Yes, a menstrual cup is a girl’s best friend; what did you think it was, a diamond? I know I am a little over excited to be discussing a subject that is usually considered taboo for polite conversation, feminine hygiene products, specifically the use of a menstrual cup. I know many women have never heard of a menstrual cup, much less used one. The popular feminine hygiene products are disposable tampons and disposable pads, both of which possibly have harmful chemicals and side effects, cost more money each month, and are not eco-friendly. Menstrual cups break the mold! Trust me when I tell you my Diva Cup changed my views of having a period.
What is a menstrual cup you ask? Good question! It is a flexible cup that is worn inside of the vagina during menstruation to collect menstrual fluid. It is typically made of medical grade silicone, which is safe and hypoallergenic. Menstrual cups collect fluids, rather than absorbing them like tampons and pads. Collected fluids are poured out when the cup is full (typically every 12 hours or sooner, depending on flow). You then wipe the cup out, or rinse it in the sink and reinsert. Also, you won’t need to buy a new menstrual cup for 5 to 10 years, but some companies recommend once a year due to hygiene standards.
Benefits of a Menstrual Cup
Unlike tampons, you do not have to worry about toxic shock syndrome (TSS). The medical grade silicone is perfectly safe. Tampons tend to be over absorbent and absorb a woman’s natural discharge, inevitably taking away one of our natural protections. The FDA states, “TSS is a rare but potentially fatal disease caused by a bacterial toxin. (Different bacterial toxins may cause TSS, depending on the situation, but most often streptococci and staphylococci are responsible.) The number of reported TSS cases has decreased significantly in recent years. Approximately half the cases of TSS reported today are associated with tampon use during menstruation, usually in young women.” The FDA also discusses vaginal dryness and ulcerations occurring when women use a higher absorbent tampon than needed for their current flow or when using tampons between periods to absorb excessive vaginal discharge. TMI, but since I was thirteen I have had very heavy flows that lasted around 10 days, and yet tampons were still uncomfortable due to over absorption, yet not absorbent enough because they still leaked. Excessive absorption is not an issue with a menstrual cup – only what needs to flow out does.
Not only are menstrual cups a healthier alternative to tampons and pads, but they are an eco-friendly one. When tampons and pads are thrown away (which for me was around 30 a month), resources such as cotton are being wasted; and toxins are being leached out, polluting our soil and water. Menstrual cups are made of silicone, which has no known toxins. It is non-biodegradable, but with your final use, if you clean it, then cut it into tiny pieces, it can be absorbed by solids in waste water treatment facilities, which is then incinerated, entombed in a landfill, or spread out as fertilizer; with the later it has the opportunity to go through degradation. So, stop polluting and filling up trash cans with tampons and pads that no one wants to see and deal with your menstrual flow more discreetly.
Filling up those trash cans each month is costly, as well; I know it was for me. Up until 3 months ago. I was spending an average of $9.00 a month to get my preferred brand of tampons in a variety pack, because you cannot use “Super” when you are just having a “Regular” day, not to mention when I was a teenager, panty liners or pads were used because there were times with all of my extra-curricular activities that I did not have time to change my tampon every 2 to 4 hours as needed, meaning there was a more likely chance of leaks. That is a cost of $108 a year, not counting liners, pads and extra tampons on the months that were worse. Now, what do I spend on menstruation? Around $30 for the menstrual cup, and because I like to be prepared I have 3 organic cotton pads that I can wash (which by the way don’t release an odor like disposable pads and are dry to the touch) that cost me around $20, and a wet bag that cost me around $15 (this isn’t needed but I use it to store everything in and if I need to I can place a used pad in it, without soiling any other items). That is a total of $65 for everything and they will last you years. That is a savings of more than $40 just for the first year, after that you really are on a roll. So, what would you do with the money you save by using a menstrual cup?
Oh, two more benefits of the menstrual cup: you only need one size: Size 1: Pre-Childbirth or , Size2: Post-Childbirth (you determine which size by whether you have had a baby or not, it doesn’t matter if you had a c-section or gave natural birth, your vagina will be slightly larger if you have had a child); and based on reviews and my personal 3 month experience, it decreases your length of periods and intensity of cramps. Honestly, I already told you how I have always had a heavy flow that lasts around 10 days each month, which was what was normal for me. I also had pretty bad cramps that would make it difficult to walk. Not any more – the last three months have been a breeze! The cramping is hardly noticeable and my period only lasts 5 days. That is time cut in half! Should I do a happy dance, or what? My doctor said there is a very small chance that is a coincidence that my body all of a sudden changed after nearly 13 years of the same type of cycle; instead it’s more likely my menstrual flow is able to flow normally and because I’m not combating foreign material, since menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone and not cotton or rayon fibers.
Choosing and Using a Menstrual Cup
So, for those of you wanting to try out a menstrual cup let’s talk about choices. First, I went through a multitude of reviews on a variety of cups. I personally use the Diva Cup and love it! It seems to have the highest reviews and most consistent users. There is one thing; if you have a short cervix it might be a little too long for you (the Diva Cup is the exact same length as my prefered tampon). You can ask your OB-GYN if this is the case, or you can get to know yourself a little better and if you can feel your cervix with just one finger you are better off trying the Lunette Cup, it is slightly shorter and has the best reviews for shorter bodied menstrual cups. Some women turn their menstrual cup inside out, so the tip isn’t poking them (from my experience this works, but be careful not to place the cup too far in, because it can be difficult grasping a smooth base and you may need to use your vaginal muscles to push it out), or they trim the tip without cutting into the base. If you get a menstrual cup and don’t like it, don’t be afraid to try another one; come on, in the long run you will still be saving money and making a healthier life choice.
After you purchase your menstrual cup you need to know how to use it. Well, I will be honest – it does take a little more effort than using a tampon and you will definitely become more comfortable with your lady parts. I know your first thought is, how is it going to fit? Well you roll it up (press down to fold in half, then bring folded sides together to form a U shape) and stick it into your vagina horizontally. Don’t push up vertically like you do with a tampon; instead imagine pushing towards your tail bone. Now for the part that gets a little personal. You will need to place your thumb and forefinger slightly in, on the ribbing of the cup and twist the cup until it fully opens. (Yes it will open, your vaginal cavity is meant to expand. Come on, women give birth all the time and, hmm… hmm… what is used to make the baby is bigger than this tiny cup.) To check to see if it is open, I like to feel it, just make sure the end feels round and not closed in. Having it fully open will give you a seal and allow your menstrual cup to work properly. It might help to insert it after running it through water if you are having a light day (Hint: take a small bottle of water into public restrooms to both clean and insert your cup easier). To remove the cup make sure you grab high enough (about half way) to break the seal before pulling the menstraul cup all the way out, this will prevent the top ridge from causing you discomfort. When you clean your cup just wipe it with toilet paper, or if available, run it under water. You want to try to make sure the four holes at the top edge of the cup are clear, so a good seal can form. When your monthly cycle is over you can either wash your menstrual cup with non-oil based soap, or as I like to do,sanitize it by boiling it for 5 to 10 minutes; silicone is not affected by heat.
I would also recommend keeping a menstrual cup in your emergency survival bag or camping bag, this way you don’t have to worry about having tampons or pads on hand, bloody trash building up, or lack of a working toilet in case of an emergency.
There you have it! A menstrual cup isn’t a scary concept and having a period can be made easier, healthier and less expensive by their use. Are you willing to make the change? If so what are your questions and concerns? For those using a menstrual cup, what advice do you have for new users?