Even though women have had periods since the beginning of time, talking about periods or menstruation is still not considered a 'normal' thing. On average, a woman uses 11,000- 16,000 tampons and pads in her lifetime which contribute to about 200kg in landfill (Source: Global sustainability institute). It is important to get to know about more sustainable, eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products that are available in the market. The menstrual cup always has its place in the list of menstrual products and pops up whenever menstrual hygiene-related issues are being discussed. Further, we often tend to come across that they are a better alternative to pads and tampons. But how to use menstrual cups?
Let’s head straight into the details!
What is a menstrual cup?
Menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone, rubber, or latex that are flexible and are reusable with a single cup lasting for around 10 years. Unlike pads and tampons that absorb the menstrual blood, the cup collects the blood and it has to be emptied between 4 to 12 hours, depending on whether the flow is light, medium, or heavy. The cup is inserted into the vagina a few inches below the cervix. But, how are menstrual cups advantageous over pads and tampons?
Pros of menstrual cups
Pocket-friendly – Each cup lasts for up to 10 years making them an affordable alternative in the longer run. For tackling period poverty - limited or restricted access to sanitary products, menstrual cups would be the best solution.
More comfortable – You can say goodbye to rashes caused by pads. Moreover, menstrual cups hold more blood than tampons and pads. Hence, they need not be emptied very frequently. They can stay for up to 12 hours. Above all, they can be worn even during showering and swimming making life easy!
Less messy – If inserted properly (which requires a bit of practice), menstrual cups DO NOT leak. More importantly, they are a saviour at night and you needn’t rush to the toilet in the middle of sleep!
Safe – Most menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone and there are no creepy chemical additives
Eco-friendly – Pads and tampons come with lots of packaging and they need to be disposed of after every single use. Cups make a difference to the environment as well.
How to use a menstrual cup?
The benefits of the menstrual cup come with a little bit of patience and effort. It is not as easy as using a pad (for the first few cycles). It is one disadvantage associated with the cups. But once you get the hang of it, nothing can stop you!
Before you use your menstrual cup for the first time (and after the end of every period), it’s important to disinfect it by boiling it for five minutes and letting it cool before inserting it.
How to insert the menstrual cup
Check if your nails are trimmed and clean your hands with warm soapy water. Sit in a squatting position and fold the cup to make it easier to insert inside. There are several ways to do this. The most commonly used folds are the C or U fold and the push-down fold.
• C or U fold – Fold the rim of the cup in half, so that it creates a C or U shape.
• Push-down fold – Push one side of the rim down into the cup. This creates a narrow point for inserting
Insert – Squat down and slowly insert the cup into the vagina. Do not insert it straight up. Orient the cup at 45 degrees and direct it towards your tail bone. As you insert, try to maintain the folded position of the cup.
Open – Let the cup “pop” inside your vagina and make sure that the stem of the cup doesn’t protrude outside. For the first few cycles, you can insert your finger inside the vagina to check whether the cup is properly positioned. You should feel a suction pressure or resistance when you try to pull the cup.
Now, you’re all set!
Removing the cup
Clean your hands again and squat comfortably. Do not simply pull the stem of the cup! Pinch the base of the cup to break the suction seal and gently remove the cup. You can now check how much menstrual blood has got collected (Most cups have graduations on their sides). Just empty the contents of the cup into the toilet, wash the cup with warm water and insert it again.
The whole process requires a couple of attempts for a hassle-free experience, but it's absolutely worth it!
Though menstrual cups have so many advantages, the sad truth is that there is an apprehension towards their usage, primarily because of the myths that accompany them. Let's bust them one by one:
Myths around menstrual cups
Menstrual cups can get lost in the uterus
It is not possible! The vaginal canal is just 3 to 4 inches long and the cervix prevents the cup from entering the uterus.
Virgins cannot/should not use menstrual cups
The hymen is the most overrated part of the body. Speculations around hymen and virginity still persist. But research has found that hymen is made up of thin folds of tissue that typically wear away naturally as we grow through adolescence. By the time you begin menstruating, the hymen has holes, and, in most cases, the hymen is gone. The only way someone becomes non-virginal is through sexual intercourse.
You can’t exercise with a menstrual cup
In fact, the opposite is true! If the cup is positioned properly inside the vagina, it will not slide down or leak even during tough workout sessions.
You can’t use the washroom with a cup inside
You can pee or urinate without worrying when you use a menstrual cup. It is however advisable to remove your cup before pooing since the bowel movement can alter the position of the cup.
Menstrual cups are available in various sizes and capacities, tailored according to your age and body condition (whether you’ve given birth).
In India, you can check out the ASAN cup- a social enterprise where for every cup bought one cup is donated to someone in need
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So, why wait?! Just go grab a menstrual cup of your choice!
If you already use Menstrual cups, let us know your cup of choice in the comments section below.
About the author
Niranjana S. Rajalakshmi is a veterinary microbiologist turned science journalist, currently based in India. After her under graduation in Veterinary Medicine, she was curious to study diseases at a molecular level which led her to pursue a Master’s in Veterinary Microbiology. When the pandemic struck, she being a microbiologist felt the need to communicate about the hitherto unknown virus and its possible implications to a large audience. Subsequently, she produced several pieces on COVID-19 and other topics related to health, which are being published in leading news outlets in India.