This tampon and pad alternative has lots of fans, so one woman did a period road test.
I’ve been regularly surfing the crimson wave for over two decades now — first with pads, then tampons. But for all my empowered, millennial feminism, it’s taken me 20 years to finally give menstrual cups a try.
If there’s going to be more trash than fish in the ocean by 2050, my mission to reduce my footprint starts now. Having already made a conscious effort to eschew plastic straws, plastic bags, and takeaway cups, it was time to tackle my period, too. I was also tired of leakage, and toxic shock syndrome horror stories really scared me.
What is a menstrual cup?
I did some research and found out that menstrual cups were invented 80 years ago. Back then, they were made of hard rubber. Today’s versions are soft, bendy silicone; it literally is a small cup that fits inside your vagina and collects menstrual blood as it exits your uterus. When it’s full, you take it out, give it a rinse, and insert it back in again.
Menstrual cups didn’t take off until the 2000s. Since then they’ve developed a fan following, but most women still use tampons and pads. It’s not hard to understand why. Aside from the ick factor of inserting a cup inside your vagina, our culture of newness encourages disposal over reuse. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are designed to be reused month after month. There are tons of different options on the market, such as the popular Diva Cup ($27; amazon.com), as well as the Lena cup ($24; amazon.com) and Blossom cup ($14; amazon.com).
RELATED: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period
When I announced my trial run with a menstrual cup to my social networks, I was shocked to find out how many of my close friends had been using cups this whole time, and hadn’t yet shared their wisdom. But I’m sharing what I learned. Here’s my personal experience of test-driving one, and what I advise other women do if they want to give it a try too.
Before shark week starts, my advice is to hop into a warm bath first, where your body can relax and you can practice inserting a menstrual cup. Use your fingers to find the base of your cervix and get a feel for your anatomy. Unlike a tampon, there’s no handy applicator to guide you.
This helped me understand the placement of the cup, since it actually sits closer to the opening of your vagina rather than all the way up there against the cervix. Most cups are built with a “stem” and look kind of like a tulip; this can be trimmed for comfort once you know where it will sit and how to place it there.
Once you’ve practiced placement and your period has actually arrived, wash the cup with mild soap and water and insert it in. While I was trying to relax my muscles so I could get the cup inside me that first time, I felt like a 15-year-old period newbie again, taking deep breaths and contorting into strange positions to open up comfortably.
But I took my time. And it worked! I only got it wrong once, but I caught it before the leakage became a problem. Hot tip: Wear period undies (like Thinx) or panty liners as you learn to position your cup, just in case.
Then you’re good to go about your day as you normally would as the cup collects menstrual blood for up to 12 hours. After 12 hours (or less, depending on your flow), you will need to empty it. I emptied mine straight into the toilet and rinsed it before reinserting. A cup counselor of mine says she always brings a wet paper towel into public bathrooms when she empties her cup; this enables her to give it a good once-over before reinsertion.
I used my cup on heavy days and light, through the duration of my period; I even peed with it in. After the initial awkwardness with application, I felt like a rock star. Here are my answers to the questions menstrual cup newbies typically have.
Cups are messy! Won’t it smell?
The cup turned out to be way less mess than tampons or pads. Even though I had to touch my vagina to insert it, it felt cleaner, and there was no odor. Using a menstrual cup actually reduced a lot of personal stigma about touching and investigating my own body, which was an incredibly positive experience.
How does the blood in the cup not leak out?
Cups create suction to prevent leakage. Kind of a genius idea, right? As long as you get it positioned right, you can say bye to spillage forever.
Personally speaking, it took a cup to help me realize that I haven’t been gushing as much as I thought. The absorption capabilities of pads and tampons are actually pretty limited, and I’m a super kind of woman (if you catch my drift). I found that in the few hours it took for me to send a super-size tampon into overflow territory, I would only have filled my cup halfway. My cup actually deepened my relationship with my flow and my body. Mind = blown!
Aren’t cups made of eco-unfriendly plastic?
Most cups are actually made of medical-grade silicone, and are generally BPA-, latex-, and phthalate-free — making them better for the environment and reducing any impact these might have on your system.
That thing is huge! How did it feel?
I actually felt my cup less than I feel a tampon, simply because it wasn’t sloshing around inside me (or at least tampons often feel that way…ew!). You’ll know you have the cup properly positioned when you don’t feel it; that’s key.
What about menstrual discs?
I also gave menstrual discs a try after two friends raved about one brand, Flex. Discs are designed for disposal; this was a downside for me, as it kinda defeated the purpose of my experiment. Perhaps the greatest win for discs, though, is that you can wear one during sex because it sits at the base of your cervix rather than in your vaginal canal. And if period sex isn’t body-positive, I don’t know what is!
Opening up a conversation about periods on social media has inadvertently made me a go-to among my friends for advice on painting the town red, and I’m not gonna lie—I’m feeling pretty awesome about that.
Not only has a blunt question on the Internet transformed me into a menstruation maharishi (note to self: start printing this title on business cards), but it’s also made me a total convert to cups. Better for my body, better for the environment, and body-positive? It doesn’t get much better than that.