Menstrual cups: yay or nay?
I want to switch my tampons for a menstrual cup. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do that for ages. Or for seven months, to be exact. That’s how long my cup has been sat on my chest of drawers giving me a reproachful look as each month goes by. There are so many good reasons to make the switch. I just don’t seem to have the guts. That’s why I called on four women to find out about their experience with the cup. And their verdict? None of them would switch back.
My period made me feel insecure and under pressure from the age of 12. I used to wonder, is my tampon leaking? Have I already got a red mark on my trousers? How can I smuggle pads and tampons into the loo as discreetly as possible when I’m in a crowded room? The menstrual cup solved all those problems. Although it did admittedly take a few days for me to trust the cup would do its job. And as I hadn’t quite got to grips with inserting it and removing it – and more than once instigated a blood bath – I just used it at home to begin with. If I did have to nip out, I put on a pad as well so I knew I wouldn’t have any accidents. But now I know a menstrual cup can actually hold much more than a tampon. In fact, most women find they only need to empty it three times or less on heavy flow days. The cup definitely made it easier for me to manage my period.
It also taught me a lot about myself. When I changed my tampon, I always used to think I was bleeding out. It was only once I started using the menstrual cup that I got a feel for how much blood I was actually losing. Even just inserting the thing helped me develop new awareness of my body. You need to get to know yourself internally in order to get the cup in the right place with your fingers. There’s also less risk of infection because no bacteria can breed on medical silicon. As a result, you don’t get the unpleasant smell you might be used to with tampons.
However, there are also aspects that weren’t so great. Emptying the cup in public toilets, for instance. I always carry intimate wipes or a little spray bottle of water for the times I do find myself in that situation. At least then I can clean the cup. Another negative is the vacuum-like pressure I get after wearing the cup for longer periods of time. I even managed to accidentally remove my IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device) when I was taking out my cup! It could be that I just hadn’t got the hang of things. But I’d still recommend you talk to your gynecologist first if you use the coil, chain or ball for contraception.
I start using my menstrual cup just before my period begins. That way I seem to largely or completely sidestep PMS – I have no idea how or why. It also means I hardly have any pain during my period. Compare that to pre-cup times when I was constantly having to swallow painkillers for the first three days. Don’t be put off if you don’t get the hang of inserting it straight away. It’s just a matter of practice. The most important thing is that you find the right cup for your body. I say that because menstrual cups come in different sizes, are made of different materials and come with different stems. All of that to say, menstrual cups might require a bit of effort at first, but the advantages outweigh that. What helped me was talking to other women who use cups. In fact, it was thanks to comparing notes with them that I found the best technique for inserting it.
I’d heard of menstrual cups, but I’d never used them. That’s probably because I’d only heard about them in the context of third world countries and so didn’t think they were for me. But I became intrigued when a colleague of mine told me she had one. All the more so because you can reuse these cups for years. I have great respect for everyone who knows how to manipulate this little things. My first thoughts were, how do I get this cup out of me again without a cord and is there really no chance of anything leaking? After some persuasion from my colleague and all the positive comments I’d read about the product, I gave it a go.
Now I know how to use it properly. Here’s what works for me: before inserting it, I wet it a bit with water. That makes it easier. And then to remove it, I push down slightly with my pelvic floor muscles and grab the stem. Important point: you need to have clean hands and short nails for this task so you don’t hurt yourself. Unlike with tampons, menstrual cups do require you to «poke around inside». All in all, I’m impressed with the cup and can’t see how tampons managed to catch on rather than menstrual cups. As far as I’m concerned, tampons only have disadvantages when you compare them to cups. For one thing, you have to change tampons more often. The cord also gets in the way each time I go to the loo. On top of that, tampons are expensive, produce waste and cause vaginal dryness. As far as materials go, menstrual cups are more comfortable to wear.
I’ve been using my menstrual cup for over a year and I’m really happy with it. However, I did have to try out different ones before I found the one that suited me best. Some of them were too big, while others created too much of a vacuum, which meant I struggled to even get the cup back out. To make sure your cup lasts as long as possible, you need to look after it well. For me that means washing it in hot water and spraying it with a disinfectant after every cycle (and sometimes even during a cycle). Now and again, I also boil it in a pan to disinfect it. But as this makes the silicon more brittle, I wouldn’t recommend doing that too often. Another thing to bear in mind is that transparent cups will stain quicker than colourful ones. But a major plus of menstrual cups is that you can’t see them so you can even wear them for going swimming or at the sauna.