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Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be writing a blog post about my period and my menstrual cup review.
When I was in fifth grade, I took a sex education class at school called “Project Know.”
I don’t recall much from the class, but what I do remember is coming home after the first day and telling my mom that I thought the class was called “Project No,” spelled N-O, not K-N-O-W.
My mom, always the Catholic good girl, responded, “It is,” and then walked away.
That was the extent of sex education from my parents.
Then, when I actually got my period for the first time, my mom was late leaving the house to pick up my older sister from soccer camp six hours away. We talked about it briefly then she said, “I have to go. If you need anything, talk to Dad.”
WHAT?!?! My dad?!
And then she left me in my time of need. (This is a running joke between us, about all the times she won “Mom of the Year.” She was, and still is, an amazing mother.)
So needless to say, I’m still not very comfortable talking about periods and sex and intimacy. And I realize now that my mom didn’t feel comfortable talking about that stuff, either. And probably neither was my grandma, or her mother and grandmother before her.
That’s why I can’t believe I’m publicly writing about my period and menstrual cups. But here I go…
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped cup made of silicone, rubber, or latex, that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. They are reusable alternatives to tampons and sanitary pads. (There are even reusable menstrual discs, but I don’t discuss those in this post. You can learn more here.)
Although the cups are very similar, there are still many different sizes and shapes of menstrual cups, which makes choosing one a little more difficult. And one brand’s “small” size might be equivalent to another brand’s large size.
Do you have a heavy flow? Do you have a low cervix? Is your vagina wide? Do you have a sensitive bladder? These are things you might need to know before choosing a cup.
I told myself that I wouldn’t get into all the “technobabble,” but there are a few things I want you to know. First, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes menstrual cups as Class II medical devices, which means they need to be registered with the FDA before going on the market. Second, there are also a lot of “cheap” cups on the market, and you should check the FDA’s list before you purchase one.
Why I chose a menstrual cup
There are a variety of reasons that I chose to move away from tampons. But I’m not going to get into much of the science and research about chemicals or toxins, or argue for or against any opinion.
I admit that I’m still figuring out my own opinions and what I believe. (And it’s okay if you are, too!) Frankly, much of my decision making comes down to three questions:
- Is there a better/safer alternative?
- Does it work?
- Can I afford it?
And as I learned with my menstrual cup review, the answer to all three is yes (with a bit of trial and error).
1. Menstrual cups reduce plastic waste.
First, there’s a lot of plastic that comes with a tampon, and that plastic ends up in a landfill. According to an article on National Geographic’s website, Americans bought 5.8 billion tampons in 2018, and it’s estimated that a single female will use between 5,000 and 15,000 tampons and sanitary pads in her lifetime. Oh, and that’s because the average American woman will menstruate approximately five days a month for 40 years, which is about 6 and a half years of her life.
That’s suuuuper depressing. (If you have a lot of babies running around, you can subtract a few years. Ha.)
Anyway, getting back to the plastic. I’ve never liked cardboard applicators (and they get thrown in the trash, too), and I’ve never liked the non-applicator tampons. That leaves me with plastic. I’ve been using Tampax Pearl tampons for years and the applicator, thin fabric around the absorbent core, string, and wrapper are all made of plastic.
2. Menstrual cups are less expensive than reusable tampons.
Sure, you have an upfront cost with menstrual cups, but they end up being less expensive over the long run. The one I bought, the Lena Cup, is $25 on Amazon, and a menstrual cup should last at least a year with proper care and cleaning.
Now let’s compare that to a year’s worth of tampons. A 96-count box of Tampax Pearl regular absorbency tampons from Costco costs about $15, or $0.16 per tampon. On average, if I change my tampon every six hours for five days, I use 20 tampons per period. That’s $3.80 per period, or $38.40 per year. It’ll cost even more for organic tampons.
One ob-gyn states that a menstrual cup can last up to 10 years, but the companies producing the products suggest a much shorter lifespan. (They’re also in the business of selling menstrual cups, so I’m not surprised they suggest replacing them more often.) I couldn’t find a specific recommendation on the Lena Cup’s website, but some other brands like Lunette and the Diva Cup recommend replacing them every one to two years. Even using one for just a year, they’re still more cost-effective than reusable products.
3. I can leave the menstrual cup in for up to 12 hours.
When my daughter was a toddler, she used to have what we called blueberry poops. She would eat so many blueberries that her poop would stain her squishy, little bottom blue. We always told her this happened, and it was cute until it backfired on me one afternoon.
We were at the pool for her swim lessons. She was four at the time and it was busy in the restroom/changing area, so I brought her into the stall with me while I went to the bathroom. And when I pulled down my underwear, I noticed that I had an unexpected heavy flow and my tampon had failed. As I was mentally saying four-letter words, Olivia saw the blood and said, “Mama, did you eat too many strawberries and that’s why your underwear is red?”
