If you have been sent a link to this article, it means someone thinks you are an independent woman who is confident to try unconventional practices and capable enough to judge first hand. Kudos.
If you stumbled upon this article, it probably means you are a curious cat trying to learn something new or are looking to know more about the menstrual cup in specific. Either way, I have been where you are. Hi.
We are discussing menstrual cups, an environment-friendly alternative to tampons and sanitary napkins. It is made of medical grade silicon (let’s say safe rubber, okay?) and is the form of a cup. You insert (WAIT, don’t panic) it in your vagina and it stays there for hours (6–10 at a stretch, in my case) collecting all the blood you push out of your uterus. You can pee and poop with the cup inside you (in case you didn’t know, we got three holes down there, each for a different function). You take it out, pour the blood out, clean the cup and reinsert. Simple. It’s a reusable cup i.e. you can use it for a lifetime. You have to sterilise it between cycles.
I started using a menstrual cup in October 2015 and can’t tell you how much my life has changed since. I am 23 years old and I have a severe condition of PCOD. So much so as to I’ve been hospitalised for extreme blood loss, given Keterol shots every now and then to cope with severe cramps.
A quick search on the Internet will give you many reasons to make the switch but I am going to mention the ones that most appeal to me and those that I discovered first-hand.
1. Environment Friendly
(Very preliminary and assumed projection of statistics, okay? Don’t judge)
Ideally, 50% of the world population should be women. Let’s say out of these 3.5 billion, an odd (very conservative figure) two billion menstruate… 12 times a year. That is roughly about 144 odd sanitary napkins/pads if one uses a napkin/tampon for every 8 hours for the 4 days a month that she bleeds. 144 x 2 billion disposable waste is being generated by women alone. I’ll let that conversion to kilograms of solid waste for the websites to do. Remember that billion+ women bleed, we use more than 3 pads in 24 hours and bleed more than 4 days. So we contribute to a lot more wastage than I have mentioned here or more than what we think we do. Where is all this trash going? Google it. Not a pleasant answer.
Also, the amount of plastic that goes into packaging our pads/tampons, the oil that goes into transportation of the same to our neighbourhoods — there is a direct link to a reduction in usage of so many things that pollute our environment.
– A sanitary pad takes 700–800 years to decompose in nature. Now that’s unwanted legacy to leave behind.
— Not all women have access to sanitary products. Those who do can cause enough damage already.
2. Health And Safety
First things first, look up the gels that make the top layer of our sanitary napkins — while the pad absorbs blood, there is also reverse absorption of toxic chemicals happening. Shocking, yes? And if you are a regular user of tampons, you might (must) be aware that the tampons soak up the walls of your vagina and pose the potential dangers of TSS- Toxic Shock Syndrome which has caused deaths in users around the world. Unlike both these products, a cup is made of medical grade silicone that doesn’t react with the vaginal walls or our body and neither does it soak/absorb blood. It simply collects. It reduces chances of infection and rashes which are prominent with tampons and pads (for me).
I strictly speak from experience and observation of experience that the cup has also somehow helped reduce cramps and the pain caused by cramps during menses for me. Apparently, this is because of the suction that the cup creates.
Once the cup is settled/locked in its position at the lower vaginal canal, it won’t stick out or make you feel conscious about its presence. It doesn’t hinder the process peeing or pooping. You don’t have to face blood or be scared about leaving red droplets when you finish other business in the toilet. Unless you specifically want to empty and clean the cup, there is simply no feeling of the period in the toilet. When you sneeze, there is no gush of blood flooding your panty, all of it is neatly collected in the cup and you can barely feel anything. Nope, no nastiness at all.
Portability: Smaller than your fist, fits anywhere, comes in a cotton pouch and isn’t rigid in shape.
No leakage: In 6 months, I have never leaked. It doesn’t inhibit physical movement. One can swim, do yoga, ride horses, run, surf waves, do whatever. It leaves no odour or rashes. Very, very travel and adventure-friendly.
It’s a one time cost. Some websites will tell you that one must consider replacing the cup every ten years but there is no explanation for it. You can use it for a lifetime. A pack of sanitary napkins/tampons might cost you anywhere between ₹60–180 for a cycle i.e. ₹720- 2160 in a year. Menstrual cups will cost you between 400 and 2000 on an average depending on which make you choose and if/where you ship it from.
5. Where Can I Get One From?
There are lots of options. In India, one still has to order online. I recommend the Boondh cup (Indian company) on Meesho that costs 500 (Pricing matters. I don’t think health and sustainable lifestyle should be a thing of educated and elite only).
