Until last year, the idea of using a menstrual cup during my periods made me shudder. Having never used tampons, I cringed at the thought of inserting an alien object into my private parts. To be honest, I couldn’t even fathom how it would work. Would it be painful, safe, hygienic, comfortable or messy? Would I be able to use it on the road, in public washrooms, on long journeys?
Then something happened. While volunteering on a remote island in Cuba, I was shocked to see the seabed littered with single-use plastic that wasn’t even consumed on the island, slowly killing corals and marine life. I had already taken some easy steps to cut out plastic bags, plastic bottled water, plastic straws and plastic toothbrushes from my life. I needed to make more uncomfortable choices.
Why I switched to a menstrual cup
When I left Cuba, the first thing I did was buy a menstrual cup and a set of washable, reusable cloth pads. I had no idea how I was going to convince myself to use the cup, but I knew that I could no longer bear to use over 15 single-use pads every month, or 180+ pads every year, or 6000+ pads over an average lifetime. I had been using “biodegradable pads”, but I learnt that unless we segregate and personally compost those in a separate composting pit, they are not going to go back to earth.
I must confess that I was so unprepared to use a menstrual cup, that I never even tried using my newly acquired one for the first three months. I stuck to cloth pads, a pain though they were to constantly rinse, dry and wash, especially on heavy days. I even lost two cloth pads in the process – one chewed up by a dog while it dried outside my guesthouse room, one forgotten in a corner of a hotel washroom where I was trying to dry it out of sight!
Finally, two conversations convinced me to try the menstrual cup. The first was with Sharanya of Truly Nomadly, when we happened to share a cab on the way to an event. She showed me her cup and the fold she uses to insert it, and how it takes her just five minutes in and out of a washroom to empty and reinsert the cup. The second was with Vinita of Down 2 Hearth, who’s been using one for years, and told me that I should give it a try and not expect to figure it out right away. She was right; it took me three more cycles to figure out how to get it in and out. But once that eureka moment happened, my life changed.
How does the menstrual cup work?
The idea is simple: Instead of using pads or tampons, we can insert a multi-use silicone menstrual cup (made of medical / health grade silicone) into the vagina to collect menstrual blood during periods. It can be left in for up to 12 hours, works well for heavy flow days, is hygienic (perhaps more so than even pads) and feels extremely comfortable. There are several ways to fold the cup to insert it, and different women prefer different body positions to insert and remove it. I find it much easier to run, swim, hike, do yoga and everything else with a menstrual cup as compared to a pad.
Tips to use, insert and remove a menstrual cup
- Safety first – sterilize the cup: At the beginning and end of each cycle, boil your cup. Put it in water on a pot, bring the water to a boil, shut the gas and remove the cup. Use it or store it in the small cloth bag the cup comes with.
- Know that it won’t hurt when you get it right: My biggest fear was the pain inserting a cup into my body would induce. It did feel painful as I fumbled around, but when I finally managed to get it in the right way, I realized it doesn’t hurt. AT ALL.
- Try different folds to insert it: This video shows the basic folds you can use to insert or remove the cup. I was silly enough to think that if I crack the simple C fold, I could try the others later on. Turned out, the C fold doesn’t work for me at all. I had a breakthrough when I finally tried the punch down fold.
- Experiment with different positions to insert it: Similar to the folds, I kept trying the same position (with the left leg raised onto a flat surface) again and again – and failing. Different positions work for different women, so try them one by one – left leg up, right leg up, sitting, squatting, see what works for you.
- Learn how to use it before your period: I made the mistake of waiting till the day my period began to figure out how to use the cup – and that didn’t help. So the next time, well before my cycle began, I watched Youtube videos and read articles to figure things out. How to sterilize it, what folds to try, what positions to try, how to relax my pelvic muscles, how it works in the body. Being prepared helped both logistically and mentally. This “inside” look at menstrual cups was particularly helpful!
