In a conversation with new cup users, I went looking for the chronicle I knew I’d written and realised I’d never published it. So here goes for my menstruating peeps, hope it helps!
This is a recap and my learnings on my cup journey. I am very happy, now that I’ve figured out how to use the cup for my needs and I’ve found not one but two that suit my requirements. So here’s me sharing what I’ve learnt.
My journey with menstrual cups
- July 2015: I started with a firm, medium sized, stemmed SilkyCup bought online. It took me awhile to learn insertion and get comfortable with the cup. But leaks were still happening.
- June 2016: I decided to switch to a soft, medium sized, non-stemmed SheCup bought online. I thought the leaks may be happening because the previous cup wasn’t unfurling properly. This cup was easier to put in. But it turned inside me a couple of times and once, fell into the toilet bowl when I was trying to get it out. It also leaked.
- March 2017: I decided to go back to stemmed cups and go up one size to see if a snugger fit would prevent the leaks. I moved to WOW Freedom and ALX Care, both firm, large sized, stemmed cups. I’ve been using these alternately and have had good experiences with both. No more leaks, no difficulty putting in or removing and the cramps have reduced too.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a cup made of silicon, which you insert into your vaginal passage during your period. It captures the period discharge. Typically you can leave it in for at least 8 hours before needing to take it out and empty it. The cup is reusable and is said to last for up to ten years, which makes it very cost-effective (think of the taxation on feminine hygiene products). It can be inserted, removed and cleaned by the user herself, in a bathroom, which takes away the problem of disposing sanitary napkins or pads. It’s made of silicon so does not absorb any of the period discharge, only contains it (unlike tampons which have been known to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome). It has no bleach or other skin-irritating products, unlike sanitary napkins (how else do you think they’re that white?). And finally, if you care about the environment, the menstrual cup protects you from having to add to landfill with disposables.
It’s still a very low visibility product since women’s health is not a big priority for the world. I’ve never seen a chemist stock this. But menstrual cups are very easily available online, on all major ecommerce sites. There are several brands and types and they come in a variety of price ranges.
Myths/Fears/Taboos about menstrual cups
- A menstrual cup will not get stuck or lost inside you. It cannot enter your uterus. It might go fairly deep into your vaginal passage but it can be removed easily. In the absolute worst case, your gynacologist will be able to get it out of you without any complex surgical procedures. It just requires putting two fingers in and pulling the cup out.
- Menstrual cups are not and should not be painful. Most women are not familiar with their own bodies. We are also given a lot of negative messaging, especially about our vaginas. This means most of us will worry and even panic when asked to go down there. This could cause the muscles to tighten which makes insertion a little harder. The trick is to just take a deep breath, relax, wait a few minutes if need be and try again without worry.
- Menstrual cups are not for certain women only. Any woman who is menstruating should be able to use the cup, regardless of her age or sexual history. To be absolutely sure, check with a good gynaecologist. Mine had not had a lot of experience with cups but she didn’t see any major worries about it. I’ve been keeping her posted about my progress and her subsequent checkups have shown no adverse effects of two years of use.
- Menstrual cups do not need any other support products. If you have the right cup for you, there will be no leakage. By this I mean, literally ZERO leakage. So you will not need a sanitary napkin or panty liner. Your vaginal passage is plugged up with a well-fitting cup that captures all the discharge.
- Menstrual cups don’t fill up and overflow uncontrollably. Until I started using the menstrual cup, I never realised how slowly and how little the period discharge really is. Yes, it is bloody and yes, we have heavy flow days. But even at its peak, a period is not like a tap on full, spraying blood. The average cup and user can go upto at least 8 hours without a problem. I always empty my cup every 3-4 hours during the day anyway and I sleep the 8-9hour night without getting up. I have also gone for upto 12 hours without a change and there were no issues. This has never happened to me, but apparently if the cup gets full, it will only move downwards, presumably weighed down and it might leak a bit because of the shift in position.
Keep these in mind while looking for a cup
- Size is a very important aspect of how the cup works for you. This has nothing to do with your body weight, age or sexual history. Human bodies come in many beautiful forms and yours is unique. Don’t body shame yourself for whatever size cup you need. The cup needs to fit you, not the other way round. A cup that is too loose will allow leaks and you’ll need pads, which defeats the purpose.
- The stem is another important aspect of the cup. Even cups without stems will not get lost inside you. But you will need to insert your fingers a little deeper to get a hold of the cup during removal. Cups with stems will not hurt you because they’re really soft. If the cup fits well, it will get pulled into your vaginal passage completely and the stem won’t even stick out. Either way, the cup works. It’s a matter of personal preference. Figure yours out.
- Cleaning the cup seems to be a big deal for a lot of women (based on what I read online). Maybe this is more in the western world where they’re used to bathrooms being dry and using toilet paper rather than water. As an Indian, wet doesn’t equal dirty to me. And I’ve been cleaning myself during my periods for over 20 years now. All you do is sit on the toilet, pull out the cup gently, empty it into the bowl, rinse it with clean water and put it back in. I also wash it with VWash if I’m at home. Sterilising can be done at the start and at the end of the period before you put your cup away. If you can’t do this in the kitchen, use a face steamer like I do or even a sterilising cup.
- Take your time with finding the right cup and gaining comfort with whatever you buy. This is really important. This product is to help you live easier and better.
