For years I have been on the fence about participating in one of the most talked-about sustainable switches for women – menstrual cups. And although I am passionate about the environment, an advocate who willingly and enthusiastically tries different alternatives to curate a greener lifestyle, the menstrual cup switch still had me hesitate for years. That's how big it was for me that not even a strong passion could easily push me to try it back then; I know many women may feel the same way, too.
Why was it hard? For the most common reasons, such as lack of budget, uneasiness towards the idea of a foreign object just sitting around inside my vaginal area, and just the idea that I have to modify my 10-year menstrual routine with normal pads seems taxing. However, after a year of research and physical and mental preparations, I had the courage just to dive right in. And surprisingly, it was one of the most empowering decisions I have ever made.
I share my first menstrual cup experience with every woman out there in the most transparent and honest way possible so that you may have a much easier switch than me!
Having a "Preparation Week" is essential
I had my menstrual cup delivered to me a week before my expected menstruation date so I can practice wearing it without menstrual blood flowing and cramps getting in the way. Before anything else, I revisited one more time all of the videos of experts and testimonials of long-time users of menstrual cups. In summary, there are four main things you have to know: the type of fold suitable for you, the right way to insert the cup, how to make the cup unfold inside, and how to remove the cup properly. (But remember (!) not to overload yourself with information because you might get overwhelmed and overthink the process, which will not help you relax.)
Finding the perfect fold
I tried the two most common folds users suggest, the "C-fold" and the "punch down fold." The "punch down fold" worked best for me because it made the cup smaller in diameter, thus, easier to insert. It was not an easy route to get there, though. On my first-ever try, I spent an hour or two to find the right fold for me. If you get frustrated in the process (like me), rest first and wait until your body is ready to try again!
Properly inserting the cup
In inserting the cup, you must be keen on your body's position and the cup's insertion angle (and ALWAYS sanitize your hands and cup first!). It is important that you explore different body positions in inserting the cup to help you choose what position will put you into the most relaxed state possible. I, for one, sit on the toilet and lean back slightly since it allows me to have support while squatting down. Now that you have chosen a position, you have to angle the cup obliquely towards the spine. It should not be inserted straight-up because it won't be positioned properly inside, which may cause leaking.
Also, if you're having a hard time inserting the cup, you may use some water-based lube to help you smoothly insert it. I already tried both ways – with and without lube – and I prefer adding some lube to the process since it made the insertion more efficient and comfortable. So, if you are considering using one, apply a tiny amount around the cup's rim, and you're good to go! Another pro tip when inserting the cup is to do some breathing exercises to help you relax your body, especially your vaginal muscles.
How to pop the menstrual cup open
Unfolding the cup from the inside is the hardest part, IMO. To be honest, I was about to give up on my third day of trying because it always remained folded inside. If you happen to have the same difficulties, try these tips: slightly pinching the base of the cup or rotating the cup.
To make sure the cup has already popped open, use one finger and feel the base of the cup; it should be circular or oval in shape. Also, tug the cup slightly, and if you feel some resistance, it means it has created some vacuum seal, and it has been placed correctly.
How to properly remove the menstrual cup
Again, sanitize your hands first! I slightly pull the cup's stem when removing the cup until half of the base is exposed. Then, I would pinch the base so the cup would fold, and I proceed to pull it out.
The activities I did and things I noticed while wearing the cup:
To put it into context: I always had a heavy menstruation flow and severe dysmenorrhea ever since I was 11 years old. The school nurse would always advise me to go home because of the relentless pain and discomfort I would experience. And you know the long night pads that extend all the way to your backside? My body tends to fill that up every 3 hours. So, you probably get the picture of how distressing my monthly periods can be and for others who have the same case as me. But surprisingly, when I was using the cup, my cycle became breezier than usual.
No bikini rashes and sweats!
