Menstrual cups: Hippy fad or a better friend than diamonds?

Seeing how popular my nexplanon blog was, it is apparent there is just not enough real life experiences of menses on the internet. There is lots of content on the subject, but not enough. But then, why would there be? It’s not like it happens once a month to half the world’s population.

*Before we get too far, you may be wondering why I chose the cover picture. Well, I searched for “uterus” on Pixabay and who am I to question the internet?

I’ve recounted by bloody past with Aunt Flow on the aforementioned blog post, so I will not regale you with the details once more. In a nutshell:

This entire scene from Knights Tale pretty much describes a period.
This entire scene from Knights Tale pretty much describes a period.

Ladies of the audience, you will have, I am sure, experienced the torture that is periods. It can be different for each of us. Some get too cold, others grow too hot. Some faint, some throw up. You’re constipated, and then you get diarrhoea. Your back aches sitting down, your stomach aches standing up. You need to pee, but actually you’re too dehydrated so your body selfishly hordes all fluids until you give it at least three pints of water before even a trickle will be unleashed. And then there are the poor fellows amongst us that get everything all at once. It is not a pleasant time, and our only opportunities of a holiday come with an 18 year burden or we just swap the blood for Power Surges, wrinkles and one wild hormone cocktail.

I, like many, tried escaping it using the pill – I went crazy. I tried avoiding it with the Nexplanon rod – I got anxious, lost my job, became depressed, and went crazy. That’s just my personal experiences. Hormone based medications might work for you, it does for plenty of other women. So if you do get bad PMS and cramps, research your options.

Yet despite our everlasting annoyance (bordering hatred) with periods: It’s the healthiest, most normal function of our bodies. And as evolution thinks we need it, I’m afraid we need to stick with it for the time being. However, who said we had to put up with it?

I was a tampon girl. Maybe it’s my anxious disposition, but I was paranoid pads were obvious through my clothes. They also moved around, wings or not, and were generally uncomfortable. Tampons gave me that freedom.

Tampon virginity

My first experience with a tampon was not actually a menstrual related affair at all. My mother always had a box of the self-inserting type on the back of the toilet. When I was perhaps 6-years-old, my curiosity of this little box got the better of me. When nobody was around, I unwrapped one and unfolded it. It was strange, I never saw them elsewhere in the house. When I was done I just flushed it away. Nobody ever knew, and I wouldn’t find out what it was until my college years, when some random woman was brought in especially to lecture us on the female body. The boys had been taken from the room, and then we were all given a shiny blue envelope, with a free pad, pocket tampon with plastic applicator and some magazine thing I can’t remember the contents of.

I kept that little tampon for many years before I used it. And being a typical person, I skim read the instructions and believed myself an expert. I think I was around 15 maybe. I took the plastic applicator from the wrapper, and in a comfortable sitting position, inserted the thing inside me.

You noticed I said a pocket tampon right? Well… I didn’t know tampons came in pocket or regular. I never looked at them on the shelves, nor did I have a comparison at home – My sister only used pads, and mum (who had a hysterectomy when I was 8) only had those tiny non-applicator kind.

So yes, it was in me, and the soft bit wouldn’t come out, so I assumed that was that.

That was not that. When I stood up and went to step towards the sink, oh my days FUCK. Don’t do that. Please, never do that.

A tiny bit traumatised by my stupidity, it was when Tampax released “pearl” applicators that I tried again. My weakness to advertising and packaging fell head over heels and I was back in the bathroom staring at a much longer, blue bullet.

And the rest is history. I got along with tampons quite well, or so I thought. I never made the connection that the cystitis started at roughly the same time tampons became a regular fixture in my cycle.

Tampons, and pads, are not without their dangers and side effects. As they absorb the menses, they also absorb your natural moisture. Hence why you must change every 4 hours for pads, 8 hours for tampons, and why the boxes are quite insistent you don’t wear a size bigger than what you absolutely need.

When you become dry, the skin frails and can crack. Who would notice teeny, tiny specks of blood when you’re already bleeding? And on your hands (because, let’s be honest, do you remember to wash them every time before you go to the bathroom?) are little bacteria that are quite harmless until they meet your bloodstream. This is Toxic Shock Syndrome, and it is fatal.

It is uncommon, but it isn’t rare. Unfortunately it is more of an urban myth to the majority of women, who probably don’t give it a second thought.

“At the expense of a little discomfort, tampons gave me a little bit of freedom during shark week, and now Natari is trying to scare me off using them?” Is that what you’re thinking?

Well no, because 920 words later we are actually at the beginning of why the heck I am writing this blog at all.

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but…

Better than Diamonds. More loyal even than dogs. They’re called Menstrual Cups, and too many women have never heard of them. Maybe that special lecturer back when you were 12 mentioned it in passing. It is actually a giant market in feminine hygiene.

I personally have a Femmecup, because they come in one size and I couldn’t be bothered to wonder if my vagina was an above average size or not. Rule of thumb, you would have the smaller size by default, and the bigger sizes (they tend to come in A or B) are for mothers who have pushed out a sprog or two, leaving them a bit… s t r e t c h e d.

