- Women's Health
For a Healthier, Freer "Time of the Month" - Menstrual Cups
You Mean There Are Alternatives to Pads or Tampons?
When I was going through puberty, my mom encouraged pads, and I had more than my share of accidents. As I moved into my teenage years, my older sister encouraged me to transition to tampons. The change was extremely freeing compared to the bulk and unreliability of pads, but there were still accidents to contend with, the threat of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and urinary tract infections, and the occasional discomfort associated with their use. Studies show that most women under 40 use tampons, and a growing number of women with heavy flows and/or women over 40 use menstrual cups.
Maybe this isn't news to you. However, for me, I was in my late 30s before I learned (what appeared to me to be) one of the best kept secrets of womankind - menstrual cups. Why don't we talk about these things, ladies? We should be singing this kind of information from the rooftops so every woman at least has all the information to make a healthy, environmental, money-saving choice.
This page is my rooftop - where I'll share my straight opinion and experiences, challenges and benefits, and some of the whys and hows of this "tool."
Have you ever heard of a menstrual cup?
The Basics about Menstrual Cups
Typically menstrual cups are made of latex or silicone, making them flexible and comfortable to use (If they are uncomfortable, that means they have not been inserted correctly. I'll get to that later.). They can be reusable or disposable.
Reusable cups can be used for many years if cared for properly. Caring for them involves washing at least twice per day, so if the gross-factor is too extreme for you, disposable may be the way to go.
For most women, the twice per day rule - or approximately every twelve hours - works just fine. The capacity of the cups is more than sufficient for the typical daily flow.
Some of the benefits of cups include:
- The length of time they can be worn (up to 12 hours)
- The freedom of movement, inability to feel them, and lack of outwardly visible signs
- The health (does not cause TSS) and environmental (reusable option only) benefits
- Significant reduction of odor without needing to mask it with scents
Diva Cup 2 - Post-Childbirth & for Women over 30 Years (even if you haven't had children)
The Ins & Outs of Menstrual Cups
This is the part that most people want to know about. How do you insert it and (perhaps more importantly) how do you get it out?
When a friend first told me about the Diva Cup, she explained how you had to fold it and that it would unfold inside. However if you did it wrong, it would leak. While she was completely right, it threw me off. Not having seen what a cup looked like, I had images of complicated origami folds that would never unfold correctly. I thought I would end up wearing panty liners every time just to be sure.
Good news! I got used to using them in short order and while there is a bit of a learning curve, practice wins out. I'm not going to lie though... it's tricky the first few times.
- Insertion - Follow the instructions and pictures on the packaging for putting it in. They clearly explain the fold and the angle. The final instruction is to turn it so it seats into the correct position. For me, this has been a joke. Once you get it far enough in, the stem is slippery! Turning it is impossible. My alternate strategy is to run a finger around the bottom edge of the cup to ensure that the fold opened up. You can definitely tell if it didn't open.
- Removal - Again, the instructions are pretty good, and again, it takes practice. Especially during your first times using the cup, there are a few hairy moments when you wonder if you're going to be able to get it out. Just remember the directions to bear down. The stem has ridges on it to help you get a good grip. It also helps to push in the side a bit to release the suction (suction is comforting when you want to prevent leaks).
Have you ever used a menstrual cup?
Cleansers - Unscented and Color-free
How Does Your Garden Flow?
Most menstrual cups are designed to be significantly larger capacity than most tampons or pads. You can see in the image here that it can hold a little more than 1/2 ounce, which is more than enough for most women's flow on any given day. They recommend that the cup be checked every 8 hours on heavy flow days.
Here's my favorite part of using the Diva Cup. It might sound weird, but I know more about my body than I ever have before. I knew that days two and three of my period were heavy, but I didn't know how heavy. On those two days, I have to empty it every four hours, which is okay with me. Why? Because with a tampon, it was every two hours, and more importantly, because now I know my body and that feels good to me.
Obviously, you don't want to know more about me this way. I simply tell you about my experience to highlight the fact that we need to figure out our own systems and the menstrual cup is one tool we can use to do that.
Don't Take My Word For It - Recommendation for Laughter
If you have an hour to kill, I highly recommend grabbing your favorite chocolates and reading the for the Diva Cups. Read a range of ratings. In each category, there are practical perspectives and absolute hilarity. I had tears of laughter streaming down my cheeks at many women's open and honest stories of their Diva Cup experiences. customer reviews on Amazon
Learning More about Our Bodies
I guess the bottom line for me is that I love what I've learned about my body with the use of a menstrual cup. Even after I made the decision to try it, I really thought it would be gross. I mean... it is gross, in a way.
In another way though, I am so much more comfortable with my body, its functions, and how I can care for it. I wouldn't have expected that from a little piece of silicone, but there it is. Any amount of gross (which washes off quite nicely, by the way) is worth learning about ourselves and feeling better about ourselves, especially at that time of the month.
Add to that:
- The freedom of less worry and longer blocks of time without dealing with our periods
- The increased confidence of a product that is safer to use and better for our bodies
- The financial savings of a one-time cost versus boxes upon boxes of costly tampons
- The environmental savings of a reusable product
I only wish I had known about it when I was much younger. I hope that by shouting the good news about menstrual cups from this particular rooftop, we can let more women know earlier that they have options in their personal care.
© 2014 Monica Lobenstein