Hello my lovelies.
Your Period Warrior returns with another Q&A to tickle your time-of-the-month buds, this time focusing on Menstrual Cups. What would you like to know? Here are a few questions I thought might pop up on your journey cupwards. Let us begin!
Q: What the hell is a menstrual cup?
So this has been the #1 question I have been asked in my ventures into the Land of Sustainable Periods, with slight variances on phraseology. It is basically a little cup made of flexible medical-grade silicone, which is inserted into the vagina on your period. In order to make insertion comfortable, you fold it up to form a smaller point of entry. There are many, many folds available to try. Once inserted, the cup forms a seal with the vagina walls, and the blood/uterine lining is collected in the cup. After 4-12 hours, you reach into the vagina, pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, and slowly walk the cup out. Then you dispose of the blood down the toilet, rinse the cup with water, and possibly a low pH soap or a menstrual cup wash/wipes, dry it, and reinsert. Repeat this process, until the end of your period. Think you could give it a go?
Q: When were they invented?
*Google search* So apparently a version was patented in 1932, and it’s been through many reincarnations ever since, but popularised most recently in our eco-backlash against the rise of the disposables in the mid 20th century. I also read that apparently back in Medieval(ish) times some women used to just wear darker dresses to hide the bloodstains and general massacres that were taking place beneath. Brave!
Q: Are they easy to use?
After an initial learning curve, the basis of a few continual cycles of use, I now find it very easy. Bear in mind though, that they are not as simple as inserting a tampon. There is a bit of wriggling and a familiarity with your vagina that comes with using the cup.
Please don’t worry though! Being comfortable with what’s between your legs may be a taboo concept (even in 2017, bloody hell) but it is a very positive thing! Believe in yourself, you are doing something that is kind of amazing for your body! No more nasty fibres from tampons being left behind to cause all sorts of irritations, no more chemicals, just a simple, clean cup. It may take a little time to get used to, but it is worth it, I promise. My top tips for making the transition to menstrual cups a bit easier, are:
- USE LUBE. After you have folded up the cup, apply a teeny bit to the rim, and the side opposite to your finger, to help it slide in a bit more comfortably. Now, if you are out & about in public, I don’t expect you to carry around a handy dandy pot of lube, though you can do, but making the cup wet in some respect, even if it’s just a dribble of water from a bottle, can really help with getting it in smoothly. With this, you can even practice insertion BEFORE your period – which is fantastic! I gave this a go as I wanted to be a pro at getting it in and out and shaking it all about, before it got a bit messy with the menstrualities.
- RELAX. I have had the experience of reaching in and not being able to immediately locate the cup. Now the body’s natural reaction to this is to panic…but in reality, just imagine your vagina – it is not a bottomless pit, it is a small area and nothing can get lost inside you via this location – it may just have moved up ever so slightly. What you need to do is ‘bear down’ with your muscles, and you will feel the cup inch downwards. There are grip rings on the base of most cups, so even if you have trimmed the stem to a pretty short length, or gotten rid of it entirely, you have a little assistance with getting a hold of it. Once you pinch it and break the seal, it is very easy to pull it out.
- CLEAN THE SUCTION HOLES PROPERLY. There are tiny little holes at the top of each cup that help with creating the suction. They can become blocked over time, which may lead to a tiny bit of leakage. What I would suggest is to give the cup a good old squeeze and rub under a cold tap, maybe turn it slightly inside-out (it’s very flexible), to ensure that the water pushes through the holes and clears them.
- TRY IT IN THE SHOWER! Much less mess, and you can fumble and spill to your heart’s content. Should I go into spill stories in a separate post? Maybe…
Q: Do they hurt? What if it gets stuck?
No. The only time I felt as though it hurt slightly, was when I had a few consecutive goes at inserting/removing it, when I couldn’t get it to pop open. Now I have gotten a lot better at the whole popping open shebang, and my main tip is to use the walls of your vagina to (again) ‘bear down’ on the cup as you circle your finger around the base. This will help it to sort of ‘fill’ the room around it, if that makes sense? Rotating it slightly helps too. You will know it’s good to go when you feel around the base and you can’t feel any parts that are ‘dipped in’. The seal has then been formed. With regards to it getting stuck – don’t worry – try squatting, as this positions it into a helpful place to reach in your vagina. If you are really getting frustrated with it, leave it for half an hour, and then come back. The more tense you are, the more your vagina will tighten around it. Thus, the more likely it is that when you do finally reach it you will wrench it out and potentially spill blood all over your bathroom floor. Which I may have done. Oh, this blog.
