Why you should switch the wings and strings for a menstrual cup
It’s definitely no secret that here on earth we have a huge plastic problem. We’ve all seen the recent pledges to ban plastic straws, reduce plastic bottle usage, and even heard last year about London’s own beautiful creation the ‘Fatberg’ – (if you don’t remember this one, have a search on Google images – just make sure you’re not about to have lunch).
But what about period waste?
You might be thinking that plastic pollution and period products are two separate issues. But even discounting the plastic packaging and wrappers they come in, that’s far from true…
- Overall, more than 80% of disposable period products contain plastic. (The Independent)
- The BBC say some pads are made of up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of 4 plastic bags (!!!)
- According to the Women’s Environment Network, there are 9 plastic tampon applicators littered on British beaches per every km and annually we dump a total of 200,000 tampons and pads into waste.
- One plastic tampon applicator takes longer to degrade than the average lifespan of the woman that uses it (and we each use around 11,000 in our lifetime) (The Guardian)
All this got me thinking and left me feeling pretty guilty (worsened when I kept catching those heart-breaking NatGeo insta photos of animals trapped in plastic).
**Cue the menstrual cup**
Soft, flexible, silicone cups that unfold into a little blood catching vacuum. They come in plastic free packaging and only need replacing once every 5 – 10 years so are super eco-friendly. According to Organicup 91% of women who tried one continued to use it.
As well as being much kinder to the environment, menstrual cups also get you on your way to happier and healthier body:
- 100% FDA approved medical grade silicone & vegan certified
- Non-porous = no nasty bacteria
- No toxins or chemicals that you find in tampons
- Holds more blood than tampons and pads so needs be emptied less often
- Unlike the cups, ¼ of fluids absorbed by tampons are actually important and you need them to maintain your natural vagina PH levels
- No dryness or irritation
- Perfectly safe if you have an IUD
And then there’s the tampon tax…need I even START on that?
- The average woman spends over £100 a year on disposable sanitary products
- We can save heaps by swapping this for a one-off purchase that lasts years
- 137,700 girls missed school last year because they couldn’t afford period products – a problem that menstrual cups could help solve with more awareness
So, with all this in mind I ordered the OrganiCup (£20). To be honest, I chose this one because it had a 2for1 offer and I was reluctant to spend more in case I didn’t like it. It’s supposedly a mid-range cup price/quality wise and I would whole heartedly recommend it! You don’t need to worry about sizing as there’s only two (for women who have and haven’t given birth) and it has a slightly longer stem which makes for easier removal. I’ve had no problems with OrganiCup, but having said that I would happily spend more in the future.
Other popular choices include the Mooncup and Diva Cup. It’s worth doing a bit of research because they all have different pros and cons.
Here goes. My Attempt…
(Before starting, sterilise your cup in boiling water and wash your hands)
Okay, so it isn’t easy to begin with, but don’t let that put you off. I got off to a slow, messy, painful and ‘who-have-you-just-murdered’ type of start. THEN I realised there were very detailed instruction videos on their website. So definitely have that as your starting point.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Prepare for the graphics.
For me, placing one foot on the toilet / squatting was the easiest starting position. I used one finger to push the rim into the base of the cup and pinched it into a sort of roll. There are a few ways you can do it, but this way makes the top bit quite small so it’s less daunting and good for beginners. I also wet the cup under the tap (a bit of lubrication can never go amiss). I had a few failed attempts and it is honestly exhausting at first but once you’ve got the hang of it, it gets easier every time.
You need to get your fingers right in there, so be ready to embrace a bit of mess. It will pretty much just unfold inside you and you might (but now always) hear a pop. If you’re unsure, feel around the base and if there’s dents in it, then hold the base of the cup above the stem and carefully twizzle it about a bit to ensure its not creased.
It’s bizarre at first, but if it’s done correctly you shouldn’t be able to feel it and you will eventually just forget all about it (which isn’t even a worry since TSS isn’t a risk). To be honest, once I’d figured it out I found it way easier to insert and remove than tampons because it’s a lot more flexible and less irritable.
Organicup say you can keep it in for up to 12 hours and most women can easily get by changing it once in the morning and once at night. I’m not yet fully convinced on that one, but I think that’s partly because I’m still traumatised from my last white-skirt-leakage fiasco – after a few periods you will know what’s best for you. Overall though, I’ve definitely had to change it significantly less than the average tampon. If you are nervous, it’s a good idea to wear a pad too at the start – just in case.
With removal, my main problem was I wasn’t relaxed enough. DO NOT panic and try to forcefully yank it out because that hurts a lot. I’ve found it best to pull the stem gently with your fingers and simultaneously push using your pelvic floor muscles to sort of birth it out. Then just clean it with warm water and mild unscented soap before you start again…
After a few days, I could easily push it out in a few seconds without even thinking. The first time was a proud and beautiful moment (not quite childbirth but still a very exciting achievement).
Some people cut the stem shorter because it sticks out a bit at first. I also wanted to but am glad now that I didn’t because its useful for removal so I would recommend not rushing into doing that.
‘What if it gets stuck up there?’
We’ve all heard of the friend whose ‘sister’s mate’s neighbour’ apparently ‘lost her tampon’ up there and had to go to hospital or something. You probably will experience a moment of panic when you convince yourself you’ve been beaten by your uterus.
Remember that a). the vagina isn’t an infinite tunnel, b). it is impossible to ‘lose’ something up there and c). that your pelvic floor muscles will get you through (eventually). The more you panic, the more you tense up and the more you’ll struggle. You should just sit on the toilet and try to push like you’re weeing to move it down.
‘What about public toilets?’
It doesn’t have to be washed every time so it really depends what you’re comfortable with. You could rinse it with a little bit of water from a bottle, or just wipe with a tissue and wait until you’re home.
The End Result!
Overall, I think menstrual cups are definitely the future for periods. You might leak a couple of times, you might get a bit messy, and you’ll probably find yourself wiping your blood off the walls at one point, BUT the long term financial, environmental and health pros easily outweigh the initial blips for me.
At the end of the day, vaginas see much bigger things heading in and out of them, so with a bit practice I have full faith that we can all embrace the menstrual cup life.
Written by Harika Sihota