While I was setting up for a women’s health workshop, unpacking the contents of my favorite red carry-on suitcase, an early arrival approached me and asked, “What on Earth are those?”
She was referring to the rainbow of menstrual cup demos I had lined up on the table.
“How many people actually use those?”
Since I hang out with a lot of sex ed-types, my perception is “a lot.” I’d estimate that well over half of the women with whom I talk about menstruation use one. Clearly, this isn’t a representative sample, but I do think it says something about the sex geek demographic. Perhaps it’s similar to the findings of a study I recently read about female gynaecologists being three times more likely to use IUDs than the general population. Once you know more about a particular method and its relative merits, you’re more likely to use it.
Menstrual cups overcome the two things I dislike most about tampons: there’s no string hanging out and they don’t dry you out during the lighter-flow part of your period. Since most brands make them out of silicone, they’re soft, comfortable, and (notably) sterilizable. They come in two sizes: a smaller one for women under 30 who haven’t given birth and a slightly larger one for women over 30 and those who have given birth. As I understand it, the dimensions of the vagina change a little bit as women age (even if they don’t have babies), so a slightly different size is needed. Both sizes are roughly comparable to a shot glass.
Here’s a brief explanation of how to use one:
- Wash your hands thoroughly
- Insert your folded, sterilized cup into the vagina so it pops open behind the pubic bone and encompasses your cervix
- Remove the cup at least once every 12 hours (or more frequently for heavy flow)
- Pour menstrual blood into the toilet
- Wash cup in warm water with fragrance-free soap (or alternatively, wipe out with toilet paper or a wet wipe and wash it when you get home)
- Boil the cup at the end of your period for 5-10 minutes to sterilize it, then store it in a clean container
Inserting one can take a little getting used to. A little water-based lube can help, as can a little leftover water from washing it. To find the fold that works best for you, check out this youtube video for different folding options. You can experiment with different folds to find the one that’s most comfortable. I remember having dinner with a couple female sex educator friends and we were all folding the menus to show the other two which folds we use. Ah, when sex educators go drinking.
Removing it may also take a bit of adjustment. The little tail you see can be cut to whatever length is most comfortable to the user, as some women prefer to gently squeeze the body of the cup to remove it rather than pulling the tail. If you’re unnerved by getting traces of menstrual blood on your fingers, menstrual cups may not be the method for you, but many women I’ve spoke to about it say they just “get used to it.” In many countries (Australia being one of them), women don’t generally use applicator tampons, and I’ve heard several women compare the cup to non-applicator tampons in terms of ease of insertion and removal.
Some women choose menstrual cups because of their eco-friendliness. Since there would be no tampons, applicators, or pads to send to a landfill, menstrual cups are a pretty easy way to reduce your carbon footprint. Even if you’re using pads for the first heavier days (as some women choose to do), you’re still reducing the overall number of disposable sanitary products.
One benefit I mention to women who are thinking about getting one is that it can be great if you want to receive cunnilingus while you’re on your period. I know lots of folks who are cool with period intercourse (they just have a designated dark-colored towel for such purposes), but oral sex can be a different matter. Despite the notorious cameo in Fifty Shades, most people don’t find tampons strings terribly erotic (but no judgement if you do). With a menstrual cup, you can insert it in the shower and feel confident there won’t be a bloody surprise or a distracting string later on when you’re getting sexy.
Where can you get one? Finding them in brick-and-mortar stores can be challenging, with the notable exception of some of the larger Whole Foods and other natural food stores. Fortunately, there are a number of websites that sell reusable menstrual cups, including Amazon.com. Lunapads.com sells both reusable menstrual pads and DivaCup brand cups, and if you want the pretty-colored ones in the photo, check out Lunette.com for a list of retailers.
Note: FYI, the non-demo cups don’t have that large hole in the side as seen in the first photo. The menstrual cups in the photograph were kindly donated to me for teaching purposes by Lunette.
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