Periods are fickle, annoying, but totally necessary when it comes to the reproductive organs of a woman. I remember the first time I got my period and despite seeing countless after school programs on television about what to expect, I still had no idea what was going on. When I finally told my mom, I was so convinced that the brownish, rust colored stuff was coming from my asshole instead of my vagina that I actually confessed that I’d been shitting myself instead of getting my period. Thankfully my mom set me straight in the kindest, most motherly kind of way.
Through the years, I have tried to manage my period in every way that I’ve been taught to. That meant using pads and tampons as other options were not readily available or widely accepted. During the first few years, I used pads and hated every waking moment of it. They were always uncomfortable, I never felt dry, and feeling like I am walking around with a diaper on is simply not my idea of managing my period well. During my early teen years, I tried my first tampon. Now, I’d been wanting to try tampons from the age of 13 but I was under the impression that girls that used tampons were sluts as they were for adult women only. I guess only adult women were afforded the luxury of not having to feel like a soiled newborn baby that no one wanted to change.
After I started sports, I was given the pass to use tampons which was one of the motivating factors. I quit my sports team after one season but held on to purchasing tampons instead of pads as I was already used to them. I will say, while they are way more convenient than pads, they aren’t flawless as most women know. You have to find your perfect brand that moves with your body and lifestyle. Then you have to make sure you aren’t allergic to the toxic crap they put in them because, you know, Toxic Shock Syndrome is real. I can say with almost total certainty that I have tried every tampon brand on the market and they all have let me down during that dreadful time of the month in one way or another. Either they leak or the chemicals cause terrible cramps or they irritate the delicate tissue of my vagina. Of all of my issues, leaking and cramps were among the most concerning.
About 2 years ago, I decided it was time to get serious about birth control that didn’t require me to remember to take it everyday. Due to family medical history, my doctor recommended the copper IUD which is free of hormones. What is better than birth control you don’t have to think about that also doesn’t make you feel like an insane person in the process. While it’s wonderful and I totally have no plans on taking it out, the IUD has turned my usually average period into a longer, heavier monster that just could not be tamed by tampons or pads. Enter the menstrual cup.
None of my friends or family were using the menstrual cup when I first purchased mine so I went into this process of learning how to use it totally blind. I have suffered some terrible mishaps but, now that it’s been a year, I think I know it well enough to give you a quick rundown on how it’s used.
First of all, if you don’t like to touch your own vagina or the sight of blood makes you squeamish, this may not be the option for you. The menstrual cup will require you to be very comfortable touching your vagina as well as seeing your period secretions collected in a single place. Personally, it didn’t bother me at all and after a while, it probably won’t bother you.
Fresh Out The Pack
When you get your menstrual cup, the first thing you want to do is read the directions and follow what they say. Every cup is different as there are different brands but the general idea is that you want to take it out of the pack and boil it in water to sterilize it. The same way you’d do baby bottles. In the future, you can choose to boil sterilize monthly or whenever you see fit.
The cup will have a tail attached that is likely way too long. The tail is there for you to be able to remove it easily without having to fish it out. The problem is that if the tail is left at the original length, it may be incredibly uncomfortable. You can trim the tail but do so sparingly as it still needs to be there. I had to trim mine fairly short because I literally couldn’t lay down with the cup in because the tail would scratch me.
Once you’ve gotten your cup cleaned and ready to use, it’s time to insert it. This is crucial when it comes to performance. It took me months to figure out why my cup was not working. Here we go:
Fold the cup in half into a U shape
Insert it to the same position that a tampon would be
Release the cup
Circle the rim with your finger
If you do not circle the rim with your finger, the air tight seal will be weak and you will have issues with leaking. There is no way to avoid it. It’s your vagina, don’t be afraid to get up in there. But, make sure your hands are super clean.
The cup should be changed every 2 hours or so depending on how heavy your flow is. For me, with my heavy flow, I change it every 2 hours. To remove it simply release your pelvic floor and vaginal muscles. Gently tug on the tail and you will feel the cup releasing and moving on down. Empty the blood in the toilet. Simple!
The question I hear the most is how do you clean it before re-inserting. If you are at home, you can simply clean it in the sink or tub or wherever you are comfortable. If you are out, you may need to become more creative. You carry a small bottle of water with you to rinse it off before re-inserting which is probably the best option. When your cycle is complete, you can do a deeper clean by boiling the cup in a pot on the stove for 5-10 mins. Avoid using harsh chemicals and cleaning products as they can damage the silicone. Each cup comes with cleaning instructions, no matter the brand, for more in depth cleaning instructions. It’s not hard though.
One of the things that took awhile for me to get used to is knowing when it was time to empty my cup. Now, I’ll try to describe the feeling of the cup being full but it’s something you have to feel for yourself. This is certainly a part of the learning curve. Much like tampons, a full cup will have a distinct difference in feeling from an empty cup. It feels like the fluid is touching your skin which means the cup is reaching capacity.
For me, I personally love my menstrual cup as it saves me money on expensive sanitary products, it’s effective, and it helps ease painful cramps that can be made worse by the chemicals in traditional products. However, I don’t think I have mastered using the cup in every single setting and that is ok. It’s not like you have to choose the menstrual cup or not. You can mix and match according to your flow or situation. When I am out at a bar or club with the intention of drinking or being out for a while, I am not interested in messing around with a cup in a public bathroom. It’s too much and tampons are much more convenient in that instance. If my flow is especially heavy, I may choose to use a pad along with my cup at night for added protection. I’m saying that the cup, for me, is my primary choice but it’s totally fine to use other options as well.