After a decade of menstruating, I finally said my goodbyes to sanitary pads and bought my first menstrual cup. Read on to find out how it went, what I learnt and whether I’ll keep using it.
Ever since I got my period at 12, I’ve always been bewildered by period privacy. Why can’t I buy a pack of sanitary pads without the stores wrapping it in newspaper and then a black plastic bag? Why must so many schools have no provisions or educational modules about menstruation? Why, on top of bleeding, cramps and a plethora of PMS symptoms, must we also deal with thigh chafing, underwear-ruining and occasional odour? It took me a while to discover the world of alternative, reusable and sustainable menstrual products一menstrual cups stood out. How on earth did I not know about this revolutionary product when it’s been around for nearly a century (American actor Leona Chalmers designed the first ever period cup in 1937)?
A trophy-shaped receptacle made of medical-grade silicone, rubber or latex, the menstrual cup is folded and inserted into the vagina like a tampon一where it opens and creates a suction, thereby holding blood and discharge until emptied. “When cleaned appropriately and well-maintained, a single cup can be worn for up to 12 hours and last up to 10 years,” says Kolkata-based consultant gynaecologist Dr. Priyanka Sinha of Apollo Clinic, New Town.
The conversation around sustainable menstrual products and menstrual cups has only become more audible in the last few years of internet prominence. This may be due to a variety of reasons一insufficient knowledge on how to use it, less to none marketing, cultural or religious apprehensions and more. For me, personally, the only hesitation was whether I’d be able to use it right. Otherwise, I desperately wanted to leave my pad days behind. So I got my nerd game on and scouted the entire internet (and the attention of a few kind cup-veteran friends) to know as much as I could about this device before committing to it.
Based on the height of my cervix, flow intensity and no history of vaginal (or any) childbirth, I picked my cup size with fair confidence. However, every period experience is different. After it arrived, I waited a few weeks for the red notice with a mix of nervousness and hope.
Related story: How To Use A Menstrual Cup And Why
First month using a menstrual cup:
● Day one: I looked through some tutorials one last time. In the toilet, I squatted and tried the C-fold method to insert the cup (which I had gently boiled for 5 minutes right before). I would say it was more uncomfortable than it was painful. A couple of tries, nothing. It would either not go all the way in or it would not open up. So I took a few minutes to breathe, relax my muscles and try again. This time, with my fingers firmly gripping the fold, I didn’t let go until it was all the way in. After a few twists, I felt a pop. The cup was open. I ran a finger around the rim, to make sure. I was very conscious of the cup’s presence at that moment, with a mild soreness that I can safely attribute to my initial failed attempts. I could still feel the stem sticking out, but I left it as it was and went to bed.
● Day two: Day two is usually my heaviest. And when I woke up barely feeling anything, I felt a mix of joy and terror. On one hand, I was free from the constant diaper-like feeling of pads. On the other hand, it felt too comfortable. Is it lost or stuck out there? Thankfully, a quick trip to the toilet dissipated my fears.
Emptying the cup was a breeze and reinsertion was much easier than the previous night. I just squatted again, reached for the stem and then the base of the cup and pinched it to release the suction. By slowly wiggling the cup, I took it out and then emptied the contents.
● Day three: By this time, I had gotten the hang of it. Generally, I have a heavier flow during the first three days, so I had to empty the cup once in the morning, once in the evening and once before bed. Even then, I could see the amount of blood lessening over time, which was fascinating and can be really handy if you need to track your flow or period colour for medical reasons. Although you can use fragrance-free hypoallergenic soaps, I just use clean water to wash my cup every time I empty it (especially the two tiny holes on either side of the cup, which allow the suction). I gently boil it for 5 minutes before and after my period ends to sterilise it. I also made sure to wash my hands before and after handling the cup as well as keep my nails filed and trimmed to avoid dirt or jabs.
● Day four to six: These are my days of retreating menses. The flow is lighter, so changing the cup once in the morning and once in late-evening was enough. With the end of my cycle near, the stem didn’t seem to stick out as much. In fact, I would wake up with the cup much higher than usual. It could be simply because our muscles relax when we sleep, as the cervical position doesn’t change across our periods, according to Dr. Sinha. Even so, it posed no trouble in terms of extracting the cup. I boiled it again and stashed it away in the cloth pouch it came in.
Second month follow-up: One time wonder?
New month, same process. I was less nervous as I knew what to expect and this time insertion was much easier. In fact, I discovered that the 7-fold was my new favourite. I did have a mild scare, though. At one point, I woke up and I couldn’t reach the stem. Taking the advice of a friend, I tried jumping around, pushing down with my abdominal and vaginal muscles and the good-old relaxing一to let gravity do its job. Phew! It helped. Otherwise, a cup (as long as the right size is chosen according to your gynaecological history) cannot get stuck or lost in you, confirms Dr. Sinha.
This month was significantly smoother than the last, overall. I’ve experienced no leaks or any irritation so far. Not having to have packets of bloody pads to dispose of every month is a game-changer.
What I learnt after personally using a menstrual cup
● Practice makes perfect: Menstrual cups truly have a learning curve. People tend to be enthusiastic at first, apprehensive when it comes down to it and then on-board with prolonged use and success. So, if you’re worried about not knowing how to, take your time with it. A 2017 study of 604 Kenyan schoolgirls, published in the British Medical Journal, indicated no adverse effects even after months of use. So, you don’t have to wait for a certain time to use it. Talking with others who have used menstrual cups, being patient with myself and trusting the process truly helped.
● Remember to empty it: This seems like such redundant advice, doesn’t it? But trust me, there were times when it felt like the cup wasn’t even there. I had to put in a memo once to remember to change it after 12 hours. This, you must take seriously. Toxic Shock Syndrome, according to the book StatPearls by Adam Ross and Hugh W. Shoff, is a rare but serious bacterial illness “characterized by fever, hypotension, sunburn-like rash, and end-organ damage” and can result from incorrect use of most menstrual products (including menstrual cups). Plus, if the cup fills too much, it can leak.
Related story: Your No-nonsense Guide To Vulvar And Vaginal Care
● Wear your white pants: Did you know you can easily use the toilet while wearing a menstrual cup? With the right size and proper insertion, you can workout, go swimming, wear your lighter clothes with minimal fear of stains but you still need to take it out during penetrative sexual intercourse.
We all have designated period underwear, and mine have been taking a breather ever since I switched to the cup. I haven’t needed any extra wardrobe precautions yet. Even during my heaviest days, I could never feel the blood until I took the cup out. Though the contents may spill while extraction, I always do it over the toilet to avoid extra mess.
● Take a doctor’s word: At the end of the day, preference and comfort are paramount. The pros of menstrual cups generally outweigh the cons, but it still might not suit everybody. Consider talking to a doctor about what kind of cup may be right for you, whether you have an allergy to the material, if you have infections, recent history of vaginal surgery or gynecological conditions like vaginismus that make penetration painful etc.
It is pretty obvious at this point that I am absolutely going to continue using a menstrual cup. I feel freer, I am saving money, I am helping the environment一it’s a no-brainer. If it works for you, I cannot recommend it enough.
Related story: How Normal Is Your Period
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