Drizzling blood between your legs for several days a month fucking sucks. There's no way around that. Making it even worse is all the bloating, cramping, moodiness and money.
I threw money in there because even if your periods are pretty light on the unpleasant symptoms, you're still likely to spend a stupid amount of money on tampons, liners or pads. Most women end up using tampons, because they're less smelly, irritating and diaper-like than the alternative and you can pretend that you're not a
You'd think, that after some ridiculously large number of years of female humans bleeding out of their crotch every four weeks, we'd have created a better way of dealing with it than shoving wads of cotton up our junk.
Well, we have. But very few women know about it.
These are menstrual cups. Say "hi" to the menstrual cups! They want to be your friend. They want to make your periods better. They want to save you money. They want to sit all warm and cozy in your snatch and keep your monthly flow from staining your underwear.
And I'm going to evangelize for them.
Fact: Menstrual cups will make your life better
Imagine not having to run to the drug store at odd hours of the day (and night) when Aunt Flo gives you a surprise visit. Imagine being able to wear your normal, cute underwear even when you're on your period. For all you heavy flow ladies out there, imagine being able to sleep through an entire night and not wake up in a puddle of blood. Imagine being able to go to the beach for a whole day and not have to worry about changing a tampon. Imagine being able to address your period once in the morning, and once right before bed and not having to give it a thought in between. Imagine your bathroom garbage not being a source of embarrassment for sensitive male visitors.
This is my life. You want it, don't you? I know you do. I can see it in your eyes.
Q&AIf you have any questions I haven't added here, I encourage you to ask in the comments!
What's so bad about tampons?
They suck, that's what. First there are very valid ecological concerns: here is a highly artificial product that is thrown away in high volumes after being used for a few hours, not to mention the plastic applicators and wrappers. There is no way to recycle tampons, and they are usually not biodegradable. They are commonly flushed down the toilet to be dealt with by the sewage system. As owners of an older house or a septic system know, the sewage system is not always the best at handling such waste.
Secondly there is the convenience - or lack of it. Compared to pads they can be more convenient, but you still have to carry spare tampons around with you wherever you go. You need a waste basket to dispose of all the packaging as well as a toilet to flush the used tampons. For most people that isn't a problem, but for women who work in locations where there simply aren't any facilities available, such as geological field work, it is a significant concern.
Thirdly, and most importantly, is the health concerns. Tampons contain many toxic chemicals, such as dioxin, which can leach into the body. Tiny fibres - notably rayon - from the tampons themselves frequently enter the body. Tampons also increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), "a potentially fatal illness caused by bacterial toxin." Using high absorbency tampons for extended periods of time can lead to TSS, meaning a tampon user must change their tampons regularly. Tampons are also too absorbent: they frequently absorb natural vaginal mucus, drying out the lining of the vagina which can lead to irritation and abrasions.
In comparison, menstrual cups have no waste, no risk of TSS, no drying or irritating effect, and can be worn for... well, nearly as long as you want to. (About 12 hours is where the manufacturers say, but you can leave them in longer if you want)
Okay, so, how do they work?
Menstrual cups are usually made of flexible silicone with a stem attached to the bottom of the cup. The cup, when inserted into the vagina, creates a slight suction seal against the walls of the vagina. This seal prevents any fluid from passing the cup, and the cup collects all the menstrual blood. To remove the cup, you reach in (using the stem to find the cup - many people cut the stems off because they don't really need it) and slip a finger up the side to break the suction seal. You can then pull the cup out and empty it in the toilet, or other drain. You can then wash the cup, or just wipe it off with toilet paper, and then reinsert it.
Is it messy?
You're going to get blood on your hands. If you're dainty about it, you'll only get a bit on your fingers. If you have a catastrophic removal failure, you can end up looking like you crushed someone's jugular with your bare hands. Personally, I usually remove and empty my cup in the shower where I can drip and make a mess and it's not a problem. 99.9% of the time I can remove and empty the cup quite cleanly.
I'll be frank here: if you're uncomfortable with touching your vulva, or you're uncomfortable with touching menstrual blood, a cup probably isn't for you. Unless you're trying to overcome that. In which case, a menstrual cup is a great therapy tool.
At this point, after using a cup for several years, pads or tampons is kind of gross to me. You're either walking around with a wad of blood-soaked material taped in your panties, or else you've got a hunk of cotton shoved up your junk with a little bit of string hanging out. That's creepy. With pads you just throw said bloody bundle in the garbage, and tampons you flush the bloody cotton cork down the toilet. It's messed up, yo. Cups are way more tidy; at least you aren't sitting in your own excretions. :P
They look so big!
They can look daunting, true. But they're not as big as they appear, and they're all soft and flexible. You fold it before inserting, and it only fully opens once it's inside to form a seal. A folded cup is only about as big as a couple fingers. I recommend watching some videos of different folds to get a feel for the size. The Divacup is the largest of all the cups, and it is the most popular in North America, so there are many smaller cups (and some big ones, especially for women who have given birth).
Women who still have their hymens intact (IE are still "virgins") may have some difficulty using a menstrual cup, but if you've had sex before, or can fit a couple fingers inside, you can probably use a menstrual cup.
Can you feel the cup?
When using the correct size and when properly inserted, no. It sits well inside the vagina where there are few nerve endings. Some women who have short vaginal cavities might be able to feel the stem poking out; you can cut the stem off (or just cut it shorter) to prevent this. Some women also note that they have to pee more frequently when they are using a cup; it's possible that the cup might be pushing on the bladder. But other than that, cups are just like tampons, Nuvarings or ben wa balls: you can't feel them when they're in.
