All you need to know about menstrual cups

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I’ve been on a journey to a healthy, fit lifestyle this past year — from trying to incorporate Whole30 into my everyday life and exercising better to trying to be more aware of my carbon footprint. The latter led me to figuring out all about an alternative to the sanitary pads I had been using for nearly 20 years.

It felt like an intimidating world of new brands, reviews, how-to’s and a million other things. After a month of research and watching YouTube videos, I finally decided to take the leap of faith believing in all the women bloggers who took this journey before me.

Here’s my experience with the menstrual cup, how to use it, pros and cons, and why you should use the menstrual cup too. If any of these details make you uncomfortable, well, I can only tell you to not be uncomfortable about normal bodily functions.

What is a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cup is to this generation what pads and tampons were to our parents’ generation. They’re the latest development in the world of feminine hygiene, making periods and the world better with their existence.

Why use a menstrual cup?

Convenience: Yes, you read that right. If you’re just starting out researching what a menstrual cup is or even if you’re just hearing about it for the first time here, you’re probably wondering if it’s comfortable. Okay, maybe not the first two cycles that you’re using it for, but they are way more convenient than pads I tell you.

Enough worrying about your favorite undies, pajamas, and dresses. You can also relieve your best friend off the duty of checking your pants whenever you feel you have a leak. Also enough stashing away pads and tampons in every bag you own, especially while traveling. There’s much less to pack and no fear of running out of pads / tampons.

Once you get comfortable figuring out what kind of insertion works best for you, and getting the hang of your flow, you won’t even feel its there. I was always plagued by the constant crinkle of the pad while I walked and absolutely hated inadvertently announcing to the world that I was on my period. No more of that discomfort, phew!

Safety: Menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone or latex rubber. So, instead of absorbing the period blood like a pad or tampon, the cup collects it. Because pads and tampons absorb the blood, they create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. This fact alone makes the menstrual cup one of the safest products to use.

Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash
Photo by Good Soul Shop on Unsplash

Environment-friendly: During my research, I read in another blog (I forget which one now, will tag when I find it) that menstrual cups have been in existence since pads and tampons. But, of course, the industry wanted to make profit from recurring purchase and promoted the disposable goods over the cup. As if all the cramps and tax on female hygiene products weren’t enough.

Given enough care, the cup can last 5-10 years. Although it typically costs $30-50, which seems to be a higher cost than the usual $10-20 spent on tampons or pads, you’ll be saving more than you spend if you care for your cup and use it for merely two years!

Empowering: Let’s face it, there’s been too much unnecessary patriarchal drama surrounding the period blood, especially in the Indian culture. I’ve been (and still am) constantly told I’m impure during my period days and it’s considered a sin for me to do so many every day things. Sigh. To state the obvious, it’s a normal bodily function that has nothing to do with religion or culture.

The cup gave me an opportunity to explore myself, understand my body, and get more comfortable with it. The cramps, the blood, the texture and color of the flow, cravings, mood-swings, all of those are essential to understanding my body better. If only they taught these things in school!

How to use it?

Let’s get into the details of how to insert and remove a menstrual cup.

To insert

I’m not going to lie to you and say you’re going to master the procedure by merely reading this or doing it on the first day. It’s definitely going to take a couple of cycles, so please be patient with it.

Before insertion

  1. Sterilize / clean your cup by strictly following the instructions in your cup’s packaging.
  2. Please cut / file your fingernails. You definitely don’t wanna pinch your vagina with your fingernails.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly in hot tap water and get rid of any soap residue.
  4. Wash your cup again (after sterilization, before insertion) in hot tap water.

Insertion

NOTE: There are two types of folding the cup (as far as I know, I’m sure there are more) — one is the taco shape or the c-shape or u-shape of folding, and the other is the punchdown fold or the shell fold.

I use the punchdown fold. You can google the types and watch videos to see them all before trying one.

  1. Pick a fold that’s comfortable for you.
  2. Do a half-squat and holding the cup at the base, insert it and slowly move it towards your tailbone.
    (Many YouTubers recommend squatting on the toilet, but I wouldn’t advise it as you might drop your cup in the toilet or you might end up getting an infection.) 
  3. When its more than half-way through, start mildly pumping the base while still moving the cup towards the tailbone. This action helps the cup open fully from the fold you’ve created.
  4. Stop pushing it in once the base is just a couple of centimeters from your vagina. You will be able to touch the base and the stem (if your cup has a stem). DON’T LET GO OF THE CUP JUST YET.
  5. Holding the base of the cup, slowly rotate it inside your vagina. If it’s not fully open, it won’t rotate freely and you will be able to feel it being dented on one side. Nothing to worry, just pull out a little, rotate it, and push it back in.