What is a menstrual cup?

A body safe silicone in an egg cup like shape. It tends to have a tail for positioning, but it can be cut off if you don’t want it. I keep mine on though.

Like I said, I have Femmecup, which is a good low price option. Mooncup was the first one I ever heard of, and Femmycycle have a cool lip thingy that ensures no spills, with a nice round ‘handle’ underneath. You can also pick them up for £1.38 off Amazon without any brand… but, er, if I am putting it inside me, I don’t mind paying a little more to settle my anxious, paranoid mind.

How do you use a menstrual cup?

You fold it like origami and shove it up there. No, seriously.

It can be fiddly at first, especially as you want the cup wet for better lubrication. It took a good 30 minutes and three tries just to have the patience to hold it in the right position and put it in.

Once it is in, the cup ‘catches’ the menses. You can wear it for up to 12 hours (although I still need to change every couple hours on my heavy days, else leakage can happen). But once it lightens up, that’s a full day at work, or a whole night, without having to worry and no nasty stains in my underwear. HUZZAH!

How do you get it out?

It was only after I finally got the damn thing in for the first time I realised I needed to get it out. The instructions say: “insert your fingers and squeeze the cup to release the vacuum, then gently pull out.”

I inserted my fingers…

Where was the cup? Cue 10 minutes of: “Oh my god, my body has swallowed it. Where has it gone? It’s not there. It can’t have dropped out. I will never get it out. Is this normal. Did I buy a defected cup? I need to go to hospital. They are going to cut my open. I can’t go hospital. It will be in there forever. I am going to die.”

When my brain began hyventilating, the crazy let up for a second. I googled it, and apparently I wasn’t the only one to have this problem. In fact, it wasn’t a problem at all. The cup works so well because your vagina tunnel sucks it up and seals around the edges in a vacuum effect. It naturally works its way up a bit higher, and all you need to do is ‘push’ it back down with the power of kegels.

Not sure what kegels are? Well you should , do them daily. Read more on NHS.  If getting your menstrual cup out easily isn’t a good enough reason to do them, remember strong kegel (pelvic floor) muscles give you a strong core, flat stomach and make sex feel better. True story.

Once your pelvic floor has brought the cup down a little, you can feel the tail, and that guides you to follow the instructions. Just be careful to keep it upright so you don’t paint the tiles red. Cleaning up meaty blood clots is not what I want to do on a Saturday night.

And don’t underestimate manicured nails. Don’t believe me? Come back later and let’s swap stories of long claws digging our cups out of our tender, sensitive folds. Go grab the nail file.

What are the side effects?

Um… extra money every month, doing my bit for the environment, less pain and a rather gory murder scene when it comes to changing the cup?

I bought my cup for just over £10 on using Flubit, which lasts for a couple years with care (wash it thoroughly between insertions and sterilise monthly). I was easily spending £3 a month on pads and tampons (own brand all the way), Add £2-5 for powerful painkillers. I still buy a 50p pack of nightly pads for my heavy nights, but that will last six months. I haven’t needed to top up my pill box in the last year either.

One cup in two years, or (14 tampons + 14 applications + 7ish pads a month =) 840 items thrown away in refuse sites in two years. The average girl will have a period for, say,  42 years? That’s 21 cups + 1,008 night pads vs 17,640 tampons, pads and applicators.

Remember I mentioned a load of cramps and cystitis when I was using tampons? It’s due to the drying out of your body. Menstrual cups capture, not absorb. So all your natural moisture remains and keeps your vagina healthy and happy. For most of us, that means cramps are significantly less painful. For me, it means I can go to work without throwing up or slumping on the floor weeping about how my body is being ripped in half.

Finally the murder scene. Yeah, nobody wants their fingers covered in their own berry juice but I’ll deal with it for a few days in return for all of the above.

On a serious note, you do need to make sure you wash your cup with soap and water between every insertion, else old blood that is going in and out with the cup could cause infection. Do the change with clean hands – doing it in the shower is perfect, as it keeps your muscles relaxed too. Taking it out can hurt the first few times. It was quite painful until I got used to it, but now I barely feel it.

Your Turn.

Do come back and comment if you try a menstrual cup after reading this, or even if you are another cup connoisseur. Similarly, let others know if the cup wasn’t for you. I admit this post was a bit fan girl, but that’s because my body has been so much better on the cup than I was with other products and medications. We’re all different.

Sorry for the 2,000 words of graphic vagina woes. IIf you think you can do a better job (not a hard challenge really) then please do. Let us fill the internet with menstruation, so that any girl, sitting on a toilet with her smartphone freaking out that her body has just swallowed a silicone egg cup up her crackers will have plenty of content to tell her it’s all fine.

*It should also be mentioned you can get cloth pads, period pants and sea sponge tampons which are other, natural products of feminine hygiene. I’ve not really fancied washing these out and boiling them in a cooking pot. I’ll be sticking with my cup, but please, look at all your options.

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