Vagina Verdict: Yes to Menstrual Cups!

(NOTE: This article may be more useful for women but may prove just as useful for men in terms of sharing the information to other women they know.)  

When 2019 started (like many others who still created a resolution every year), I made a promise to contribute in my own little way to help address climate change and hoped to assist Mother Earth in her recovery. On top of this, I promised that I will not talk about this resolution unless I passed my 6-month mark and have learned to accept these ways without constantly reminding myself that they were personal projects that I needed to implement or enforce. 

Obviously, I have passed this mark and eager to share my say.

My three doable initiatives were

  1. Continue (be more consistent) in carrying a reusable grocery bag (this meant that I did not have to rely on the plastic bag that shops give or sell to customers).
  2. Stop buying bottled water and learn to carry/refill your personal  water bottle (this was a little challenge for me as this meant additional weight and space being utilized in my bag, but eventually it did serve its purpose as I had water with me all the time which even my friends benefited from).
  3. Start using an eco-friendly alternative to sanitary napkins.

Resolution #3 is our primary focus today.

My decision to find an alternative was prompted by an old article posted by a friend in Facebook. The article discussed many developing countries’ dire need of managing  menstrual waste (a fundamental human right). My usual clamor for comfortable, stain-free, and affordable disposable sanitary napkins was overshadowed by the news that these non-biodegradable vagina-must-haves make their way to (problematic) sewage systems, landfills, and even bodies of water. Most sanitary napkins (and panty liners) are made from 90% crude oil plastics and therefore takes approximately 50-100 years to biodegrade, sometimes some are even labeled non-biodegradable.

I did some calculations just to check how much waste I have stacked in a pile just by using sanitary napkins (which I believe are still out there somewhere). Based on my cycle and menstrual flow trend, starting from the year that I first had my monthly period, I estimated that I have used about 5220 sanitary pads (excluding panty liners). This is just one person. Other women may have a higher or lower number but just imagine how much waste that is. 

With some digging and snooping around, surprisingly, I was introduced to the menstrual pad and panty together, then later on to the menstrual cup. I scoured every information I found on the internet about them and watched videos of women who were bold enough to discuss their menstrual woes online. I learned about their challenges, what worked, what did not, how tos, benefits, etc. I have openly discussed it with female friends who shared their experience (both good and bad) and took them into account. I deliberated on this for months. Every narrative was unique so the only thing left to do was to shut up and conduct an experiment of my own.

I banked on the three alternatives – panty, pad, and cup. I had so many questions in my head and I am guessing that maybe some of you have the same queries so I will go through all of them one by one. Please note that whatever you read here is solely based on my experience. Although I will mention bits and pieces shared by others, generally I am just speaking for myself and it is up to you if you will consider what I will share or not.

How does it feel to have a cup inside?

This may be a common question for many women who grew in an environment where we were taught that it is taboo to put anything alien inside the vagina. To be honest, it will feel uncomfortable (for some, even painful) in the beginning. Heck, I even had fears that it might disappear inside (which happened to a friend because she chose the wrong size) and would have to get operated on. Alright, that last part is just my imagination running away with me.

If you are a tampon user, it might be easier. I used tampons when I swam during my period and I always feel bloated every time. I observed a similar feeling when I first used the cup but gradually the feeling went away the more I used it. The cup’s medical grade silicone has a smooth texture and therefore did not give that invasive scrape on your vagina’s sensitive walls. I guess it also helped to see its actual size in the onset rather than be deceived by something tiny that will eventually expand inside your vagina once it started absorbing blood like the tampon.

My female friends who vouched for the cup gave me a fair warning about this initial uneasy feeling and told me not to get discouraged right away. They persuaded me to at least complete one cycle using the cup before deciding. The truth is it took two cycles for me to surpass that uneasy phase.

Will I really not leak when using the menstrual cup?

Two answers for this question.

