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Using a menstrual cup is one of my top zero waste swaps alongside the safety razor and reusable cotton pads mentioned previously in this zero waste series. In terms of period protection, it’s definitely the most convenient and least waste producing option but there is a little controversy surrounding them with a lot of people thinking the idea of them is gross or not suitable for them, so they’re not exactly the most glamorous product…But has an old used tampon ever looked glamorous to you? No. Periods ain’t all that glamorous half the time so I think we can forgive the cup for it’s off-putting reputation and definitely don’t judge it until you’ve tried it yourself. If you’re reading this blog, then I’m going to assume you’re at least a little bit curious!
Unfortunately, there is no huge profit margin in making reusable cups that can last you ten years – imagine in ten years what *insert well known brand name* could have sold you in terms of disposable products? That’s why you don’t see these big name companies bringing out their own cups. However, fortunately, with the internet on their side, there are plenty of smaller companies offering these reusable cups in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. You will have probably heard of the original Mooncup but currently the cup I’m using was gifted to me from OrganiCup and I’ve seen them in a few stores like Planet Organic so definitely keep your eyes peeled. Alternatively, they are available on Amazon for around £15. When I first started looking into menstrual cups, of course I went straight to youtube and clicked anything with a horror story. I remember one girl saying her cup had flipped upside down, causing a mass spillage of all the blood that had been collected and my first thought was that that would definitely be me, only worsened by the fact I have such a heavy flow that fears of drowning are not unjustified. Most companies will say to allow yourself three periods to get used to using a cup but actually I got used to mine instantaneously. I was pretty freaked out by how easy it was to use, to the point that the first time I wore it for a yoga session I left the class three times to take it out and put it back in, because I couldn’t feel it at all and I was SO sure I must have put it in wrong or it had got lost…Little bit of free advice for you, there’s not really anywhere it can get lost. However, like many women, I can often feel tampons almost digging in when I move so as the cup is effectively much, much bigger than a tampon I questioned how the hell I could just not feel it!? It’s insane and I feel so silly for the years of ignoring women telling me exactly that – you won’t feel it, it’s totally comfortable, you won’t even notice it. Because, in my experience, that’s been completely true and I just wish I had tried a cup sooner but I’ve had enough trouble using tampons over the years – I still can’t figure out those compact pearl ones – so being able to successfully insert the cup first time was a bit of a surprise. A cup isn’t rigid like a tampon, so the silicone material means you can’t even feel it as its moves with the flow of your body. Lots of women come up with reasons like ‘but I’m so tiny, that would never fit inside my tiny, perfect vagina’ yet all the while people are having sex with (sometimes) much larger objects/organs and babies are finding their way out of there so unless you have a genuine physical issue, you do not need to worry that the cup ‘won’t fit you’…It’s all about being relaxed.
I also love that one cup suits all your needs, the only thing that changes is how often you empty it. If you’re worried you’re going to come on that day, you can put it in in the morning even if there’s no sign of your period arriving yet and then at least it’s there ready to catch any emergencies! Cups also respect the natural balance of your insides, unlikes tampons which can absorb 35% of healthy vaginal moisture, causing dryness and that scratchy feeling when removing that can actually leave fibres behind as well as causing micro-tears in the vaginal walls. I’ve known more than one woman who has had bits and pieces from tampons surgically removed from up in there, not cool. Plus, because it creates a vacuum inside whilst gathering up blood, there is no smell. If you’ve ever been in a womens toilet with over-flowing sanitary bins then you’ll know there can be quite a distinct smell but this is caused not only by some of the naff materials and chemicals used but mostly from oxygen getting to the blood and making it smell. When removing the cup, it’s completely fresh and would be no different to cutting your finger and smelling that – so no need to worry!
The OrganiCup is made from clear, medical grade silicone (yay, no pesticides and bleaches!) and comes in a cardboard box that has all the instructions you need printed on it. When you open it up, the box unfolds with information for each step printed on the inside and the cup itself comes in a lovely little cotton bag. This is another one of my favourite things about using the cup because whilst it sounds scary, it’s so subtle and unassuming unlike the loud colours and branding of most period products that have different flows categorised by a different, somehow even brighter neon colours than the last one. There are two different sizes to choose from, basically dependant on whether you’ve given birth or not but make sure you check this because each company has their own way of sizing. Before using for the first time, you can sterilize your cup in boiling water for a few minutes which you can also repeat in-between your cycles.
How do you get it in?
