Using Menstrual Cups: What to keep in mind

I was just 12 years old when I got my first period. I was recovering from typhoid and had lost close to 12 kg and was weak and terribly run down. When I saw blood while urinating, I thought I had a life-threatening illness and was going to die.

My mother saw my stained panties, thrust a sanitary pad at me and said-“Just put one inside your panties and you’ll be fine.”

This was the biggest understatement of my life. Nothing has been fine – pads leak, shift, chafe my inner thighs, cause itching, sweat, smell, and the plastic in them causes serious environmental damage that I feel guilty about.

But guess what, I have been using pads religiously for the last 24 years or so. I did try tampons in college because my friends were doing so. But, the whole effort was a flop.

Now here I am a 35-year-old, thinking of ‘cupverting’ to menstrual cups. But, since I am older and wiser, I have decided to educate myself about them thoroughly. If you, like me, are still in the process of making up your mind about menstrual cups, read on for some useful information.

Reasons to embrace menstrual cups

Firstly, menstrual cups are safe to insert into your vagina. They are made of medical grade silicone which is inert and hypoallergenic.

They are inserted into the vagina during your period, like a tampon. But, they collect, not absorb your menstrual blood and have to be removed, cleaned and re-inserted every 2-4 hours depending on your flow.

It is highly recommended to sterilize the cup between each cycle by inserting it in boiling water for five minutes. And store them in their cloth bags till you need them the next month.

They can be used for up to 10 years and are extremely cost-effective as compared to tampons and sanitary napkins. They are in fact the cheapest way to deal with your periods. Spend about 1.500-4000 Rs. one time and you are good to go.

There are different brands of menstrual cups available in India and these can be ordered over the internet.

All of them are available in variable sizes like small, medium, large and extra large to fit your vagina.

Menstrual cup insertion is an art, but you can master it

The cup goes into your vaginal canal and sits touching the walls of your love canal, with its mouth open to receive menstrual blood from the mouth of the cervix.

Many first time users find its insertion intimidating and are afraid that they will lose it inside.

But,  a cup is impossible to lose and it can be inserted while sitting on the toilet seat. All you have to do is to fold it and slip it inside with the stem facing downwards. When you want to remove it, just pull it out by the stem. Similarly, you can rotate it to make it fit better after insertion.

Sizing your cervix

This is a very important first hurdle in your ‘cup love affair’ and has to be done when you are menstruating only as your cervix is the lowest at this time.

But, how you do this?

Just hike one leg up on the toilet seat (don’t squat), and insert your longest finger after cleaning horizontally inside your vagina till you can go no further. The cervix feels soft and squishy. Now looking at how much of your finger went in will give you the approximate length that your cup should possess.

I would suggest not falling into the trap of the standard sized cup since the cup has to be accommodated in the space inside your body!

To Cup, or not?

Like every other menstrual hygiene product, cups have their pros and cons too.

Their biggest pros are their ease of use, safety and the fact that they are reusable and eco-friendly. Cups encourage a #PlasticFreePeriod in short.

You can also pee with cups or clear your bowels, for that matter with a cup in. That’s because we women have three orifices ‘down there’- one for peeing, one for intercourse- into which the cup goes, and the third for defecating. So, there’s no problem on this score, ‘cuplovers’.

You can also use a cup if you have an Intra Uterine Device like Copper T fitted into your uterus for birth control. However, the copper T thread hanging into your cervix has to be trimmed by your gynaecologist if you want to ‘cupvert’ so that it doesn’t tangle in your cup and pull the device out.

Now, the cons-  there are not too many, I promise.

Getting the size of your cup right is a challenge that most women struggle with. If you find the right fit and brand for yourself, you’ll just have a blast…

Before buying this product, I suggest that you research extensively- watch videos explaining the correct way to insert, buy the right brand and size yourself properly… also, join Facebook groups dealing with sustainable menstruation and be informed.  The more you know, the better will your ‘cupexperience’ be. I promise.

I have heard a few of my ‘cupvert’ friends mention that they feel like peeing more often with the cup in. I asked a gynaecologist friend about how true was that. She told me that a woman retains water before menstruation due to hormonal changes and lose this during their period. But, women don’t remember going to the loo more often when they are using pads. Because they become hyper-vigilant while using cups, they feel they are peeing too often.

Having said that, she also said that women can face pressure on their urinary bladder if the cup is pressed against it. This can happen due to a wrong size or firmness of your cup.  Adjust the cup and if the pressure persists, you may have to buy a new one.

A few women users also complain of spillage while using a cup. This can happen if your cup has filled up completely. You need to learn to in approximately how many hours your cup will fill and change before it does.

Many women also feel their vagina will expand on cup usage. But, this one is untrue. The vagina is an elastic tube and kind of snaps back to size once the cup has been removed.

Snapping the hymen is another area of concern. The hymen can break while inserting a cup or a tampon. This is the reason why gynaecologists don’t recommend this product for adolescents. Older women who have achieved a certain level of menstrual maturity can start using the cup.

Recently, the cup universe was also rocked by a study published in American Society of Microbiology, May 2018. It posits that cups can cause toxic shock syndrome just like tampons.

But,  TSS is a rare disease and if you use a few common precautions like not leaving in the cup for long hours or days, not sharing your cup with anyone else, sterilizing it regularly, and observing proper hygiene, you have nothing to worry.

Also, never try the cup when you are not on your periods. Period blood provides lubrication and inserting a cup without lubrication can cause abrasions on the vaginal walls.  Also, never use a cup after childbirth, a surgery or after a vaginal infection.

In conclusion, the benefits of cup use far outweigh the risks.  I plan to go for it. What about you?

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi