Everything You Need To Know About Using a Menstrual Cup (The Good, The Bad, The Bloody)
Periods. The beautiful monthly moment that is a mix of emotions. First, there’s the excitement knowing you successfully avoided pregnancy another month in a row, but for me the excitement quickly fades as I begin to worry that the pain I am experiencing can only be explained by the fact that my uterus is slowly falling out of my body.
If you believe tampon commercials, your period has no effect on you, and will actually just make you do cartwheels through a field in white jeans. The only thing that could make me want to do cartwheels while I’m on my period is if it’s toward vegan ice cream. And let’s be honest, even then I can usually only muster up a half walk/half zombie crawl to the freezer. The most honest collection of period talk I have ever seen is in this collection of tweets from hilarious women across the globe and can be summed up in this New Girl gif (weirdly most things in my life can be expressed with a New Girl gif, but I digress).
In our society we have made talking about periods taboo. We have created this conversation that is clearly not supposed to take place in front of anyone lacking a vagina and a uterus. But if half the population is menstruating we should probably be able to talk about it. As Jane C. Hu argued in this Slate article menstrual cups are actually a feminist issue, but alas that is a post for another day.
When it comes to periods my parents have always been pretty awesome. I remember the first day I got my period (in a Sam’s Club bathroom no less). I ran out to my mom in a panic and she whipped out a Ziploc stuffed full of every pad and tampon option imaginable. She had been waiting for this day.
As I got into high school, my periods got considerably worse, I was starting to miss a day of school every month from being so incredibly sick. I remember one particularly gruesome day where I was losing blood like I had been shot. I stained my favorite corduroys, and was just trying to make it to the bathroom without throwing up. My dad showed up to sign me out and take me home. He got the heating pad out, put my favorite movie in and made sure I had all the snacks I needed before going back to work. Like I said, I have amazing parents.
Because of that, I was never someone who felt a ton of shame talking about my period. It happens once a month, so it is hard to avoid talking about it once in a while.
There is a different way to handle your period – a menstrual cup! Talking about periods is taboo enough, but a discussion about using anything other than a tampon or pad is really done in hushed tones. This is not to say women haven’t been doing this for decades as menstrual cups have been around since the 1980s – however, it is slowly becoming more and more mainstream and better available.
So what is a menstrual cup? A menstrual cup is a “flexible cup designed for use inside the vagina during your period to collect menstrual blood. The cup actually collects the menstrual flow rather than absorbing it like tampons or pads do. Most menstrual cups are made of silicone or rubber”.
I am assuming some of you have already cringed at this description, but check out this super helpful infographic on some of the differences between tampons and menstrual cups:
When I learned that they could be used all day, do not contain harmful chemicals, produce less waste, AND can save me money? I was convinced. It was time to choose a cup to try. After I read more and more about them I decided to try Model 1 of the Diva Cup first. The Diva Cup comes in two models. Model 1 is, “recommended for women under the age of 30 who have never delivered vaginally or caesarean section”. Model 2 is, “recommended for women age 30 and over and/or for women who have delivered vaginally or by caesarean section”. After having this cup for over two years I sadly left it in a hotel room shower while out of town.
I did more research, and decided the second time to go with the Lena Cup. The Lena Cup similarly has two sizes that are better suited for different flow sizes or bodies. The Lena Cup is made in the USA and is a company that mentions more care and attention to the planet so I thought it was worth trying another brand. Both are good cups to start with and are available from multiple retailers online, or their websites directly. If the Diva Cup or Lena Cup isn’t for you check out this list of cups. There is a cup for everyone!
When I discuss my first week with the Diva Cup, I will not censor any details. If you are considering using a menstrual I think it is important to know just what the heck will happen. A co-worker at the Women’s Center who has answered my seemingly endless questions about menstrual cups was honest with me and I have reflected on how helpful that was.
And as I mentioned earlier the taboo surrounding periods is ridiculous so I will be using the words blood, vagina, fluid and massacre for the remainder of this post (although not necessarily in that order).
I very consistently get my period Tuesday of my period week (thank you birth control pills for regularity!) but Monday night of period week I decided I should give this whole menstrual cup thing a go before I was bleeding more heavily.
I got home from class, cleaned the cup and was ready to try. Between the blog posts I had read and the cup instructions themselves I knew that it might be difficult my first try.