Is it sanitary?
A cup is only exposed to your own menstrual blood, so there's nothing unsanitary there. You will usually wash it off with water and mild soap every time you empty and re-insert it. At the end of your cycle you can boil the cup for five minutes to sterilize it. (To be honest, I don't boil mine very often - I just wash it with antibacterial soap). You can also buy special cleaning solutions, if you want to, but they're not fully necessary.
Can you feel the blood sloshing around?
Haha, no, you cannot. Again, we don't have sensitive nerves that far inside the vagina. You can do things like cartwheels, dancing, laying upside-down and you won't feel anything moving inside you.
What do I do in a public washroom?
You don't have to wash the cup every time you empty it. Just give it a wipe down with some toilet paper and reinsert it. You can then wipe your fingers off before leaving the stall to wash your hands. Most of the time you can just completely avoid using a public washroom, anyway. The cup can hold much, much more fluid than a pad or tampon can and you can leave them in for a very long time.
Does it smell?
Unlike pads, the blood isn't exposed to air long enough that it gets a chance to get smelly. Even tampons - with their absorbent strings - can get a bit smelly. Since the blood is being kept in the cup, not exposed to air, it barely smells at all. Of course, when you go dump out the blood, it will smell like "fresh" menstrual blood, but that's better than the stink of used pads, I guarantee!
Does it leak?
Most women can wear a menstrual cup without even a thin liner and have no fear of leaking into their clothes. I find my cup usually leaks a small amount, and so always wear a very thin panty liner so I don't stain any clothing. I've always had a problem with tampons leaking a little, too, so I suspect it might be an effect of my own anatomy. You can reduce leaks by "spinning" the cup after inserting it, to ensure it has a proper seal, and by using a finger to collect any stray blood that might have been sitting just inside your vagina when you inserted the cup.
How long do they last?
Some manufacturers try to tell you to buy a new one every year *cough* Divacup *cough* but there's absolutely no reason you need to do so. As long as your cup is keeping its suction and you clean it regularly, you can use it for years and years. They don't really have an upper limit.
How much do they cost?
Price varies from supplier and brand, but I paid $40 CAD for mine form a local organic food store three years ago. Amazon currently has them listed for $25 to $40 USD, depending on brand. Considering they last for several years, think of the savings in menstruation supplies!
Can I use it when I'm not on my period, or when I'm only spotting?
Sure can! (Though they're only FDA approved for menstruation, that's just a legal thing ;) )
I've used tampons for light flows before (like when I was spotting but wanted to go swimming) and removing it was like yanking sandpaper out of my vag. Cups don't cause any drying whatsoever, so you can wear them without causing discomfort. I know of many women on birth control like Depo or the implant who wear a cup almost all the time so they don't have to worry about spotting.
I have an IUD or use the Nuvaring. Can I also use a cup?
Yup! With IUDs, you have to be careful not to catch the string with the cup - especially when removing the cup - but otherwise you're fine. If you're using the Nuvaring for birth control, and are using the cup when the ring is still in, just make sure that the ring is still in place after every removal of the cup. Most of the time you'll be using the cup on your off week, anyway, so it won't matter as much.
Can you have sex with it in?
It's physically possible.
But I don't recommend it.
I've done it a few times - mostly when I forget I had my cup in (it's that comfortable!), occasionally when I can't be arsed to go to the bathroom and take it out. The cup itself just gets pushed up and to the side. It's flexible, so it just flattens out of the way, as far as I can tell. Sometimes it'll bump my cervix which is kind of unpleasant. It'll probably make the guy's dick a little sore. And you have to take the cup out afterwards anyway to re-position it. So no, I don't recommend you have sex with it in.
If you're interested in non-bloody period sex, I can point you to disposable softcups. They're menstrual "cups" that kind of look like half a giant condom attached to a livestrong bracelet. The ring part sits just under your cervix while the condom-like soft cover will hold back any menstrual blood. You can have sex while wearing a softcup without the guy grating his dick on anything.
Can it get stuck?
Sometimes it can be difficult to get a grip and pull it down low enough to break the suction seal, but if you alternate relaxing your muscles and bearing down you can get it into reach. You can't try to remove the cup by just pulling the stem; the cup will feel like it's stuck. You have to pinch the cup to break the suction seal!
If you're aroused the vaginal canal is longer so the cup can be pushed back much further than normal. If this happens and you can't reach it, I recommend just waiting a bit and relaxing. It'll come down on its own eventually. :)
Can I poop with it in?
Usually there is no problem, but - depending how strong your muscles are and how, ah, lubricated the way out is - the act of bearing down when on the toilet can push the cup out of place. It will probably never fall out on its own - the suction prevents that - but it can feel a bit weird to have the cup sticking out a few centimetres. You can just push it further in with a finger and it'll move to its usual place. If it's something I'm concerned about, I just remove the cup before going to the bathroom.
Will it make my cramps worse?
You'd think it might, eh, having something stuck up your vag? Oddly enough, many women report that using a menstrual cup reduces the cramping they experience. Still more women report that suing a menstrual cup shortens the duration of their period. I can definitely say I get fewer cramps using a cup than using tampons, but no one has any concrete ideas why this might be the case.
Will security officers do a cavity search if they find out I'm using a cup?
I've been looking for an answer to this myself, but I do know that cups don't show up on scanners like xrays or metal detectors (obviously). If anything, wearing a cup when going through airport security might be better than wearing a pad or tampon since nothing is visible.
Can it act as a barrier contraceptive?
No. Menstrual cups are not in any way to be used as birth control! It is not like a cervical cap or diaphragm at all.
Though it does make for a pretty rad penis hat.