Most popular ones (for reference) are Mooncup in Europe, Divacup around US and the world. Do check out a vendor neutral referential site on Green the Red, a volunteer group advocating and spreading awareness on sustainable products.
My experience of befriending the cup and mastering the art of insertion and removal
It takes time. Took me 1–2 attempts. I was super excited to try the cup as soon as I got it. Wrong move for me (Though everyone has their own unique experience). Always wait till you get your period (start bleeding and not just spotting) before you try on the cup. The act of insertion is facilitated/comforted by the sliminess of the vagina during menses. Once you are sure that you are bleeding and the vaginal walls are slimy enough, try on your cup. If you have never had sex or are not very familiar with female anatomy, I’d suggest you insert a finger in to understand which way the vagina opens.
You can insert it while on the toilet seat/ any chair which allows you a comfortable position. Hold the cup (in a U-fold) and insert it in till you feel the cup is fully inside. You should only feel the bob or stalk sitting at the canal opening. Withdraw your fingers and give it a few seconds to open up inside you. While some websites will ask you to turn it once it is in, that’s difficult. I merely run my finger around the bob/ stalk to see if it has opened up (from U position). Within seconds of insertion, one can feel it getting stuck to the vaginal walls. Sometimes, it can take you up to a minute or so — get up and walk, sit on the sofa until you feel this lock — of the cup with your body.
It is normal to take 2–3 attempts to get the insertion right the first couple of times. Don’t give up. Try different positions while inserting (some of my friends stand on one leg and raise the other on an elevated surface to create more room for accessibility). You might feel it for 10–20 minutes but that’s only because you are super aware of it. I used to keep running to the loo to check if it’s still there and hasn’t disappeared inside me. It happens the first few times- same as when we start using tampons, then we figure the technique, the logic and assurance sets in.
During removal, squat comfortably and loosen your vaginal muscles. Try to thrust the cup forward till you can feel it. There is no one way of doing it but I am sharing the one I find most comfortable. Insert two fingers on different sides of the cup- say the thumb and the index finger and pinch the cup. This breaks the air lock that the cup has formed. After a couple of seconds, try to fold the cup (still inside your vagina) into the same U shape and pull it out. In case you can feel the outline of the cup with your finger but think the cup is stuck inside, most often it is just that the cup has opened up fully on its way out and your muscles are flexing to push it out. So once the air lock is out, you can pull the cup out in whatever way is convenient to you. I prefer making it a U inside, so it is easy to pull out.
I empty the cup once every 6–12 hours depending on how much I am bleeding. You will be very surprised by how little we bleed, contrary to what pads makes us feel. On a day with (this is extreme) super heavy flow and lot of clots, I have had to empty the cup in 4 hours (a pad would have barely lasted an hour and a half) and on a day with regular flow, I have left in for 14 hours as I was on a road trip and lazy to empty it.
You will be tempted to try removing the cup as soon as you’ve put it in or right after an hour, the first time you try it. That’s fine. You’ll learn. Just like we learn other things. Young girls and ladies, if you are scared that the cup seems too big to fit into your tiny hole, remembers the muscles in your hole can push a baby out, so they sure can hold a cup. Besides, it’s a good way to loosen up your muscles a little if you have been trying to have sex and are too tight (as shared by a friend who is using it for 2 months now).
I am often asked if virgins will face difficulty with the cup. Nope, it is the same experience as someone who has had sex. You just have to be confident and know your body well.
Simple advice. Don’t give up easily. Try it at least for 2–3 cycles if you must, to get it right. Most people I know have gotten it right in the second or third attempt and definitely or definitely by the second cycle. And a few were even motivated to try it in third (in spite of facing difficulty in removal) simply because it is super comfortable (and feels good) once inside you.
I want to request women with PCOD in particular, to make the change and see how much better they feel with it. It helps you keep track of how much (in ml) you bleed and the items when we bleed 5–45 days, we don’t have to worry about rashes (caused by napkins) or not able to go surfing/on a holiday because of clots and cramps. The cup is an absolute delight in our lives. 🙂
The only people I’d warn would be the ones who faint at the sight of blood. But hey, if you can stand the sight of it on a piece of cotton, this shouldn’t be difficult either. After all, it is what constitutes you and comes from within.
I am excited for you to embark on your journey with the menstrual cup. I still use the cup with the same enthusiasm as I did when I picked it up first.
Originally published at www.youthkiawaaz.com on December 19, 2016.