“You will” if you do not accurately insert the cup. Once you have purchased your first cup, there will be an instruction card on how to do so properly but your biggest clue is the ‘pop’ or suction sound once you have placed it inside. That ‘pop’ tells you that the cup has been positioned properly and folded out completely. Be gentle with yourself if you do not master the technique right away. It took me two cycles to master the art and boy was it worth it!

The second answer is “You still will!” depending on your menstrual flow. For me, I am on my heaviest flow on my third and fourth day and I usually worry when I am out or rehearsing during these days as the blood would always seep through any clothing. When I was still using sanitary napkins, I changed about 3 to 4 times a day and often, I still leaked even after changing my napkins. It was still the same experience for the cup on these days (3rd and 4th only) but because I was aware of my flow, the menstrual panty came in handy. The panties I ordered have a 3-layer leak proof cloth which protected me from any leak. Menstrual panties come in different shapes and sizes and the ones I preferred are the ones that fully covered my buttocks. 

How do you know it is time to empty the cup?

For sanitation purposes, my instruction guide says that I should empty and wash the cup every 8 to 10 hours but for some, 6. I follow the former except on my 3rd and 4th day when the cup becomes full faster than usual. In my case, there is a ‘squish’ sound that I watch out for every time I tried to move if my cup was full, an indication that then I would need to empty it out.

How do you empty and clean your  cup when you are not at home?

This part, you will need to get creative. Downside: Emptying or re-inserting your cup is a messy business, thus you will need water (and yes this is a challenge for women who live in areas without access to running water). Some women use feminine or wet wipes but this just does not cut it for me. Good thing for me, I carry my water bottle where ever I go so I use the water I have to wash the cup. Be extra careful with where you wash it and where you put that water bottle. 

Are they expensive?

This varies depending on where you purchase your cup. I ordered mine online for $6.14 only. Other shops sold it at higher prices. The most expensive I found was sold in Carrefour for €19 each. There was also another shop that sold organic menstrual cups for €12  and although I was tempted to buy one, I did not as I already ordered two menstrual cups online. Maybe you can buy one and then tell me about your experience with these organic menstrual cups?

How often should you change your cup?

Again, as per my instruction guide, my cup can last for five years but should be replaced if it started having tears, holes, or generally not in good condition. I am not certain how it can get tears or holes since I have only been using mine for six months and it still looks the same. Maybe other readers who have a longer experience with cups can also share their thoughts on this.

In connection to the previous question about the cup being expensive or not, since I am no longer buying sanitary napkins every month (usually I buy two packs of 8 + 1 pack of panty liners), I have not only spent less money but also minimized my carbon footprint. 

Do you really need all three alternatives?

So far, I have mentioned the benefits of the cup and the menstrual panty but have not elaborated on the menstrual pad. I bought the menstrual pad to replace the panty liner. I utilize it only during light period flow or for vaginal discharge that sometimes happened pre and post menstrual period. 

Like the menstrual panty, the pad is washable and also varies in size. Since I knew that I will be using them to replace my panty liners, I only ordered the smallest size. 

What are the other benefits?

I guess there is some sense of freedom to not being tied to buying something mandatory such as a sanitary napkin every month. I have told my friends countless times how happy I feel every time I go grocery shopping and skipping the feminine hygiene aisle. Those sanitary napkin packs were so light but once disposed, cost the environment long term damage.  

Also, the cup is so small, light, and flexible that you can basically stash it in a small pouch. It is so compact and can hardly be noticed. Although I generally have an idea when my period comes, sometimes I do get surprises from my own body so it is quite helpful to just pull the cup out from my pouch. 

How do I know which size I should choose?

Usually there will be specifications on the box of the cup. The ones I ordered online noted only two sizes – small and large. Other than it gave measurement information such as the diameter, length, and length of stem, it also gave me the cups’ maximum volume. My advice is to check these specifications carefully before buying so you will know what fits you. I opted for small and it works just fine. 

For the time being, these are all I can share about the alternatives but I might update these now and then when I stumble into some new information. 

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