Menstrual cups are serious game changers if you use them right.
When I first heard of menstrual cups, I thought, no way. The idea of a cup sitting inside me was just abhorrent – how do I take it out? Won’t there be spillage? And more importantly, isn’t it really uncomfortable?
But first, an explainer. For the uninitiated, a menstrual cup is a reusable feminine hygiene product that’s approximately 5 centimetres in length that you wear inside of you. Rather than absorbing blood, the cup collects it, which means you have to empty it when it’s filled.
There were two factors in my decision to take the plunge, so to speak: one, a number of friends have tried it and now swear by them; and two, the realisation that pads and tampons aren’t all that great in terms of minimising your carbon footprint. I’ve always thought that said options were the only two available when it comes to coping with periods, but as it turns out, there are a number of recent alternatives on the market (such as reusable period underwear) that are way more eco-friendly.
After a quick Google search, I discovered that a whopping 20 billion tampons and pads end up in landfills, and that’s just in North America. Pads and tampons are also made of synthetic materials, which means fossil fuels are involved in the production chain. Now, I’m no saint but I’ve always tried to be kinder to the environment, so I decided that it was time to put my money where my mouth is and ordered myself a menstrual cup.
When I first held the device in my hand, I was daunted. Logically, I knew that it would fit, but having only been used to tampons, the cup’s girth seemed so much larger. The instructions are clear – fold the cup so that it resembles a ‘U’ shape and insert it as you would a tampon. But when the day came for me to do the deed, I was flummoxed. It was like trying to fit a basketball into a golf hole (I apologise for the graphic imagery).
Fifteen minutes later, I succeeded, although almost by fluke. To all beginners, here’s a tip. Pinch your fingers tight around the cup – if you don’t hold it firmly, it will flap open and you’ll have to start over. Also, you have to angle your cup. As your vaginal canal is situated at an angle inside your body, positioning your cup vertically during insertion just makes your life harder (and ten times more frustrating).
But here’s the great thing. Once it’s in, you can’t feel a thing. Remember those sanitary pad adverts which show blissful-looking women rolling around the bed in their underwear? That was me, sans underwear. I have never felt so liberated and went to bed happy as a clam. At the back of my head, I knew I would have to attempt to remove and empty the menstrual cup sooner rather than later, but I was riding too high on my success to focus on future problems.
In the morning, I was a woman on a mission. But after ten minutes of futile fumbling, I exited the bathroom to send messages of despair to my friend (I did wash my hands thoroughly). Said friend is an expert with period cups, and converted to them two years ago.
Me: “I cannot find it at all?? Where did it go??”
Her: “Don’t panic. It can never get lost inside you. Just reach further up.”
Me: *inserts multiple sobbing emojis*
I also fired a text to my boss, saying I was mid-excavation and was likely to be late to work (or that’s the story I’m sticking with, anyway).
For round two, I decided to just go for it. When I inserted it, I expected the cup to sit at the bottom of the canal (which is how tampons feel for me as well). However, the menstrual cup rests further up, which took some getting used to. However, this is where the stem of the cup comes in handy – once you catch hold of it, the rest is easy. Another trick I discovered was to relax my vaginal muscles completely, sort of like how you would release them during Kegel exercises. For both insertion and removal, I found it easiest (and least messy) to squat in the shower. I emptied the contents, rinsed it, slid it back in and headed to work.
The first real test was changing the cup at work. I was hoping to avoid this (given that the cup can stay in you for up to 12 hours), but alas, my cup runneth over in the middle of the afternoon. Personally, I only noticed that the menstrual cup might be filled when I actually began to feel its presence inside me. Before that, I almost forgot that I was on my period because it was just so comfortable. I was told that there are several ways to change your cup in public restrooms; the best case scenario is to find a handicapped toilet, because of the proximity of a sink. Otherwise, opt for a squat toilet and either use the bidet to rinse your cup or bring a bottle of water into the cubicle with you. I went with the latter and to my relief, it was fairly quick and painless. The only difference was that I had to grip onto the cup more tightly, in case it fell into the abyss of the toilet. All I can say is, bring wet wipes.
By the third day, I was a changed woman. I was telling everyone who would listen to me (including a couple of hapless men) that it would change their lives (or their female friends’ lives). I’ve never used a feminine hygiene product where I felt absolutely nothing, and the knowledge that I was doing my best by Mother Earth also gave it an added boost. And if you’re someone who’s active and works out regularly, this little silicone cup is a godsend. Hygiene-wise, you boil your cup before and after each cycle to disinfect it, and when you’re at home, you can wash it with gentle soap after you empty it. Sure, it’s a little more inconvenient than pads or tampons, but the comfort factor (once it’s in) and the relative infrequency of when it needs to be changed more than makes up for it.
Bottomline: give it a go. Don’t get disheartened if you have “square peg, round hole” moments of despair when you start out; if you stay calm and persevere, your body will figure out what to do. The blissfully blithe women in feminine hygiene product ads? That might just be you.
A version of this article originally appeared on www.herworldplus.com.