Everything you need to know about menstrual cups

menstrual cups
Image from Freedom Cups.

When I was 12 years old, I had my first visit from Aunt Flo. Mum gave me a packet of pads and instructions on how to apply what appeared to be adhesive car washing sponges to my knickers and told me how often to apply a new one.

I lasted several months with these bulky creations before summer hit. Living near the local pool, I was NOT willing to miss out on five solid days of swimming. I had seen all the ads and I knew what was needed. To be able to swim, play tennis or ride a horse during one’s period, one must use tampons.

I had a vague notion of how they worked, so I asked Mum for a pack. She bought me a box- the kind with a cardboard application system. That brand didn’t last long because, let’s get real here, tampon application is not rocket science and I found the additional engineering more of a hindrance than a help. Over the next decade or two, I used a combination of these disposable products.

After I had my second baby and while waiting for my cycle to resume, I heard whispers about an alternative to pads and tampons called menstrual cups. Intrigued, I asked a few questions and started looking into them right away. Within a few hours I had ordered one and within a couple of weeks, I was ready to try it out!

A Menstrual What?

A menstrual cup is a soft, flexible cup made of medical grade silicone or latex. They are comparable in size to a shot glass and usually have a small tab at the end that you can use to help with insertion and removal. Basically, they are worn inside the vagina to catch your menstrual flow instead of tampons or pads and emptied at intervals. You rinse or wipe after emptying and re-insert and sterilise them in boiling water between periods. Originally invented back in the 1930s, they’re really taking off at the moment and with good reason.

What to expect

When you first start using your menstrual cup there is a bit of a learning curve. Insertion requires you to fold the cup and it takes a few goes to get comfy with how they work. When inserted properly, they are much like tampons in that you don’t really feel them. If you can feel the cup and it’s uncomfortable in any way, you may need to remove and try again.

Benefits of menstrual cups

Convenience– Menstrual cups can be left in place for up to 8-12 hours. Theoretically, this means you only have to deal with your period two to three times a day, which beats the hell out of changing your tampon every few hours.

Economical– A cup will set you back between $30-$60 dollars and can last you up to 10 years depending on the brand. I know I was spending more than that in a single year on pads and tampons.

Safe and Healthy– They don’t dry out your vaginal membranes like tampons do because they aren’t absorbent. So the risks of friction, abrasion and even infection may be reduced. You’re also avoiding exposing your parts to bleached rayon and other fibres, which some people are concerned about.

Environmentally friendly– Going off an average five-day cycle, using around six sanitary pads or tampons per day, you’re throwing out 30 sanitary items each month. That’s 360 in a year. Over the 40 years you’ll probably have a menstrual cycle, you’ll throw out around 14,000 disposable products. Or, you could throw out a couple of cups after years of use. Do the math!

Ease of Use– After my first couple of periods using them, I’d mastered it. I could do it blindfolded now!

Even if the only benefit was that I didn’t have to remember to pack extras, I’d still be a happy cup convert. Why not try one?

You can also help other women through Freedom Cups – an organisation that aims to get reusable menstrual cups to women in third world countries. They work on a buy-one, give-one scheme where every cup purchased allows them to give a cup to a woman in an underprivileged community. Check them out.

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