A few years ago, I realized that everything I knew about conventional beauty and personal hygiene products was wrong. Which is to say, I realized that my tampons were actually made of bleached synthetic fibers that were made by corporations that tested on animals. They were also cutting my vag, increasing my risk for STDs, and even contained a known human carcinogen.
So of course, I stopped using them.
Since I couldn’t stand pads, I figured there had to be something else that could help me every month when I started bleeding. With a little bit of curiosity and a lot of Google, I found that something.
It’s called the menstrual cup.
It’s a Colorful, Crazy Contraption That Will Change Your Period
The menstrual cup, for those of you who didn’t know about this little beauty, is a reusable cup made out of either medical grade silicone or natural rubber latex that is inserted into your vagina.
Yes. A tiny cup in your vagina.
It’s designed to catch the blood and uterine tissue that’s expelled during menstruation. When the cup is full, or after 12 hours—whichever comes first—you remove the cup and empty the contents. Then, you wash and reinsert.
Sounds easy, right?
That’s what I thought when I immediately bought one to try it. Let me tell you, inserting that thing the first time was an experience.
You have to fold the cup and insert into your vagina, where it pops open. After it pops open, you’re supposed to create a seal between the rim of the cup and the edge of your vaginal wall. You do this by ensuring the cup is open and tugging down on it. In other words, the muscles in your vagina are supposed to hold this thing in.
Putting it in hurt. I was afraid to push it in all the way and it popped open and smacked against my clitoris. Ouch!
Fortunately, I was able to insert it successfully. Only to find that taking it out hurt even worse.
Needless to say, this was the beginning of an important journey for me into getting the menstrual cup to love me just as much as wanted to love it.
Here’s What I Know from the Last Three Years Using It
I’ve been using the menstrual cup for over three years now and honestly, the experience has been a trying one.
I’ve swapped cups four different times during my journey because I couldn’t find the one that fit me right. There were so many different brands and sizes to choose from. I was so sure my first cup was the right size. Only to find that it wasn’t.
Here’s what I know from developing a relationship with my menstrual cup—as well as my vagina—for the last few years.
• How much I bleed. With a tampon, it felt impossible to know what was normal when it came to blood loss. 1 super tampon full of blood=2 regular tampons? I had no idea how much I was actually bleeding.
With the menstrual cup, I see exactly how much blood is coming out and can even measure it thanks to helpful lines on my menstrual cup. This helps me gauge how heavy or light my flow is, which is important for charting my cycle and also ensuring that my blood loss is normal.
If you ever suspect your blood loss isn’t normal, see a doctor through your healthcare plan.
• My cervix is a bitch. My cervix is angled to left, meaning I have to try and angle my cup in there correctly. Since the blood comes from the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus, the cup needs to be properly positioned under there.
• I was totally ignorant of my body. I really had no clue what was up with my body down there before I started using the menstrual cup. The cup gave me the opportunity to actually become familiar with my anatomy as well as to be more in touch with my cycle. I realized that I was totally ignorant of my body before the cup came into my life.
• Not everyone is open-minded. Of course, I had to tell my friends about my new discovery. Not all of them were as deterred about the health risks of tampons as I was. And that’s ok—but I’m going to keep using my cup because I don’t want to support those companies or hurt my body.
• There are alternatives. Getting my menstrual cup not to leak was a problem all in itself. It seemed that getting it in and out successfully was the challenge when really that became the easiest part. When there were days I felt like giving up, I researched alternatives: natural, 100% cotton unbleached tampons, reusable sea sponges, and organic resuable cotton pads are just a few of them.
The cup is certainly not for everyone. They seem expensive at first, but when you consider the costs, there’s really no comparison. A quality cup costs about $40 and can be used for up 10 years while pad and tampon costs during this time could run over $1,000.
It seems silly, really.
Then again, if someone told me I’d be shoving a tiny cup up my vag a few years ago, I would’ve thought them ridiculous.
What It’s Really Like Using the Menstrual Cup
Using the menstrual cup can be really frustrating when it leaks, but when it works, it’s like magic. You can do just about anything with it in, except for have sex, of course.
When the menstrual cup is in your vagina, you don’t feel it at all. If you do feel it or it’s at all uncomfortable, it’s not in right. Although inserting the cup feels fine for me now, taking it out is always a little uncomfortable. It feels worth it to not have to worry about bleeding through my white skirt for 12 hours a day, though.
The downside to the menstrual cup is that there’s really no way to know if it’s full without checking it. That is, until you become familiar with your flow. I know when to check mine and when I know it’s ok. Chances are, earlier in your cycle you’ll need to check it more often while later in your cycle you can wear it for the full 12 hours.
You can leave your menstrual cup in for longer than 12 hours, but this isn’t recommended by most companies.
The menstrual cup also poses unique challenges for public restrooms. When you take it out, I would definitely recommend washing it with soap again before reinserting it. I got a UTI from not washing my cup before reinsertion my first summer using it. Not fun!
Cleanliness is really important here. You want to wash your hands before removing or inserting the cup. Wash the cup after you take it out and empty it. Make sure you rinse all the soap off. I would recommend using a natural plant-based soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. Then you can safely reinsert.
There’s really no better introduction to the cup than just trying it out if you’re interested. There’s so much we don’t know about our bodies, especially our period. The cup provides you with an opportunity to get more in touch with your body and, you know, be a little friendlier to the planet by not wasting those 11,000 tampons over the course of your period.
The menstrual cup has been this love-hate thing for me. Which means it syncs rather well with my period, right? Consider alternatives to tampons and give the menstrual cup a try!