Hear me out – it’s not as gross as you think.
About a year ago, a friend told me she had been using a menstrual cup and loved it.
I am a bit of an environmentalist and found the idea of an environmentally friendly option for my time of the month most appealing. While toxic shock syndrome hasn’t been a huge concern for me, I also found the decreased risk of it happening, which the menstrual cup is said to be ideal for, pretty appealing.
My main concerns going into the experiment of trying one out were around hygiene – particularly the smell. I was worried removing and emptying the cup would be messy and gross, but since I trust my friend’s opinion, I decided to give it a test run.
I went online and looked at the different brands available to find out which was best. Turns out these silicone cones are all pretty similar in construction, there were just variations in size and hue. Popular brands include the Diva Cup and Lily Cup, and there are usually two sizes: small and large. Small is for women who haven’t given birth or are under the age of 25, and large for everyone else. I fell into the former category. In my research, I read that they can become stained over time, so I steered away from clear and ended up buying a dark purple LadyCup, simply for the fact it was guaranteed to arrive before my next period.
The cup arrived promptly, and came with a cotton bag so I could store it properly between periods, instructions on how to use it and some sanitizer wipes to keep in my handbag in case I didn’t have access to a tap when cleaning it.
When I got my period a few days later, I was pretty excited to try it out, though – I’ll be honest – I was a bit freaked out about inserting and removing the cup (what if it was hard to do, or messy, or it got stuck inside me?!) and potentially needing to trim the stem if it was too long. The instructions said if you could feel the stem poking, you should trim it. I didn’t want to be in control of this! What if I trimmed it too much or cut it at a weird angle that made it feel even more uncomfortable?
Once I settled down, I decided to move along with the whole process. I sterilized the cup by putting it in a bowl of boiling water and zapping it in the microwave for five minutes. My friend told me it’s less messy to insert and remove in the shower, so after I sterilized it, I ran straight there.
Here we go…
Inserting it was way easier than I expected; I squeezed the middle of the cup together with my left hand and then folded the cup in half with my right hand. I had to do this a few times, as it kept popping out of my fingers. Once I had it folded in half, I got into a little squat and pretty much rammed it up there. I say ‘rammed’, but it actually went in easily and didn’t hurt at all. I used my finger to check it had fully unfolded inside me, as that means a seal has formed, which is what you want.
I took a little walk inside in my shower to make sure it felt comfortable, and then high-fived myself on doing such an awesome job. I went to work and completely forgot I was wearing it. Since I couldn’t see any evidence of leakage when I went to the toilet, I didn’t check it was still in the right place, I just assumed it was. Another high-five moment – go me!
Menstrual cups are supposed to be emptied every six to eight hours. Since it was my first time using it, I went to remove it at exactly six hours. I washed my hands, went into the cubicle, sat on the toilet, used my fingers to find the stem and tried pulling it out. But it was slippery and the seal of the cup was holding tightly onto my insides. Oh, god, I was officially going to be the colleague who had an ambulance called for her because she got something stuck inside her vagina. No – I couldn’t let that happen! I went in for a second attempt. I took a much firmer grip on the stem and used my pelvic floor muscles to push down as I pulled. Success!
I was grossly intrigued to look at the cup at this point. I expected it to stink and be filled to the brim, but it was barely a quarter full and didn’t smell at all. I emptied it into the loo, wiped it with one of the wipes that came with it and put it back in. Re-inserting it was easier the second time around, and it helped that I was sitting instead of squatting. I flushed, washed my hands and went back to work.
I’ve had the cup for over a year now and I haven’t looked back since. I’m actually about to buy another one to keep at my boyfriend’s house. After inserting and removing it a few times, it became really simple – just like getting used to inserting a tampon. Now I can do it in the shower without squatting (though sitting on the toilet would probably be a better idea when you’re just learning the ropes).
Using the cup taught me we really don’t lose much blood each month. My period is pretty light, so I’ve found that changing it every 12 hours (the absolute maximum limit) is fine for my body to cope with. A shower in the morning and another one before bed works really well, too.
When I empty it during my shower, I rinse it out and clean it with some body wash, ensuring I remove all the soap suds before re-inserting it. Once my period has ended, I sanitize the cup again, then store it in its cute carry bag until next time.
I’ve found using the menstrual cup and getting up close and personal with my period strangely liberating; I’m not even remotely freaked out by my menstrual blood anymore, or uncomfortable emptying it. Don’t knock it before you try it. I love my cup so much and am so glad I took the plunge and gave it a go.
Comment: Have you ever used a menstrual cup? What was your experience with it?
Louise Watson is a member of the global SHESAID team based in Singapore. She talks way too much, loves to travel South-east Asia and would pick cheese over anything else in life.