Everything You Want to Know about a Menstrual Cup

There is a lot of buzz around about menstrual cups. A lot of women are moving from tampons and sanitary pads to these more eco-friendly cups during their periods. But what are they and how do they work?

What are Menstrual Cups?

Menstrual cups are small, flexible silicone or latex rubber cups that have a stem at the bottom. Think of it as a wine glass cut a few centimetres below the bowl on the stem. This cup can be inserted into your vagina using the stem.

A menstrual cup differs from a tampon or a sanitary pad because instead of absorbing menstrual flow, it collects the blood in the cup. When you want to empty the cup, or you think the cup is full, all you have to do is take out the cup from your vagina, empty it out and rinse it before reinsertion.

How do you wear a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a flexible bowl, so it can be pinched any which way you please. Once you choose the most comfortable way of pinching it to insert into your vagina, you have to insert it using the stem at the bottom. How you pinch it depends entirely on your comfort level. This video gives you a number of options for folding the top of the menstrual cup so that inserting into your vagina becomes easier.

You may use a lube or some petroleum jelly at the mouth of your vagina if you think insertion will be painful. Otherwise, just relax your muscles and push it up like a tampon.

Once it is inside, the menstrual cup releases from the folds and rests against the walls of your vagina. It is supposed to be a snug fit, so any menstrual blood can be collected in the cup and there is no leakage. When the cup pops open, it causes a suction effect to stay put in your vagina. If you are not sure if it has popped correctly, twist or rotate it to till it feels comfortable.

How do you remove a menstrual cup?

Depending on your flow, you can use a menstrual cup for up to 12 hours. When you feel the need to remove it, pull down the stem till you get to the base of the cup. Once there, pinch the base slightly to release the suction and gently remove the cup from your vagina. In the initial phase, you might need to use your pelvic muscles to coax the cup down.

Remove the cup, empty it and clean it, and then simply reinsert it if you still need it.

Why use a menstrual cup at all?

There are a number of benefits of menstrual cups

1. It’s wallet-friendly

The reason more and more women are moving from sanitary pads and tampons to menstrual cups is the fact that it is a huge money-saving alternative. Don’t believe us? Take a look at the numbers below:

The above figures are based on the average 5-day period of a woman in the age-bracket 25-30. Sanitary pads (in this case, Whisper Ultra) that come in packs of 30 can be used for 3 months on average if the monthly usage is around 10 pads. Tampons work out more expensive. It is advised to change the tampon every 4 hours to prevent toxic shock syndrome, and in order to do that, the woman has to use around 30 tampons over a 5-day period, necessitating the purchase of 3 packets of tampons (10 tampons per pack). However, the most basic menstrual cup comes at only Rs. 499, and is reusable, so the annual amount spent on it is also Rs. 499 -thus making it the cheapest option available. Here’s a pictorial representation of this to help you understand this better:

2. It’s eco-friendly

Given the times we live in, no one can really ignore the effect of waste on the environment. Did you know that it takes 500-800 years for sanitary pads to completely decompose? Likewise tampons too take forever – once these enter landfills, they take 5 centuries to break down. An average woman uses approximately 11,000 to 17,000 pads in a lifetime – yes, that’s just one woman. Now imagine the pressure we are putting on the environment.

Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are reusable. If you buy the more reputed brands and continue to clean and reuse them safely, a single cup can last you for up to 12 years. Whenever you want to throw it away, you have the option of burning the cup. It will produce negligible amounts of CO2, because it’s largely sand / glass.

3. You can wear it for 12 hours

Tampons need to be changed every few hours to prevent chances of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a serious condition caused by infection. Sanitary pads typically fill out within a maximum of 2/3 hours on heavy days. However, menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours unless you bleed exceptionally heavily. This makes it excellent for women who cannot change too often.

4. It holds more

A standard menstrual cup holds up to an ounce. That is way more than your super absorbent tampon or pad.

5. There’s no stink

Sanitary pads tend to smell because the blood is exposed to the air. In the case of menstrual cups, like tampons, because the blood is contained within your vagina, there is no contact with air, and therefore, there is no stink.

6. It gives you more freedom

Whether you are planning to spend a day at the pool/beach or travel or have a long at work, menstrual cups can keep you protected without any leakage or need to change provided you wear it correctly. It has become the favoured choice for female travellers, models, athletes and the like who prefer the benefits of the cup over the hassles of a sanitary pad.

What are the disadvantages?

As with anything, menstrual cups also have a few issues.

1. Difficult transition

Moving to a menstrual cup after years of using a sanitary pad is not easy. Some women tense up when inserting the cup and then it hurts to place it correctly. Also, making sure it is correctly inserted can be difficult, and this is something you grow used to only with practice. Lubes can help in the first few months.

2. Finding the right fit

Finding the right size can be challenging. Often women do not know whether a Medium or Small cup would fit them. Finding the right fit may be difficult also if you have a tilted uterus or cervix. It does get some getting used to, and till then, there is a chance you will leak.

3. Removal can be messy

A lot of women are not able to remove the cup correctly without making a mess in the initial months. You may need to squat when you remove it and you may need to use your pelvic muscles to coax it out. Even then there’s always a chance of spilling the contents. Plus, once you have remove the cup, you have to clean it out – so having access to water or even wipes is a must.

4. It can interfere with an IUD

If you have an IUD, a menstrual cup can pull on it to dislodge it. While there is no evidence to support this, it is always a possibility and it is best to talk to your OB-GYN to confirm if you can use a menstrual cup at all.

Can virgins use a menstrual cup?

One of the reasons a lot of women shy away from using a menstrual cup is, they think it may interfere with their hymen. For a country like India where virginity of the woman can be a big deal, a menstrual cup is seen as an unnecessary intrusion. However, the reality is very different from the perception.

Now, a lot of people falsely believe that the hymen is a very thin tissue that breaks or pops when you have penetrative sex for the first time. The truth is, the hymen is truly a thin tissue that stretches and has holes in it by the time you start menstruating. By the time you pass through adolescence, in most cases, the hymen is already gone – yes, gone even if you have never had sex. A menstrual cup will not take away your hymen – in fact, it will have little to no effect on your ‘virginity’.

That said, a young girl has a tighter vagina and it may hurt a great deal more to insert the cup. You have to probably make a few attempts to get it inside in the beginning. But don’t worry about a loose vagina at all. The vagina is a beautifully elastic thing and can snap right back to its original state even after you have inserted the cup. In any case, the cup isn’t very wide or very big, so put your worries about a loose vagina to rest today!

Conclusion

The benefits of a menstrual cup far outweigh the issues with it. Perhaps it is time already to move to it if you are still using sanitary pads or tampons. The transition will be as eye-opening and as gratifying as the time you moved from cloth to disposable sanitary pads with wings, believe me!

Feature Image Source: Shutterstock

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