- Try it in a comfortable space the first time: On the road, I don’t always have a spacious private washroom to experiment. Similarly, if you work or live in a shared space, wait to try it the first time on a relaxed day, when you’re in no hurry. Since I’m comfortable with my cup now, I’ve become a lot more open to using it wherever I am.
- Know how to relax your pelvic muscles: A bonus of using the menstrual cup is that I understand how my body works better now. Learning how to use your pelvic muscles is essential (and super easy); relax them when inserting and use them to push the cup down while removing it.
- Check for leaks: In the period world, leaks are a HUGE concern, and frankly, I’ve never understood why. Everyone knows women go through their periods, so what’s the big deal if there’s some evidence? Anyway, it’s easy to check for leaks once the cup is in. You’ll usually hear it pop, a sign that it’s sealed, but you can also try to squeeze the bottom of the cup or move your finger around the rim to ensure that. My cup has only ever leaked once when I didn’t double check it.
- Aim not to keep it in longer than 8-10 hours: Unlike pads, it’s safe to wear a menstrual cup for upto 12 hours, though I aim not to exceed 8-10 hours. When I plan to be out for a long time, I prefer to empty and re-insert the cup just before leaving.
- Know that it can’t get lost inside you: Isn’t that a relief to know?
- Work with your pelvic muscles to take it out: The first time I managed to get the cup in right, I was really scared thinking about whether I’ll be able to get it out. What helps is to take some deep breaths, relax and know that it can’t go anywhere but out. I prefer to squat in the shower area to remove it, incase there’s any spillage.
- Clean it thoroughly before reinserting: I find it ideal to wash my cup with hot water in the sink if that’s an option. Otherwise rinse it thoroughly in regular water before reinserting it.
- Switch to cloth pads on light flow days if you feel dry: By the fourth day of using the cup, I sometimes feel a bit dry, and in general, bored of the insert, rinse, re-insert regime. So when the flow becomes light enough, I switch to cloth pads.
- Sterilize, store, repeat: At the end of the cycle (or soon as possible after it), it’s best to boil the cup again to sterilize it and store it in a clean, dry cloth bag for the following month.
Advantages of using a menstrual cup
- A menstrual cup is currently the most environmentally friendly menstrual hygiene product, leading to zero waste. One cup could last upto 10 years with proper care; that’s easily over 1800 single-use plastic pads saved!
- It feels more hygienic than pads.
- It is far more comfortable than pads; my biggest fear is I’ll forget it’s inside!
- It’s easier to hike, swim, do yoga and other physical activities while wearing a cup.
- Using a menstrual cup has helped me understand my own body better.
- For some women, menstrual cups reduce period cramps.
- In the long run, they work out cheaper!
Tips to manage a menstrual cup on the road
Journeys longer than 8 hours
I try to avoid to using a menstrual cup on journeys longer than 8 hours, especially to account for buffer time / delays on either side; definitely don’t fancy changing my cup in the cramped up space of a flight washroom or worse, a shaking train bathroom!
Using a public toilet to change the cup
It’s not always avoidable to use a public toilet while changing a cup. I’ve resorted to using the handicapped washroom if available and empty, so I can take my time to remove the cup, wash it in the sink and re-insert the cup. One way to work around the challenge of washing the cup in a regular public washroom – with separate toilet and handwash areas – is to carry a bottle of water inside.
In India, where the state of most public washrooms is just horrible, I would rather pay for a drink at a nice restaurant or hotel, and use their facilities if I really need to change my cup.
Keep cloth pads as a backup
Sometimes things just don’t turn out as planned on the road. It’s always a good idea to be prepared with some backup cloth pads.
Drop the embarrassment
I know the idea of sterilizing a menstrual cup in a boiling pot of water sounds a bit weird, but let’s remember it’s just blood from our body. It’s high time we drop the notion of it being “unpure”. I initially found it embarrassing to take longer than usual to occupy the washroom while changing my cup, but hey, it’s natural for every woman to menstruate – and to try to embrace the most eco-friendly alternative. We owe no one an explanation.