This is one of the pros I am very much thankful for, ISTG! I constantly experience rashes around the bikini area caused by the irritation from the pad's components and because I am basically sitting on my own blood for hours. But with menstrual cups, you won't even feel that it is there and your blood won’t be in contact with your skin. My bikini area is literally unbothered (lol). Also, you do not have to wear tight panties anymore just to hold the pad into place.
No distractions while exercising (or any type of strenuous activity).
I would always carry out my regular workout routine even on my period, and it constantly gets uncomfortable because the pad gets displaced, which, subsequently, causes leakage. Now, I tried various types of exercises while wearing the cup, such as low- and high-impact cardio, yoga, and strength training. At first, yes, it had a weird feeling because you can still subtly feel it inside, particularly when you aim your attention to it, but you won't even notice it in the long run. Nonetheless, I had more carefree workout sessions during my period. Even doing squats was a breeze!
Sleeping in different positions? No problem.
If you're a "chaotic sleeper" like me, then menstrual cups are definitely for you. When I was still using pads, I would always wake up with bloodstains because the pad kept being displaced. Now, though I'm still all over the bed when I sleep, menstrual leaks are definitely gone! No more extra laundry during cycles.
Egestion and excretion while wearing the cup.
Yes, you may!
You don’t have to go to the bathroom every 3 or more hours to change.
One of the best things menstrual cups have to offer is you can wear them for up to 12 hours and still won't get leaks and irritation. The cup that I am using can at least hold 20ml of blood, but you may also purchase a bigger size. As I have mentioned, I have a heavy menstrual flow and often change every 3 hours, which we all know is a major hassle especially when we are in the middle of work. With cups, I need not to go to the bathroom every now and then just to check if my pad is full already.
Although there is still no study to back up the correlation between menstrual cups and cramps, many women had reported that their cramps lessened when they started using cups. And it happened to me, too! I didn’t encounter the level 10 pain I usually experience.
Benefits of menstrual cups:
Although the cup can be very expensive at first, the amount of money you could save in the long run would be considerable. The cup ranges from P800 to P1,000 depending on the brand, which you can use for five to 10 years, with the right kind of care. However, most users replace theirs after three years. Moreover, it is also studied that within a two-year period, an individual may use approximately 528 menstrual products, which can be eliminated by one menstrual cup.
Providing a sustainable alternative to menstrual pads and tampons is the very sole purpose of menstrual cups. It is reported that a menstrual pad is made up of 90 percent plastic, and a pack of it can accumulate up to four plastic bags. For tampons, 6 percent of it is also comprised of plastic. In fact, since pads are considered a single-use plastic, it significantly contributes to the threatening plastic waste worldwide. It is even studied that menstrual products are the fifth most common waste found in the ocean, and in one individual, they can generate approximately 11,000 single-use menstrual products in a lifetime. Further, according to Benilde's documentary on plastic waste, fishers and other eco-warriors said that menstrual pads tend to sink to the ocean's surface because of their components, which, consequently, can probably be eaten by the fishes sold at the market.
It's hassle-free (when you get the hang of it).
Remember all the countless emergency grocery runs you had to deal with just because you were out of pads? Well, you won't be experiencing that ever again with menstrual cups because you can reuse and carry them around with you anytime. Plus, you won't ever have to ask your friend to check your backside because of wariness to bloodstains. You just have to be patient with yourself in getting used to the process of using the cup because I swear once you get the hang of it, it can be very satisfying and empowering.
"But what if I am not ready to make the switch?"
It's okay! Take your time. Don't be guilty of still using menstrual pads or tampons because, let's face it, switching to a sustainable lifestyle can be really expensive and challenging for most. At the same time, talking about menstrual hygiene still is taboo in some cultures. But suppose you are an environmental advocate but do not have the means nor like the idea of switching to menstrual cups. In that case, you can still contribute to lessening menstrual product waste by switching to other sustainable menstrual products, such as reusable pads and period panties. These alternatives work just as well as menstrual cups!
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