Everything you need to know about menstrual cups
Have you heard about menstrual cups? It’s a less popular way to deal with our period especially here in the Philippines where we tend to be conservative about matters of the vagina. I'm a tampon user myself, but I admit I still had misgivings about going for the cup. I needed to know first: what is it, exactly? Is it easy to use and is it safe?
The 101 on cupping
Like tampons, menstrual cups are inserted into your vagina but they catch the blood in the bell-shaped cup rather than it getting being absorbed by a cottony material. While they cost substantially more than tampons and napkins, they tend to be more economical in the long run! Menstrual cups are reusable and can be used for up to five years. Think about how much money you’d save from not having to buy menstrual supplies every month, plus it’s more environment-friendly as you don’t contribute to waste.
Although the cup has been around since 1937, it didn’t sell because people found it scandalous. It finally began to gain popularity in the late 1980s, using a latex rubber material. These days, the cups are made with medical-grade silicone because some women suffer from latex allergies. It’s safer to use compared to napkins (which can irritate and chafe skin) and tampons (which poses the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, if you don’t change it regularly).
If you’re into sports or are physically active, cups are a great alternative to pads, Mountaineering friends tell me that this is actually their preferred method for dealing with menses: they’re easy to clean up and bring around, doesn’t result in trash that can soil the environment, and they don’t have to worry about running out of a supply of napkins or tampons while on a climb!
While looking for options, I was surprised to learn that we actually have a locally-made menstrual cup called the Sinaya Cup! With each purchase of a Sinaya Cup, the company donates a cup to underprivileged women so I really appreciated how their business includes giving back. The Sinaya Cup comes in two sizes, Small and Large. They recommend the Large size for women who are over the age of 30, have given vaginal birth, or have experienced heavy flows during their periods. Otherwise, you should be okay with the Small size.
Debunking myths about cupping
Anyone can use a menstrual cup but since it’s still not a mainstream option, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and trepidation about its use. Here’s what you should know!
Myth 1: When the cup is full, the blood flows back into the uterus.
Once you start your period, the muscles of your uterus push the menses out into the vaginal area. The flow is then caught by the cup, which blocks its exit. No matter what you do, the blood will not flow back up.
Myth 2: Virgins can’t use the cup/the cup will affect your virginity.
The only way you can “lose” your virginity (a social construct and not so much a physical one) is to have sex. Inserting the cup for the first few times may feel like a tight fit, but that’s simply because your body isn’t used to it and the vagina may tense up and thus constrict the opening. There are different methods for insertion though, which we will discuss below.
Myth 3: The cup will get lost inside you.
The walls of the vagina actually hold the cup snugly in place! It can’t go up any further than where you placed it. Because it’s blocking an exit point, it also creates a kind of seal to keep the blood from leaking out. I find that removing the cup has to be done in a particular way to “break” the seal and allow it to be pulled out with ease.
Myth 4: I can get infections or even Toxic Shock Syndrome when using the cup.
Unless you’re very slap-dash with your personal hygiene, you shouldn’t be worried about getting infections. Just remember to always wash your hands and sanitize your cup before and after use. And it goes without saying: no sharing, please!
How to use the cup
Before anything else, it’s important to boil the cup before your first usage to sterilize it and soften it a bit. Most cups include instructions on how to do this properly. Follow up by washing your hands and the cup with a mild, unscented, oil-free soap as these additions may contribute to irritation.
To insert the cup, it is folded so it can be placed into the vagina easily and then spreads out to its normal shape and size. There are several ways you can fold it, depending on your comfort level. Personally, I find that the Punch-down Fold works best for me.
Aside from finding a folding technique that suits you best, you also have to be in a comfortable position that makes insertion easier, just like when you put on a tampon. You can squat down, put one leg up the toilet seat, or just sit down. The important thing is that you’re in a comfortable position that allows you to relax, which is honestly even more important than the fold or the position.
When you’re ready, slip the folded cup into the vagina slowly and carefully until it has completely gone inside. You’ll know you’ve done it right when you don’t feel anything at all. Make sure that the cup has unfolded into its full size by inserting a clean finger and running it all around the cup to check. You can also use your fingers to gently push it in and ensure that the cup is securely in place.
To remove, pinch the base of the cup to create a fold and break the “seal”. Dump the contents into the toilet and wash the cup with water before reinserting. You don’t have to do this often, so you can choose to wait until you get home to do so. When you start a new menstrual cycle, make sure to boil the cup again for five minutes before usage to sterilize it.
So how is it like, really?
I find that it’s very, VERY important to relax when inserting the cup so don’t try to do this when you’re in a hurry. Insertion gets more difficult the more tense you are, and you need to be patient. It took me three attempts to correctly put the cup in the first time, so don’t be frustrated if you can’t get it right immediately!
Once the cup is in, you shouldn’t be able to feel it at all. If you do, you may need to push it in farther or reinsert it again so that it’s positioned correctly and comfortably. It’s advised to use a panty liner the first few times you use the cup in case of it’s not positioned correctly and leaks. Nonetheless I was thrilled that I didn’t experience any leakage even on the first try.
Removal was a bit difficult for me and again, it’s important to relax while doing this. Lightly and carefully squeeze the cup in, and pull it out gently by its stem. It can be a bit uncomfortable but it gets easier as you get used to it.
Overall, I’m glad that I got to try this out. I’ve long hated the diaper-like feeling of napkins, and tampons are pricey and sometimes hard to find. While I’m still getting used to insertion and removal, I find that once the cup is in, you basically forget that it’s there because it doesn’t feel like anything at all! I can wear this for up to 12 hours so I just make sure that it’s newly-inserted in the morning and remove it when I get home. It really just takes a lot of practice and patience. I’ve only gone one cycle so far, and I may change my mind, but I am really loving how it works!
What do you think about menstrual cups? Is this something you’d be willing to try? And if you have more questions, feel free to send them in through the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Learn more about Sinaya Cups on www.sinayacup.com