Joanna Gaden

Thinking about switching to a menstrual cup?  A menstrual or period cup is a bendable, silicone, cup-shaped object intended to make monthly periods more manageable for women.  The cup is arguably a safer, eco- and economically friendly alternative to pads and tampons, reducing the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, use of paper, plastic, and cotton products, and amount of money spent on sanitary products.  Here are 10 things you should know about using the cup that companies won’t tell you.

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1. It’s initially expensive, but it cuts the cost of tampons over time.

As a recent college graduate and new resident of an expensive city, I’ve been particularly careful with my finances for years.  Despite my desire to be sustainable and save money over time, spending roughly $30-$40 on a menstrual cup that I knew little about sounded crazy to me.  When I miraculously stumbled upon a bargain for a menstrual cup (thanks to Rebel Kate) that cost about $11—roughly equivalent to a name-brand box of tampons—I was willing to try the cup.  After several months of using the cup, I realized how much money I saved by not having to buy a box of tampons every time my period came around (which I’ll admit is awesome, because we all know that even the ‘cheap’ generic brands of sanitary products add up quickly).  Because you can also go longer without changing the cup (up to seven hours), you won’t have to worry about accounting for and going through multiple tampons on heavy flow days.  Plus, every time I threw out a full garbage bin of plastic applicators, tampon and pad wrappings, and used sanitary products, I felt the need to reevaluate how much waste I produce as a single person.  After virtually eliminating tampon use, I’ve combatted my own personal cognitive dissonance by making more sustainable decisions.

2. It can be messy.

If blood makes you queasy, menstrual cups may not be for you.  When I first used a menstrual cup, I was not fully prepared for the messiness that would come with positioning, inserting, and removing the cup.  Like a tampon without a string, you have to push the cup up as far as it can go without a convenient plastic applicator, while simultaneously pinching the sides together to create a flatter shape.  Just as inserting your first tampon was difficult, it may take a couple tries before inserting and positioning a wide silicone cup feels natural.  Unlike inserting your first tampon, the little instruction guide that comes with the cup is certainly not as helpful your mother when she explained the process through the bathroom door.  I went through several tries and sighs before I was satisfied with the outcome of my efforts, wondering for hours if I had in fact managed to successfully position the cup.  And then came the dreaded task of removing the cup.  When removing a menstrual cup, you may have difficulty finding and grasping the stick-shaped silicon piece at the base of the cup, which could result in some slightly undesirable messiness on your fingers.  You may also encounter more period blood than you really want to in this process; unlike a tampon, which neatly soaks everything in, a menstrual cup requires you to dump accumulated period blood in the toilet or shower, which takes a little getting used to.

3. For best results, insert standing up and/ or in the shower.

A good way to avoid the aforementioned messiness that comes with inserting and changing a menstrual cup is to do so in the shower.  Not only does the running water instantaneously rinse away any mess, but you may find that washing your cup with warm water and soap is more convenient and sanitary when you don’t have to worry about reaching for the bathroom sink between uses.  Additionally, the heat from a hot shower aids in relaxing your muscles so that the menstrual cup is more easily inserted.  I’ve found that on normal to lighter flow days, inserting my menstrual cup in a morning shower allows me to go at least half the day before I feel the need to change it again.   

4. You will likely have to continue to purchase and wear pads or panty liners.

Even when you get the hang of inserting the cup correctly, (i.e. with a comfortable angle and up far enough) some spotting is likely to occur.  As someone who is paranoid about period leakage, I prefer to pair my menstrual cup with a thin pad and torn granny panties on heavier flow days so I feel *extra* protected.  Because you may similarly experience some spotting, you may want to have a box of tampons on hand, even if just for when you go swimming or can’t easily change your menstrual cup during a busy day.

5. Changing the cup in public is risky business.

If you don’t have easy access to a sink or shower, as in a public restroom, reinserting your cup can be a hassle.  Instruction guides will suggest wiping down used cups with a wet paper towel or piece of toilet paper if you are in a place where you cannot easily rinse or wash your cup.  However, this isn’t a preferable or convenient situation and may require some planning ahead (which isn’t extremely practical, especially when you are on the go with little time to spare for a bathroom break).  To combat this dilemma, I would suggest waiting to reinsert your cup when you are in a more private setting, like in the comfort of your own home.  Luckily, the cup is not as likely to leak or overflow as when you are in desperate need of a tampon change, so you may be able to get away with avoiding the public bathroom dilemma altogether.

6. The cup may open inside of you, which can be a little uncomfy.

As previously mentioned, the cup is most easily inserted when it is folded in half.  Because the cup must be facing upwards and open to function properly, it may twist open when you shift a bit, stand up, or sneeze.  When this happens, it is not the most comfortable experience.  Also, when you go to remove or change the cup, it will be wider and open, which may be slightly painful as you attempt to pull it out.

7. You may want to change it more often than the recommended seven hours.

Even though instruction guides harp on the fact that menstrual cups can safely stay in for up to seven hours, you may feel more comfortable changing it more often, especially on heavier flow days.  I personally prefer the length of time I can go without changing my menstrual cup (especially on that day-two flow), as I can comfortably go up to about four hours without changing the cup versus about two or three hours max with a tampon.  Depending on how comfortable you are with leaving the cup in and how heavy your flow is, you may similarly find the need to change your cup before the seven hour mark strikes.

 

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After virtually eliminating tampon use, I’ve combatted my own personal cognitive dissonance by making more sustainable decisions.

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8. People may find it gross.

I was slightly taken aback when my eco-friendly and feminist sister (who has been getting her period for over 10 years now) expressed her disgust for using menstrual cups as a substitute for tampons.  I don’t always feel comfortable bringing up a conversation about menstrual cups with female friends, who have similarly responded with a puzzled ‘Why?’ when I tell them I’ve switched from tampons to a menstrual cup.  I’ve found the best way to deal with this controversy is to calmly explain my reasoning: ‘I use the cup because ___,’ which can be different for every woman!  Some women may be hesitant because they either haven’t had experience using a menstrual cup, or have had a bad or messy experience when they tried.  

9. Menstrual cups get easier the longer you use them.

If you do decide to switch to a menstrual cup, you’ll likely find that the more you get the hang of inserting the cup, the easier it gets.  You will figure out how long you can go without changing it, which position to stand in when inserting and removing it, and which angles are most comfortable and protective against leakage.  The general consensus I’ve heard from women who have similarly switched to using a menstrual cup is that it may take several periods before you feel as comfortable inserting a menstrual cup as you did while using other sanitary products.

10. They are not for everyone.

Menstrual cup companies tend to advocate wholeheartedly for every woman to switch to a menstrual cup for ‘a better life,’ convenience, cost, and sustainability.  However, if you are not a tampon user, don't want to see the amount of period blood you produce every time you change your cup, or are uncomfortable with the idea of inserting a silicone cup, using a menstrual cup may not be for you.  It’s up to you whether you feel that the benefits of using a menstrual cup will outweigh the drawbacks. It may be helpful to create a personal pros and cons list and do some research on the different brands, types, and sizes of menstrual cups so you can figure out what will be best for you and your body before you invest in switching to the cup.

If you would like to try a menstrual cup without breaking the bank, check out Rebel Kate and their fabulous products for female empowerment and wellness here!

 

Joanna Gaden is a recent college graduate from the University of Michigan who moved from her small town in the Detroit metro area to pursue big city living in Manhattan, NY.  Her interests include psychology, jewelry making, cats, barista-ing, and exploring the world one bite at a time.

 

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