I’ve seen two depictions of what our periods are like. The first is an idealized image with women standing on a mountain top with arms wide, singing in the key of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. The second is an image of disgust, shame, and ostracization.
For most of us, neither image quite captures the diversity of the period experience. We aren’t all happy. We aren’t all sad. We just are.
Some of us, like me, have opted out of traditional menstrual hygiene methods like pads and tampons. I’ve never been a fan of either one, and now that I’ve used a menstrual cup, I can’t imagine ever going back.
There’s still a lot of confusion and mystery surrounding menstrual cups, however. They’re relatively new to the feminine hygiene market, and aren’t discussed very often. When my friends find out I use menstrual cups and period underwear, I usually get a ton of questions. People are curious and maybe even intrigued. So let’s talk about menstrual cups, shall we?
Looks gross. Is it messy?
Plenty of people with periods don’t want to deal with the possibility of blood touching them. I get it. And chances are, if you use a menstrual cup, you’re going to get up close and personal with your own blood at some point. On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve had the same thing happen when you’ve dripped between pad/tampon changes, when you’ve over-saturated a pad or tampon at night, or when your period started unexpectedly.
You know what all of those scenarios had in common? We lived. Period blood is highly stigmatized, but it isn’t really any grosser than spit or urine.
“I can wash my hands afterward, and it’s okay if it touches me since it’s mine,” says cup user Quierra Winters-Rodriguez.
I will warn you, though. There may come a time when cup users experience the dreaded “cup drop” and have a huge mess to clean up. I’ve done it before, and it sucked. But the chances can be greatly reduced by making sure you have a firm grasp on the cup, and not just the stem, during removal.
Isn’t it weird putting your hands up there?
Perhaps. Especially if you aren’t accustomed to touching your body or masturbating. I’m comfortable with my body and its functions, so inserting a cup was nothing compared to cervical checks while trying to conceive and later checking for dilation in labor.
Your body belongs to you and there is no reason touching it should feel weird. Another benefit of menstrual cups is if you aren’t comfortable with your body, it helps you get there. I promise it isn’t scary.
Why are they so expensive?
The first thing I noticed when started using a menstrual cup was the upfront cost. I didn’t understand why I needed to pay $35 when I could get my off-brand pads for $8. But the cost is offset by its potential for long-term use, not to mention they have a reduced environmental impact.
“I heard about menstrual cups for the first time when I was studying abroad in India. The curriculum was oriented around sustainability, so I wanted to try something new. And I liked the fact you could buy it once and keep using it, rather than having to buy disposable products every month,” Danielle Corcione told us.
Depending on your cleaning methods and normal wear and tear, one menstrual cup can last several years. On average, that reduces the cost of periods products from the monthly/bi-monthly expense of tampons and pads to a one time fee that averages $35. Pretty economical when you think about it that way.
Are they uncomfortable?
Just about everything is uncomfortable the first time — sex was weird and awkward at first yet most of us do that again. It’s normal to experience a slight discomfort when inserting your cup especially if you don’t have the correct size.
My first menstrual cup was one of the more popular brands. But it’s large size caused me a lot of rectal pressure, especially when dealing with period constipation. Later on, I tried a few others and switched to something slightly smaller and the pain was no longer an issue.
My experience is common. Corcione told us she also had to figure what worked as well. “It was a learning curve to figure out putting it in. It felt uncomfortable even when it was in. When I go through periods of pelvic pain, I sometimes can’t use it.”
There are several brands on the market. Each has a slight difference in feel, holding capacity, and width. Most are categorized based on whether or not you’ve given birth before. It’s okay to try a few before committing.
How much do they hold, and how often should you change them?
Most cups hold about 25-30 mls of liquid. Labels typically say you can keep a menstrual cup in for up to to 12 hours. But as with anything else, you should use what you know about your cycle (or in some cases develop that knowledge for the first time) to decide what would be reasonable for you. I prefer to change mine as soon as convenient, which is usually every 5 hours or so. After figuring out the best way to insert it in a way compatible with your body, you’ll likely be able to wear them overnight.
If you want to reduce the chance of infection and maximize its use, you gotta clean it thoroughly.
Each cup comes with specific cleaning tips. But Quierra has a great cleaning system. “After each cycle, I wash it with soap and water then boil to disinfect completely. I also wash it with soap and water after taking it out to empty it before reinserting it during my cycle,” she said.
Switching to the menstrual cup can come with a lot of benefits, once you get used to them. Why not try them at least once? Who knows, you just might be a convert like me. Because I don’t ever plan on going back.