What is a menstrual cup like the one in which

What is a menstrual cup, like the one in which it appeared "The last of us"?

(CNN) — Menstruation is a fact of life, but have you ever wondered how you’d handle it in an apocalypse? Fortunately, HBO’s hit series The Last of Us has the answer: with a menstrual cup.

In the final episode, Kin, Pedro Pascal’s character Joel reunites with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and teenage Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey. Joel and Ellie spend some time with Tommy and his partner Maria (Rutina Wesley), who provide the vital supplies for every girl on the run from zombies: clothes and a menstrual cup (HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery).

In the sixth episode of The Last of Us, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is given a menstrual cup as a gift. Photo credit: HBO

But what is a menstrual cup?

Like a tampon, the menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina during menstruation. But instead of sucking up the blood, the medical silicone cup collects it. The cup seals the cervix to prevent leakage, Gareth Nye, senior lecturer in physiology and specialist in maternal health at Chester Medical School, England, told CNN on Monday.

The menstrual cup has a lip at the bottom that makes it easy to insert and remove. When full, it can be emptied directly into the toilet. The cup is then rinsed before reinserting. It should be thoroughly cleaned between menses.

A menstrual cup can last up to 12 hours before needing to be emptied (depending on how heavy your menstrual period is and the type of cup) and can last up to 10 years. According to Nye, this is the best option from both an environmental and economic point of view.

A menstrual cup can last up to 12 hours before needing to be emptied. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Why aren’t more people using them?

Menstrual cups are not a new invention; In fact, they’ve been around since the 1930s.

However, a 2019 analysis published in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health found that only 30% of 69 observed international websites offering puberty materials mentioned puberty as an option.

“It’s a lack of education,” said Dr. Shirin Lakhani, a former general practitioner, now a beauty doctor and specialist in women’s sexual health, based in Kent in south-east England.

Speaking to CNN on Monday, Lakhani said we belong to a “throw away society” where if something like a sanitary product is reusable, it is not considered sanitary.

“I think there needs to be more education in schools about their benefits and uses,” he added.

Nye acknowledged that there are some downsides to wearing a cup, including the “steep” learning curve of finding the “right fit”, the potential for mess and the squeamishness of the blood. But there is also a “taboo” that makes it difficult to talk about alternative products.

“When you talk about women’s health, there’s all the stigma attached – you’re taught to be ashamed,” Lakhani explains.

The casual reference to menstruation in a popular series like The Last of Us is a step toward breaking that “taboo” of talking about the monthly cycle that 1.8 billion women, more than a fifth of the world’s population, experience.

Lakhani, who recalls tucking a tampon or pad up her sleeve in high school so it wouldn’t be noticed, says that “raising awareness opens up the conversation” about menstruation and the alternative sanitary products available.

It can also help people like single parents who need to know how to help their daughters when their periods start, she added.

Are you sure?

According to the 2019 analysis, menstrual cups are safe and effective, offering a more cost-effective and resource-saving solution.

Penelope Phillips-Howard, a professor of public health epidemiology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and lead author of the analysis, told CNN that menstrual cups could be part of a larger solution.

“In any poverty situation, whether it’s in Liverpool, London or any lower-middle-income country, people have real problems: women and girls have real problems controlling their periods,” she said.

In a world moving further and further away from single-use products, menstrual cups could make a big difference.

– CNN’s Nina Avramova contributed to this report.