Per advice from a co-worker, I put a little water on the cup because I had not technically started my period and needed some fluid for insertion. I sat on the toilet, trying to relax, folded the cup and gave it a shot. Boom! Went in, first try. I felt like a menstrual cup master.
It felt a little weird once I got up and walked around. I know you are not supposed to feel it once it is in so I knew something was a little off but it moved around and then felt comfortable. I would figure out later that I had not pushed it up far enough initially.
Later that evening I decided I did not want to sleep in it so I would take it out and reinsert in the morning. I sat on the toilet, went to grab the cup and I could not find it. For an irrational split second I was sure my body had absorbed it and it was gone forever. Even knowing that was impossible I was convinced my body had found a way.
In reality the cup was further up than I knew possible – another great thing about a menstrual cup is that you really learn about your body. I have a friend who found some great videos about using menstrual cups, one of which is about removing the cup – lifesaver. As she expertly describes, you have to use your muscles to push it down. Once I knew that, it worked like a charm. I pulled the cup out, and since I had not started my period yet, there was not much to empty. I rinsed it off and used a natural soap to wash it quick.
The next morning I figured I would pop the cup in like I had the first time with ease. That was far from the reality. I could not get the cup in to save my life. And I had started my period so things were starting to get messy. I tried different cup folds, I tried standing and sitting and nothing was working. Since my hands were starting to look like I had been a part of a massacre I had a tough time gripping the cup, so I dropped it into the toilet. A sign I needed to take a break, and I had to rewash the cup. Finally, I got the cup in but I was not confident that it had sealed. I highly recommend wearing pads while first using the cup to make sure you have no bloody accidents during the week.
During the first full day I was worried it was not sealed, so after a few hours at work I decided to check. I had a little bit of leakage but nothing major. I pulled the cup out, rinsed it off and put it back in no problem. Later that day after work I took the cup out thinking it would be overflowing – not the case – it was at most a fourth of the way full. I always used super tampons because I thought I had a constant heavy flow, but another thing using the cup does is teach you about your flow.
Sleeping with the cup in the first night was a dream. Being able to sleep without feeling that tossing and turning might turn my sheets into a used body bag was peaceful. The other perk was being able to wake up in the middle of the night, go pee and NOT have to change a tampon or find a new pad, which is not what I want to be doing at four in the morning.
The next two days brought some experimentation and practice with folds and positions. Every body is different so different folds work better not only for different people but also for some it differs depending on where you are in your cycle. The most popular two folds are a “U fold” or the “Push Down fold”, both of which you can see pictured below. The “Push Down” Fold makes the rim smaller and for me that was easier to insert. It also made it easier for me twist a little and know I had a proper seal.
Later in the week I decided to test exercising with the cup. I went for a run and I do not exaggerate by saying it was nothing short of amazing. If felt great to run and be active without the feeling of a tampon moving, or string rubbing or just being worried of the activity making a leak more likely to happen. I ran without feeling anything.
The weekend came it was time to test the cup in another situation – a night out on the town. Normally preparing for a night out on my period would include making sure I have enough tampons/pads for the evening, finding a small purse to carry them, or finding a lovely male friend to carry one in their pocket for me (usually their pockets are a little less tight than mine). But instead I went out dancing having to worry about none of that.
Fun side note – I have a tiny bladder, a fact all of my friends and family will attest to. Once I start drinking alcohol I inevitably need to use the bathroom frequently all night. Being able to do this without changing my tampon every bathroom visit was beyond convenient.
As with anything, menstrual cups are not for everyone, there are some who have absolutely hated using them. I would push those people try other cups, be patient and really think about why being more connected to your body makes you uncomfortable. But if it does not work for you, that is just fine.
By the end of the week I felt I had been successful. There were bumps in the road but there were bumps in the road when I first started using tampons as well, in fact, mastering that took longer. I am actually looking forward to my next period to keep trying and mastering the cup.
My challenge to all of you is to talk to your friends, parents, kids or whoever else will listen about menstrual cups. Explore the plethora of online sources and learn more about it. There are tips, tricks and videos on the site that can be very helpful for first time users. At the very least talk about periods, whether it is about access to products or what your favorite period munchies are, do not be afraid to share. This conversation is not just for women, men this matters for you too, listen to the women in your life. The more sharing we can do the less taboo it will be.
Happy Menstrual Cupping!