Q: Why should I get one?
Because your body will not have wads of bacteria-ridden cotton shoved up against your cervix on a continuous basis throughout your period. Because the environment will benefit hugely from not having the 10,000 tampons you use in your lifetime strewed upon its beaches and landfill. Because essentially you only need one little cup, to get you through your entire period – you can wear it on light days, heavy days, overnight…even if you think you’re on your period, but your body’s just trolling you and you’re actually not! Because it encourages familiarity with your body. Because you can do it!
Q: Which brand is best for me?
There are many, many brands out there. The only one I have definitively tried, is the UK Mooncup. I use Size B, which is for menstruaters under 30 who have not given birth vaginally. (There is also a Size A). The Mooncup is pretty sturdy, and has a very long stem which can be trimmed to your liking – remember that the cup sits very low in your vagina, much lower than a tampon. I would personally recommend it, though having compared reviews online I would say that there are slightly softer cups out there that might be easier for those who are not already used to non-applicator tampons. These include the Ruby Cup, the Meluna, and the Femme Cup. There are cups in all shapes and sizes, colours, grip rings and stems, you name it. But they all do the same job. They collect the blood and the blood gets flushed away. Own it. KABOOM.
Q: How do I use it in a public toilet?
The big question! I feel like a little bit of a fraud because as of yet, I have only had to change my cup in a public toilet once, and that was one which had a sink inside, so it was a bit easier for me. I still used the ‘outdoors’ method though, which was to bring a bottle of water with me to give it a little rinse out after I’d emptied it, and then put it back in as normal. This is totally safe, and will not cause harm to you. The silicone does not harbour bacteria, and is perfectly fine to reinsert with just a rinse of water. Otherwise, you could simply use loo roll, or there are specifically designed menstrual cup wipes out there which you could have just in case. I wish I were ballsy enough to waltz straight out of my cubicle, march up to the sink singing “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” and give it a good old bloody scrub with people next to me gaping, but I haven’t quite reached that level. It would invite rather a lot of questions, and a possible witchcraft trial.
Q: How do I clean it after my period?
You can either use sterilising tablets and water, such as Milton’s, or you can kick it old-school like myself, and simply boil the cup for 6-7 minutes in a designated pan. I sometimes pop in a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to help get rid of any staining, then give it an extra rinse afterwards. Then you simply leave it to dry, preferably on a sunny windowledge if you can (again this helps with staining), and once it is dry as a bone, you pop it back inside the little cotton drawstring bag it comes with. Don’t keep it in anything sealed, just a nice little breathable bag will do. Then it’s ready for the next round, huzzah!
Q: Are they expensive?
Mine was £21.99 from Boots as I recall (big up to the Boots advantage card points I gained there) – and they all sit around the sort of £20 mark I think. Yes that sounds expensive, but if you think about it, you only need to buy one, and that will help you through your periods for the next 10 years. It’s a long-term bargain.
Q: Are there any circumstances in which you would revert back to tampons?
I’m trying to think. Okay, if I were a refugee, or someone who did not have access to clean, potable water and handwash, then yes, I would probably use other methods of protection.
Q: Can you use it if you have long nails?
I don’t have long nails, so I can’t definitively give any advice except…be careful, I guess? Have you reached inside your vagina with said nails before? Hopefully! Just remember to be extra-super regimed with cleaning your hands and nails very thoroughly before and after usage. Use the NHS-recommended cleaning procedure if you wish, as things can get a bit messy sometimes.
Q: Can you do any of the following with your cup inside you: Go for a wee, poop, exercise, go on an airplane, have sex, be upside-down (e.g. on a rollercoaster)?
Yes to all except the having sex thing…well I suppose it depends on the kind of sex you’re having, but if it’s a classic Tesco-value putting something in the vagina kind of sex, then no, because your cup will be rather in the way. Simple solution: Talk to your partner about it, if they’re cool then take out the cup, put a towel down and go for it!
And on that note, I will close this post. I always like to leave you with delightful images to go about your day with. (Incidentally this post is dedicated to Mason, my most loyal and horrified reader.)
Here is a link to the Mooncup website’s much more sensible answers to menstrual cup FAQs. They also have a handy helpline in case you’re struggling!
Until next time,