I think my face was as red as my underwear. Luckily, we were behind the stall door and nobody could see either one!
It’s been so nice not having to worry about changing tampons throughout the day. I used to forget to take them with me when I left the house and then I’d have to stop somewhere to buy them.
4. Menstrual cups don’t contain potentially harmful chemicals.
This is obviously a controversial topic, but I had to throw it in here. The main chemicals of concern in tampons are phthalates, which are found in the fragrance used in scented tampons, and dioxin, which is a byproduct of the rayon found in many tampons.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the levels of dioxin in tampons used to be much higher until manufacturers started using a bleaching process for the fibers that is free from elemental chlorine. The FDA also says that tampons that comply with FDA requirements are safe and effective when used as directed.
A study published in the January 2002 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives stated that Americans are exposed more to dioxins through their diet than through the use of tampons or diapers (for nursing babies). The authors concluded that although dioxins are found in trace amounts in these products, they don’t significantly contribute to dioxin exposure in the United States.
Critics, however, argue that because the vagina is a mucous membrane that absorbs fluids at a higher rate than the skin, it might expose women to higher levels of chemicals, especially over 40 years of menstruating.
If you’re not quite ready to switch to a menstrual cup, at the very least use non-scented tampons and 100 percent cotton.
My experience with the menstrual cup
I woke up on my ninth wedding anniversary to the start of my period. Yay me! (My husband, who was out of town anyway, had it much more rough with some kind of stomach bug that had him throwing up all day. We really know how to celebrate around here.)
That first morning, I was going to my 5:30 a.m., spin class and I put in a tampon instead. I wasn’t sure if I’d get the cup in right or how it would feel, so I chose what I knew. Then I volunteered in my daughter’s classroom in the morning, so I didn’t get a chance to try out the Lena Cup until that afternoon. And let me just say that was a really good idea because my menstrual cup review didn’t start out very well.
Insertion, Leaking, and Comfort
The Lena Cup instructions say that it could take several menstrual cycles to figure out the correct insertion method and placement for your body. I didn’t get it right until the second day of my second cycle.
During my first cycle, I only wore the Lena Cup while at home just in case I leaked or I had to take it out. I did leak while using it, but I just used a thin pantyliner during this transition. (I want to get away from these, too!) I did not, however, do any strenuous physical activity or movement during my first period that would’ve made the cup more likely to leak.
I think the cup is a lot more comfortable to insert than a tampon, which surprised me. When I first used it, I tried every which way to insert it multiple times, and I never had a perfect fit until my second cycle. By this point, I was getting really frustrated and I finally just kind of angrily shoved it in. And it worked! It turned out that I wasn’t inserting it far enough, which meant it wasn’t sealing and kept sliding down.
Some people have to trim the little stem, but once I inserted the menstrual cup far enough, the stem no longer stuck out of my vagina. (Is this getting awkward for anyone else?)
There are different folding methods to insert menstrual cups, and the C-fold (shown below) is the one that works best for me. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the cup doesn’t open and seal right away, but I’ll actually feel it “pop” after a few minutes (which feels just as strange as you think it does).
I realize now that the biggest indication that I didn’t have the cup inserted correctly was that I couldn’t urinate. So the first time I peed with it in, I yelled out of the bathroom to my husband and said, “I’m peeing!!!” I sounded just like my three year old.
Even with proper insertion, menstrual cups can still put pressure on the urethra, which is the little tube your pee comes out of. (Very technical, I know.) According to the ladies who run Put A Cup In It, if you have this problem, your options are to try a rimless cup (like this one) or a softer cup (like the sensitive version of the one I have). Another soft cup option I’ve seen recommended is the Saalt Soft Menstrual Cup.
Up Close and Personal
Using a menstrual cup does mean that you have to be comfortable inserting your fingers in your vagina for insertion and removal. And to find the right fit, you also may have to measure your cervix height.
I’ve read that insertion and removal in a public restroom can be difficult, although I haven’t had to do it yet. You need clean hands and you have to rinse the cup in the sink, so you really need a stall with a sink inside. However, many of us won’t need to remove it in a public restroom since we can wear it continually for up to 12 hours unless our flow is heavy. Whoop whoop!
If I learned anything from my menstrual cup review, it’s that there is a learning curve to using a menstrual cup and not to give up too quickly. You may need to try one cup for several cycles before you figure out how to insert it correctly, or you may need to try a cup in a different size, shape, or softness. For the Lena Cup, which is the one I purchased, the company states on its website that it has a 100 percent customer satisfaction policy.
Let me know below: Have you tried a menstrual cup? If yes, how do you like it? If not, what’s holding you back from trying one?