Your questions about menstrual cups
On my Instagram Stories a while ago, I asked you, those of you who haven’t switched to menstrual cups yet, if you have any questions you’d like to ask anonymously. Here’s a selection of those questions:
Is a menstrual cup painful to insert or remove? It takes some getting used to the idea, and a while to figure out how to get it in and out, but once you do, it doesn’t hurt at all.
How to get over the mental block? Read articles, watch videos, discuss it friends who already use it. The more people you come across (virtually and in real life) who’re using the cup, the more you’ll get over the mental block.
Will they work with different body sizes and types? Absolutely. You just need to figure out what size it right for you. I even asked a gynecologist (on a different visit) if a menstrual cup would work for my body. She assured me that there’s no vagina too small or big to use it.
Can a virgin or unmarried girl use a menstrual cup? Yes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sexually active or not. It can break the hymen, but so can playing sports. We live in the 21st century and that really shouldn’t be a concern.
Is it safe to insert a cup into the vagina? Yes, as long as you sterilize it before and after, and store it in a dry cloth bag. Choose a cup made of 100% health/medical grade silicone that is safe to use.
Is it really hygienic to use and reuse a cup? Yes. Some say even more than using pads / tampons.
Is it messy to get it out and clean it? It can get messy, especially initially when you’re not used to removing it. The trick is hold it upright as far as possible. But remember, even if it spills, it’s just blood. Easy to clean with water or wet tissue.
How to manage it in office, especially with long working hours? If you spend less than 12 hours in office and commuting, wear it at home just before leaving and change it soon as you reach home. Else you can occupy the washroom for a few extra minutes, just once in the day, to wash and re-insert the cup. Maybe start the discussion with some of your female colleagues so you can try this together?
What if it leaks? It usually pops open and gets sealed on its own. To double check, move your finger around the base and ensure there are no folds. Trust that it won’t leak, and if you don’t, back it up with a cloth pad on your initial cycles!
What about heavy flow days? It works just fine for heavy flow days; you might want to change it more frequently during the first cycle of using it, just to get an idea of how much the cup fills up in a few hours.
What size cup to buy? I started with the small size and realized it works just fine for me. The small size is typically for regular flow and large for very heavy flow; the large is also recommend if you’ve given birth. Depending on which brand you’re buying, you can read reviews and their suggested sizes to figure it out. Many brands are also open to walking you through the size selection, so don’t hesitate to message them on Instagram or call them.
Should the tail of the cup (the dangling extension) be kept or cut? Each cup comes with a small extension at the bottom to make it easier to pull it out. It felt quite uncomfortable for me since apparently my cervix sits high, so I cut it off. After a few cycles, I find it easy enough to push the cup down using my pelvic muscles and pull it out.
Recommended brands of menstrual cups
Lena Cup: I bought the Lena Cup on Amazon US, just after I left Cuba, thanks to the great reviews. It’s made in California, FDA registered and made of 100% medical grade silicone. It comes in small and large sizes, and costs 25 US$. I love it and absolutely recommend it.
She Cup: My friend Vinita recommends the SheCup. It comes in standard and large sizes, and costs INR 1000.
Cupvert Cup: The Cupvert Menstrual Cup has the best reviews on Amazon India. It comes in small, medium and large sizes, and costs INR 299.
Boondh Cup: My friend Sharanya recommends the Boondh Menstrual Cup. It comes in a one-size-fits-all, and costs INR 690.
Rustic Art Cup: I’ve heard good reviews of the Rustic Art Menstrual Cup from multiple people. It comes in small and large sizes, and costs INR 850.
Cloth Pads: I highly recommend buying cloth pads as a backup; there are several options on Amazon India and Amazon US, depending on how many you’re looking for and your preferred design. A set of 4 suffices for me.
Have you switched to a menstrual cup yet? Why or why not?
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