You will definitely feel it if you’re starting to leak. It’s a sensation very similar to feeling the beginning of your period.

It will take a couple of cycles to get the hang of it and doing it without ticking off mental checkboxes. I recommend using a liner the first few times you’re using the cup to avoid any surprise leaks.

Just like everything else, there’s no one-size-fit-all. If your cup still doesn’t fit you, it won’t open fully, and you’re experiencing leaks, it might be because the cup isn’t the right size for you. Most brands offer two or three sizes, so you can always contact the brand and get a recommended size that fits you.

To remove

  1. Again, wash your hands thoroughly in hot tap water and get rid of any soap residue.
  2. Stand with your vagina straight above the toilet bowl. (Your legs wide open to either side of the toilet, the bowl right between your knees)
  3. Contract your abdominal muscles like you would if you were to take a dump.
  4. Insert your index and thumb fingers into your vagina, push the cup out and grab the base with your fingers.
  5. Pull it slowly to avoid any blood spilling on yourself. You will feel the suction slowly releasing from the walls of your vagina.
  6. Once the cup is out, dump the contents into the toilet bowl.
  7. Wipe off any residual blood from your vagina with a tissue.
  8. Rinse the cup in hot tap water until clean before reinsertion.

Pros (apart from what I mentioned so far)

  • Mess-free, rash-free period.
  • No dried-blood stench while removing the cup, unlike pads or tampons.

Cons

  • A tad difficult to squat and insert the cup on a day when my cramps get the better of me.
  • Difficult to use in public restrooms.

FAQs

What is the best menstrual cup?

I wouldn’t know the answer to that. Each person’s body is different and everyone likes different things. I use the Diva Cup Model 1 and that’s the only cup I tried. It works for my body and I’m comfortable with it. Read reviews on Amazon, there are wonderful women out there who take the time out to write reviews for the rest of us.

How long can I wear it?

You can wear the DivaCup for up to 12 hours at a time. That might vary from brand-to-brand, so make sure to check your menstrual cup brand for information. Check it every 5-7 hours until you’re sure about your flow to get an idea of how long it takes for your cup to fill up. For some women it may never fill up even after 12 hours and that’s okay too, as long as that’s your normal flow.

How to clean it?

I know some use soap, menstrual cup wash, intimate wash, etc. to clean their cups. But, somehow I’m very skeptical about any soap going inside my privates. I stick to washing it in hot tap water during the cycle, and sterilize it in boiling water before and after each cycle.

Does it discolor? How to get rid of the discoloration?

Yes, it does discolor. The DivaCup especially does not come in different colors, so the discoloration may be more visible in it. There’s no way, as far as I know, to remove the discoloration. But, keeping it clean between uses will definitely prolong the cup’s life and keep it clean.

Can I use the menstrual cup

  • when I’m pooping? Yes! You can use it when you’re pooping. As long as the cup has been inserted properly, it will not come out during bowel movements.
  • when I’m sleeping? Yes! It’s the most comfortable period product to have on when sleeping. It doesn’t cause rashes or itchiness. Be sure to empty it before you go to bed so it’s ready to collect the flow for the next 7-9 hours.
  • during sex? No! You cannot have sex wearing the menstrual cup.
  • when exercising / playing sports? Yes! Since it’s made of silicon, it’s flexible. Moreover, the suction creates a seal that ensures zero mess.

How to change it in public restrooms?

I wonder this too. I honestly don’t know. The thought makes me feel awkward and it feels a bit unsanitary to me. I always time my usage so that I’m home in the comfort of my bathroom to remove and reinsert my cup. But if you have a solution, I’m ready to learn that part of using the menstrual cup. Please let me know in the comments.

Will it get lost / stuck?

The vaginal canal is about 5 inches deep and is not connected to any other body part. If inserted right, the cup will sit right at the base of the canal.

When to replace the cup?

This differs from one person to another. The DivaCup website suggests it be changed every year, but the cup itself is durable for a longer period depending on usage and maintenance. However, if your cup gets sticky, discolors severely, or emanates very bad odor, stop using it and replace immediately.

ALWAYS remember its your body, no matter what. This is my experience and I wanted to share it for the benefit of those who want to make the shift but are uncertain how. No matter what you choose, its your choice and what works for you.

If you have any other questions or doubts, please put them down in the comments section. I will ensure to answer them all!

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