There’s been a lot of buzz about this new product on the block that’s supposed to make your period a hundred times better, as well as help you reduce your waste generation, and in turn reduce your carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there’s very little talk of what menstrual cups are exactly, whether they are safe to use or not, how they work, and if they have any limitations. (Spoiler: like everything on this planet, it does.) But no one talks about the bad, scary, uncomfortable parts of it. As godsent as this creation is, it can also be a nightmare to use if you haven’t gotten the hang of it and your friendly blogger next door is here to be your guiding light, your knight in shining armour, and tell you all everything this new shiny toy that’s been taking over the market- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s get started.
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What's In Here
What is a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a cup. No surprises there. It’s made of silicon and is pushed up the vaginal cavity during menstruation for the bodily fluids to be collected into and then thrown out later and used again after cleaning. A menstrual cup can be used for as long as 8 to 10 years before having to buy a new one and can be worn up to 12 hours at a time, without having to remove and reinsert.
Are Menstrual Cups Safe to Use?
“Pushed up the vaginal cavity…and used again after cleaning” Wait, what?! Yeah, I know it sounds like it’s the grossest thing on the planet but the fact that it’s made from silicon makes it as safe as safe can be. Silicon is known to attract no bacteria to it, making it the perfect material for medical uses like breast implants, pacifiers for babies and the babies’ feeding bottle nipples. Unlike sanitary napkins and tampons, menstrual cups collect blood instead of absorbing it, making them actually safer to use than their counterparts. That means no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrom (TSS) the extremely rare, potentially fatal, bacterial disease that is transmitted through the synthetic fibres of a tampon if left in for too long.
Why Should I Switch to Menstrual Cups?
Say goodbye to rashes. Well, for starters, the biggest plus of using a menstrual cup is the fact that it collects only the lining of the uterus that is being shed. Unlike sanitary napkins and tampons, menstrual cups are non-absorbant and do not absorb the vaginal mucus, preventing dryness and rashes that are a common deal with absorbent products like napkins and tampons.
Cost effective. Picture this: you consume about one entire packet of sanitary napkins each month. On average, one packet costs 160 Indian rupees. Multiply that by 12 and you spend approximately 2000 rupees just on sanitary pads each year. On the other hand, one menstrual cup costs anywhere between 400 to 800 rupees and can last as long as 10 years. You do the math.
Reduces waste generation.Imagine the amount of waste you generate every time you use and throw a sanitary pad or tampon. These products are made of plastic and one sanitary pad is equivalent to four plastic bags. On top of that, studies show that an estimate of 9,000 tonnes of sanitary waste is produced annually in India- an equivalent of about 432 million pads. There are no proper ways of treating menstrual waste and these pads are non-biodegradable, which means either being incinerated, being buried in land for years to come or eventually landing up in our oceans and preying on unsuspecting marine animals. And menstrual cups? They’re made from silicon, a material derived from silica, a type of sand. Silicon overtime goes back to its original state as it degrades, turning into one of the most widely found minerals on this planet. Think about it, plastic can’t do that.
Travel-friendly.Most women I know, plan their travel according to their menstrual calendar so they don’t have to get stuck in some remote region, having to change their pads every few hours, worrying about a leak constantly. Long treks and beach days become inaccessible for women during their periods. But menstrual cups help you swim, trek, and travel to remote areas without you having to worry about leaks or repeated changes at all. I, for one, have used menstrual cups while camping at Serolsar Lake, swimming at the beaches of Gokarna, and while road-tripping to Spiti Valley, where public toilets are not easily accessible and have absolutely enjoyed my time!
How Do You Use a Menstrual Cup?
Boil. This is perhaps the most important part of using a menstrual cup. Before each use, heat a pan full of water and bring it to boil until the water starts bubbling. Take the pan off the heat and put the cup inside the pan and leave it for 3 to 5 minutes before using it. Pro tip: Cover the pan with a lid while boiling. This will save both energy and time.
Wash your hands. Make sure your hands are bacteria-free and not dirty!
Find a comfortable position. The best position will take a few tries to be found so remember to be patient with the process. For me, either squatting or sitting works best. But you can also try standing up or putting one leg up on the toilet.
Fold. There are more than one ways to fold the cup before insertion. The one I swear by is the C-fold where you compress the cup to flatten it by pressing and then fold it into half. The other method is the punch down fold which does not go very well for me, but you can always try it out and see what works best!