All the very best on your journey with menstrual cups! I would love to hear your experiences with the cup too. If you’d like to share, please leave a comment here or tweet to me or drop me a note at ideasmithy [at] gmail [dot] com.
You may remember my menstrual cup misadventures last month. A recap of my journey so far:
- I started with SilkyCup, a medium sized menstrual cup with a stem (resulting in ‘vagitail’ in my early attempts)
- I practised and found a folding technique that worked for me and I’m still learning about insertion
- 7 months in, I discovered that the leakage that was happening was not normal. A menstrual cup replaces or should replace all other sanitary products like tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners.
- I bought a SheCup, a medium sized menstrual cup without a stem
- Insertion was easier. I perfected the punchdown fold. Leakage vanished.
- The SheCup turned over completely inside me in December.
- It turned around 90 degrees in February. It also leaked out enough to stain my bed in my sleep.
- When removing the SheCup, it fell out and into the toilet bowl.
I’m over the upset of all this and I have decided that this is just trial-and-error till I find the best cup for me. Reema is of the opinion that the SheCup’s firmer material makes it ‘pop’ open inside on insertion while the SilkyCup being softer, stays folded and leaves room for leakage. I am theorising that a stem keeps a cup from spinning. And both of us think that the two cups may not have been the right size for me too.
With these in mind, I’m back on the road to the perfect cup. I’m going to set aside time, some money and the determination to soldier through and not give up. The menstrual cup has too many benefits (financial, environmental, feminist) for me to give up on it at this stage.
I know a lot more women are using menstrual cups now and several others are taking notice and have questions. I would like to start a discussion. So here are some questions. Share your thoughts and comments.
- If you are a menstrual cup user, do you prefer one with a stem or without?
- Have you had any troubles with the unfurling? How do you address those?
- What fold/s do you use? Have you experimented with angles of insertion?
- Has anyone noticed any increase/reduction in cramps? Any other physical changes noticed?
Leave your comments below and let’s get talking!
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The menstrual cup chronicles continue. I started with a SilkyCup gifted to me by Reema. After a lot of teething pains (birthing pains?), I established a relationship with this piece of silicon and got used to putting it up my lady business every month.
A HUGE part of developing a comfort with menstrual cups is the safety valve that the stem provides, that you can just yank out anytime. No, not really, it doesn’t really work that way since after the first couple of months or so, my vag began swallowing up the entire cup, stem and all. I’m assured that is is quite normal, in fact the right way to wear it. Getting it out proves to be awkward but possible since when you reach the tip of the stem you can tugtug it out. By the time I got to this place with my cup, it had already discoloured. Also it continued to still leak.
Figuring it must be a size misfit and that I was ‘grown-up’ enough to buy one for myself, I bought a SheCup. This one was a real adventure because it came without a stem (thus nullifying the ‘vagitail’). The SheCup is also made of a slightly firmer material than the SilkyCup which means it pops open once inside you. I’ll admit the theory sounded fine and truly, in the last few months, I’ve sprung very few leaks if at all. I’ve even gone on all day, including outside with zero fuss (I even wore a thong once). The only trouble if at all was that it went in so snugly, I was always afraid I’d forget it was in there. So I’ve gotten used to placing an alarm for myself every few hours to ‘Remove cup’.
In December, I had one alarming episode where I reached in at the end of the day and found my finger poking into thin air. Thin air inside me? Am I actually a mannequin then? It turned out that the cup had turned ALL the way around inside me. It wasn’t actually as bad as it sounds. I had to get a grip on a side and slide/slip/scratch it out. Soreness around the vaginal area had also been noted around the end of Day 2. But well, nothing gained overnight, I was just glad to be rid of the pain of sanitary napkins.
February was an admittedly tough month for me periodwise and otherwise. What is otherwise? Any fusses and stresses you face in life show up in your monthly visitor. Your period is like your auditor of your wellbeing and health. February was very little of that, given a lot of things. It started on a high-stress sudden summer day when I was rushing out for an important client meeting. Anticipating the calendar, I plugged in the cup and off I went. Midmorning bathroom break revealed stained panties. In the middle of a makeshift office bathroom, I scrabbled around inside me only to find that the cup had moved around 90 degrees. This had to be the worst of the cup woes, I decided. It took me ten minutes, a sprained wrist and an almost injured pubic bone to get that damn cup out. That should have been it.
Then on the morning of day 3, I woke up in a pool of blood. Okay, a puddle. But still, after 20-odd years of periods, one has gotten quite used to managing the blood flow. It’s a wee bit embarrassing and annoying for this to happen. No, I kid. It’s bloody terrifying, pun intended.
Sheets yanked off in disgust, I trudged to the bathroom still mostly asleep. I don’t know if it was the grogginess or the cup misbehaving but I struggled to reach it. When I finally did – and I have no idea how this happened – IT JUST EFFING FELL OUT. Fell into the pot. I cried.
I spent the rest of the period with my leaky old SilkyCup and plenty of pads. So let’s just say that the cup isn’t the magical cure to all menstrual nightmares. I’m still soldiering on and going menstrual-cup shopping again. This time, I think I’ll pick up a cup with a stem again. I guess the SheCup was a tad too small for me, giving it play to move around. And its stemlessness probably made it easier. A stem should prevent it from doing this bloody spinning thing
Wish me luck and here’s hoping third time’s the charm. I’ll post an unboxing video when the new cup/cups arrive.
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