it out because it has a very, very, they’re very comfy pants, but they also have a high absorbency. So literally you can go to the gym on your period with them and be fine. 

And then especially now for December, so okay, instead of doing Black Friday, we’re doing instead, which I think I’m really excited about is we’re going to double our donations in December. So if you buy one cup, we’ll donate two. So

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, that’s amazing. 

Amaia Arranz:

In a way, when you give discounts, you lose some profit margin. Okay, we’re going to lose it in the form of donations instead. So if you’re thinking of buying a cup, yeah, you won’t get a discount if you buy from us on Black Friday, but if you wait a little bit and you buy it in December, you’ll be able to help two people have 10 years of plastic free periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. That’s amazing.

Amaia Arranz:

Safe periods, dignified periods. So yeah, check us out and we’re on TikTok as well and Instagram and yeah, just be in touch.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. What’s one thought that you’d like to leave listeners with today?

Amaia Arranz:

I would love for anyone listening here to take just a little cup of tea and sit down and think about your periods or their periods of the person they live with or their friends or family members. And try to turn the narrative from the menstruation being something bad and dirty and annoying and something that is always the butt of the joke to something that will be something that works with you and works for you. And that will be a time for yourself every month. And then knowing your cycle is going to make a huge difference. We don’t have no time to talk about this now, but know your cycle, track it, see how you feel at different moments of your cycle. And I promise, promise, promise, promise. Embrace your period, get to know it and it’s going to work with you, not against you.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. Thank you so much for coming onto the show. I’ll put all the links in the show notes for anyone who wants to check out Ruby Cup.

Amaia Arranz:

Thank you for having me. Had a great day. And the time has gone by.

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