Relax and Insert. This is a very important step in the insertion of menstrual cups. If you do not relax your muscles, you will not be able to insert the cup properly and chances are, you will end up leaking. I learnt this the hard way when I had to change my cup one morning at a campsite near Serolsar Lake and I had no access to a toilet or running water. My stress got the best of me and it wasn’t successful in my cup mission until I took a deep breath and relaxed myself and my muscles. Once you’ve inserted the cup, release it and let it do its job! Pro tip: Use water-based lubricants for easier insertion. Do not use silicone-based lubes, these can harm your cups.
Rotate. Now, this is where you have to double-check if the cup has been inserted properly. Ideally, you should be able to move your finger around the cup once it’s inside, and you shouldn’t be able to feel any major folds or bends. My trick to know whether I’ve inserted the cup properly is to push it up and make sure the cup has properly opened itself around the tip of the cervix (the round muscle-y thing).
Trim the Stem. This is an optional step. If you feel the stem of the cup jutting out of your vagina, and irritating you, simply pull it out, cut the stem with a pair of scissors and insert it back again.
Pull it out. To take out the menstrual cup, simply pinch the base of the cup a little to remove the suction and gently pull it out to rinse and clean.
Clean and Store. After you’re done with your period, simply sterilize the cup once again by boiling it and put it away in the cloth pouch that comes with your cup.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if the cup gets lost inside me?
It is physically impossible for your menstrual cup to get lost inside your vagina. The cervix (opening of the uterus) is just wide enough to let fluids pass through and too narrow to let something as big as a menstrual cup pass.
What if I do not have access to toilets or running water?
When you’re outdoors camping or hiking and don’t have access to a toilet, simply dig up a little hole in the ground, squat, remove the cup, empty the fluids into the hole and cover the hole back up. If you don’t have access to water, use toilet paper or alcohol and perfume free wipes to clean your cup and simply rinse it with water later once you have access to it. My favourite wipes for on the go use are the OrganiWipes from OrganiCup:
How do I rinse and reinsert in a public bathroom?
I first wash my hands at the basin outside the toilet stall and then take a bottle of water inside with me so I don’t have to touch any taps or mugs inside the toilet. I remove and rinse my cup with the bottle water and reinsert it, then wash my hands once again at the basin outside. If the toilet has a Western commode instead of Indian, I use the PeeSafe Toilet Seat Sanitizer. Buy it here:
Should I wear a pad along with the menstrual cup, or is the cup enough?
In my experience, using just the menstrual cup has been enough. But if you’re not very sure and would like to wear a pad along with it till you’re comfortable, I suggest opting for a panty liner instead. It is thinner and does not cause as much discomfort as a sanitary pad does. My tried and tested panty liners are from PeeSafe. Buy them here:
Pro tip: I use the Sanitary Disposal Bags from Sirona to pack away my trash including face and intimate wipes, pads or panty liners etc during camping and dispose them off in the city later. These can be air sealed so the waste doesn’t smell, and are spill-proof and biodegradable. Buy them here:
Isn’t it gross?
Instead of answering this question, I’ll just repost a screenshot from Sharanya Iyer (trulynomadly)’s Instagram story to put things in perspective for you:
Which menstrual cup brand and size is the best?
I can’t tell you which one will work the best for you because each shape and size works differently for different bodies. I use a Silky Cup size Medium and it works well for me. However, I have to change it at least every 6 hours on my heavy flow day (although my heavy flow is remarkably lighter than other people’s heavy flow) and doesn’t fulfil its 12 hours promise so I personally wouldn’t recommend it. But I do know other people who use Silky Cups and are extremely happy with them. As for sizes, most brands keep their sizes as per your age, or if you have ever delivered a baby or not. Medium goes well for most women between the ages of 16 and 30 but still consider the size chart of each brand individually.
I have heard great things about the OrganiCup and the Boondh Cups and have heard that they fit comfortably, and don’t need changing for at least 8 hours on heavy days and 12 hours on lighter days. You can buy some of the most popular menstrual cups here:
Pro tip: While I’m travelling and need to boil my cup, I use a small, collapsible, microwave safe silicone sterilizing cup. I put my menstrual cup inside it, pour boiling water over it and leave it for 5 minutes before using. This way, I don’t hurt my host’s sensitivities by using their utensils to boil my menstrual cup. You can buy the sterilizing cup here:
All information provided here is based on my personal experiences, the experiences of people I know, and from my research on the world wide web. Please consult your gynaecologist if you have any technical queries that might need medical attention. If you have any other thoughts to share/ questions to ask, please feel free to drop in a comment below and I’ll make sure I answer them to the best of my knowledge! 🙂
A twenty-something solo adventurer, Avantika finds comfort in learning about various cultures, its people and listening to age-old folk tales. When not on the road, she can be found cuddled up with her dog in her room, with a book in her hand.