There are a few different techniques outlined in the packaging and in many video tutorials online but I would recommend the ‘C-fold’ which seems to be what most people find the easiest. This renders the cup at least half the size so it’s a little easier to get in and best recommended that you try this whilst sat on the toilet with this annoying nugget of advice: R E L A X. Once you’re all the way in, you can let go and the cup will open up fully, back to its original shape. Some people say they hear it pop open but I never have, as long as you can feel that the base of it is round again and not still folded up you’re probably fine – but this really is one of those ‘know your body’ moments, and something you will get used to with a bit of trial and error. If it does still feel a bit folded up, holding from the base (not the stem!) just give it a little wiggle around, rotate it and it should find its space. Then you can gently tug on the stem and you should feel some resistance which means it’s successfully in and staying put! Due to everyone having differently positioned cervixes, some cups will be worn lower than others in which case you can trim the stem if it’s poking out and annoying you, the stem should never be hanging out of the vagina…That’s not gonna be at all comfortable! I haven’t needed to do this myself but if you do I would obviously advice that you remove the cup before trimming the stem…
How long will it last?
The main benefit of using a cup, is that for most people you are able to pop it in in the the morning and then empty it to reinsert over night – holding three times more than a regular heavy flow tampon. Most people leave them in for 8-12 hours before needing to empty but I would say that if you have a heavy flow, you might want to check up on it earlier until you get more used to how it works for you. Personally, on the first two days of my period when I’m battling a tsunami I will empty mine every 4-6 hours, if I’m busy that means just doing it whenever I get the chance or before I leave the house, so I rarely have to worry about doing it in public. If you’re worried, then you might want to use some further protection at the same time just while you get used to how it works with your flow. I quite often wear my period pants (no, not grubby old pants, these are actually for your period!) if I’m just lounging around the house or overnight alongside the cup on my heavy days, just incase. Mostly because I’m lazy though as the other option is to simply check and empty it more regularly – not so easily done if periods wipe you out like they do me, I certainly do not want to be getting up in the night (or in the morning for that matter) to check anything, so this back up option works for me.
Right…So how do I get it out?
The only downside really is if you are squeamish as a person – although, even then, this is your body and I would hope you are able to move past that! But you may have to fully get your hand in there to get the cup in and out, which can be a different experience for everyone depending on where your cervix is and your general techers. If you wear your cup quite far up, then you will have to fish about in there with your fingers to get it out – though the stem on the end of the cup can be used to make this far less traumatic than it sounds. You simply pull the stem down and out until you can feel the based of the cup with your fingers, give it a little squeeze to release the suction and then you’re ready to go. You should feel the suction release, or maybe even hear it and you can do this whilst sat on the toilet so nothing goes wrong – lots of people seem to have visions of removing the cup and then somehow throwing it absolutely everywhere and getting themselves into a totally embarrassing The Shining style situation which is highly unlikely to happen. It gets easier to remove in time, but I would suggest just sliding it out slowly as it can be a little uncomfortable at first – I say this to be honest, it’s just a bit of an odd shape and a slight stretch but absolutely no pain whatsoever, just a bit strange. My top tip? Do it in the shower Carrie-style.
Once it’s out, simply empty in the toilet before rinsing the cup itself in the sink. Apparently it’s best to use cold water, as hot water can cause blood staining which doesn’t really matter but, again, just isn’t very glamorous so it’s nice to stop your cup from getting discoloured. Some good advice is to just keep a bottle of water on you, so that if you’re in a public bathroom where you don’t have your own sink you can quickly rinse it with the water from your bottle before reinserting. Much better than carrying a bloody cup out to the sinks and cleaning up in front of terrified strangers! Although cleaning up with some toilet roll and popping it straight back in is fine too – OrganiCup do also sell disposable biodegradable sanitising wipes if you’re really worried about that side of things which you can just keep in your purse for emergencies, although you will be producing the waste from the little packets they come in but still a lot less than your previous periods and might be a good compromise for your first couple periods so you have peace of mind knowing you won’t get caught short. Once you have successfully completed your period (hooray, finally!) you can resterilize the cup by boiling it for 3-5mins and then store in the cute cotton bag wherever you please. The best part of it all is if you try it for a few months and don’t get on with it, you can get a full refund which I think just goes to show how likely it is that you will be pleased with your purchase. However, if after reading this you still thing menstrual cups are not for you or that you’d just rather use a mix of products for convenience when out and about, then do not worry, I will soon be compiling a list of some of the other eco-friendly options available to you! As there are plenty, and sometimes it’s good to use a mix for various reasons.
Any other questions, please do drop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them! I’ve been using a cup for about six months, so I’m not expert but I have a little time notched on my belt. As with everything like this, if you have any specific illnesses or personal issues/circumstances you think could be affected by this then please do visit your GP or gynaecologist for advice.