As environmentalism and sustainability are becoming increasingly mainstream and ‘popular’ concerns, eco-friendly options are everywhere. The fashion industry is increasingly pushing more sustainable clothing options, everyone and their Great Aunt Mary has a tote bag, and veganism is on the uptake. Environmentalism has also extended to periods, and a number of companies now offer – and stake their marketing on – sustainable tampons, pads, and other products.
It’s for these reasons – and the fact that period products are still taxed, and as a student I have No MoneyTM – that I bought a menstrual cup. I’ve been using it for the two and a half weeks (yay for weird periods) but over the course of my cup’s usage debut, I’ve noticed a few things that few to no people have mentioned in their own ‘reviews’ of menstrual cups. Here are some of my observations of what it’s actually like using a cup:
- Getting the cup in for the first time is a weird experience. The silicon doesn’t want to stay folded, you can’t find the right angle, and the cup won’t go in because its too dry. I found – and hear me out here – that lube actually works really well for getting the cup in the first few times you try it out before your first period with the cup. It helps to get the cup in easier, as if dry, the cup can effectively get stuck and catch on all those inner folds of skin. If you’re fiddling around down there trying to get the cup to sit right, it can hurt like a bitch when you inevitably pinch your inner labia against the cup using a fingernail (I learnt this the hard way, please learn from my mistake)
- It’s all in the fold – and you can quote me on that; my particular cup had a little booklet on some different kinds of folding techniques, and before I had my period I basically tested them all out to see what worked for me. Pads and tampons are pretty easy to use, but menstrual cups are tricky in that if the cup doesn’t unfurl once in, it will probably mean the blood won’t be able to get in and you’ll bleed as if its not even there.
- I was surprised about how little blood I actually ‘produce’; tampons and pads have to be changed so frequently as they can only absorb so much, and because of the way absorption happens, so that pads and tampons don’t leak, a little bit of fluid can take up a lot of cotton ‘space’, and make it look like I produce more blood than I actually do. The cup only needs to be emptied twice a day – morning and night – and even with twelve hours-worth of blood in there, it’s never anywhere near full. Using pads and tampons had me convinced I was bleeding buckets.
- I am now a part-time contortionist, as getting the cup in requires a fair bit of manoeuvring, especially at first. I am now a pro at getting the cup in, except for when I’m in the shower (the pelvic bone gets in the way, okay?!)
- Menstrual cups are designed to be undetectable as they literally sit inside of your vagina. While this is great, as it means you can carry on your day completely normally, it means that you can feel entirely unprotected – which has no inherent consequence, other than worrying a lot about bleeding through my clothes.
- I have very irregular periods (for various reasons), and sometimes I can go three or four months without having one. I bought my cup in July, but I haven’t had a need to use it until now. In the interim period between… periods… I carried my cup around in my handbag all the time – like you would a pad or a tampon – essentially ready to produce it at any moment my period may start, brandishing it under my vagina with a dramatic gesture and a cry of, “you won’t ruin my clothes today, fucker!!” (when in fact my vagina would be more of a fuckee and it is not actually sentient and therefore can’t hear me)
- Sometimes I forget to empty it when I’m supposed to (maximum every 12 hours-ish) and I’ve sometimes forgotten to empty it for like 13 or 14 hours at a time, and I worry that I’ve automatically given myself TSS.
- It’s weird to admit, but I’m lowkey fascinated with my blood when it comes out: its colour, its consistency, etc. I don’t actually know what’s good or what’s bad or how it indicates the health of my vagina, but I’m still fascinated. I should probably look that up, actually. I think I’m so interested because I’ve only ever seen my period blood being washed away or in a pad or tampon being wrapped up, ready to be thrown away. I’ve never actually seen it; it’s weird to think that this thing that is coming out of me gives life. Life. That’s an existential crisis I give myself twice a day.
- Sometimes I bleed around the cup; while the cup is supposed to ‘catch’ all the blood that comes out of my cervix while in, it can’t necessarily magically transport the blood that has fallen down the walls of my vagina while the cup is out into the cup. I’ve woken up a couple of times with a spot of blood (no bigger than a fingernail) in my pyjamas, worried that the cup had broken or something. It definitely hadn’t.
- I had to switch to a bigger cup. Most sellers of menstrual cups have two sizes: small and large. The small cup is advised for those with a lighter flow, and for discharge and spotting, but it is primarily marketed as ‘the’ cup for people-with-vaginas that haven’t given birth. The large cup is both wider and deeper, and is therefore better for a heavier flow. The small cup is more-or-less advised for those pre-birth vaginas, and for the first week and a half of my ridiculously long period, it was perfectly adequate. However, towards the end of my period I realised I had been consistently bleeding into my clothes, despite wearing the (small) cup; it was only at the bottom of the ‘troubleshooting’ part of the previously mentioned “user’s manual” for my cup that it advised changing over to a larger cup. Essentially, I had taken the size-guide at face value, and had failed to acknowledge that not all vaginas have the same or similar dimensions, including my own. The size guide is just that: a guide. I needed to – as should other people-with-vaginas – work out what size and cup worked for me.
Of course, these are just my very personal and very honest observations about having used a menstrual cup for the past two and a half weeks. While some of these may come across somewhat negative, overall I’m so glad I bought one and won’t be reverting back to pads and tampons, probably ever. It’s clean, it’s discreet, it pays for itself after only two uses (mine cost me about £20, and on average a woman spends about £10 a month on period products), and although it’s made of silicon, in the long run it saves our planet from a hell of a lot of plastic, as my particular cup can last up to 15 years (if kept well). If you haven’t already got one, look into it. It’s revolutionised my period.