Period Talk: Plastic Free Periods & Switching to a Menstrual Cup

Sunday, November 11, 2018
Welp, we're just gonna dive right into this one today. Let's have a chat about periods and menstrual cups.

I, like a lot of women, have used pads and tampons for every period since I got mine at age twelve. Pads and tampons were what my mom used, what her mom used, what my sister and all my friends used and what I was taught about in Girl Scouts and school health class. They were easily accessible, simple use and they worked pretty well. In short, I never knew any other options. The only strong opinions I formed about pads and tampons in the last 18 years of menstruating were that I hated those big mattress-sized pads, that paying extra for plastic applicators instead of cardboard was totally not worth it for me and that Target's Up & Up house brand tampons were weirdly way too long for my apparently tiny cervix. Not a lot to write home about really.
When I got to college I met a few people who said they used a Diva cup, but I never really knew anything about it, how to use it or why you even would. It wasn't until earlier this year that I found my motivation to look into menstrual cups more -- the environment. And boy did I learn a lot. I learned that a single pad can have up to 4 plastic bags worth of plastic. I learned, or rather just took the time to think about the fact that each tampon produces 4 different pieces of waste. I learned that for every 100 meters of shoreline, the Marine Conservation Society found on average 20 female sanitary items. I even branched out from environmental issues to read some about the pink tax and period poverty and how tampons suck everything up, including the fluids your body naturally produces and wants to have around! The information overload convinced me it was time to do something differently.

I decided I was going to try out a menstrual cup. I did some research about fit, firmness, price and company (fantastic chart here) and settled on the Lena Sensitive Cup in size small. It's made in California from 100% medical-grade silicon and comes with a cute patterned cotton carrying case. I bought mine on Amazon for $24.90 with Prime shipping.

The only care this cup really needs is a good 5 minute boil before and after your period and to be kept in the breathable pouch that's included when you're not using it. When you're on your period you just want to make sure it stays clean (a quick rinse in water when you're emptying the cup) and that the four tiny holes at the top of the cup are not obstructed by any period fluid. It's pretty simple and it's all laid out in the included instructions and on Lena's site.

So how the heck do you use these big giant squishy things?? It was definitely pretty intimidated at first, but it's turned out to be pretty easy after a little practice -- just like using tampons for the first time. Generally speaking you just want to fold the cup down in some way, push it up into your vagina so it's completely inside you and then release the fold so it pops open and seals to the sides of your vaginal wall. You then check that's it's completely unfolded by running your finger around the cup once it's inserted. I also like to try to turn it from the base to make sure it doesn't budge before I consider it good to go.

The biggest trick is finding a way to insert the cup that works for you. There are tons of different folds that the community have come up with and it definitely takes some trial and error to find your perfect fold. I started with a c-fold and I just didn't like how wide it was and I wasn't having a lot of luck getting it to unfold completely. I watched a lot of YouTube videos (just search "menstrual cup") about different folds and finally ended up trying a punchdown fold which I've stuck with ever since. You can see how it looks in my last three photos. This fold plus wetting the the rim of the cup with a little water has made insertion a breeze for me.

Once you've inserted your cup you don't need to change it for 12 hours. I was thoroughly convinced by tampons that you actually bleed quite a bit during your period so I really did not believe that the cup could hold a full 12 hours of period blood but with my average flow I have only ever gotten it about halfway full. I was also worried about spotting, as they warn it can take a few attempts to get insertion down pat where it completely seals, but I haven't had any issues at all. The only thing I've noticed is that when I'm wearing my cup I take a lot longer to pee. There isn't any sensation or feeling like I have to go more often, I just definitely don't want to leave it until I'm bursting for a pee because it'll take a lot longer to get that sweet relief.

Removing the menstrual cup is quite easy as well. I just locate the stem of the cup (which I have left at it's original length) inside me, the pinch the base of the cup and start to pull down. If pinching the base doesn't break the seal, I just run my finger around the sides of the cup and press inward. I haven't had any issues keeping the period blood in the cup with I'm removing it. I always insert and remove mine while seated on the toilet so even if a little were to fall out it would be completely fine. Here's another nice trick -- put a couple squares of toilet paper in the bowl first so that when you dump out the blood it doesn't spread or splash. After I dump the cup I just rinse it out in my sink (I have only ever changed my cup at home or work where we have sinks next to the toilets), then fill it up with water, place my hand over the top and turn it upside down to squeeze the water out of the holes at the top. And yes you're going to have to get used to your own period blood. It's really not gross, I assure you.

I am very happy I made the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. There was a bit of a learning curve the first month or two, but I have been using it for 4 periods now and I feel like I've really got into the groove of things. I love not having to buy tampons every month or having a trashcan full of used tampons to deal with. I can't feel it when I'm wearing it and I don't have to worry at all about leaks like I did with tampons and their blasted strings. I won't be going back. The only time I do not wear my menstrual cup is at night. I didn't really like wearing tampons at night either, so I'm not sure this is really the fault of my menstrual cup. For nights I've been using up my pantyliners, but once those are gone I plan on looking into all the different period underwear or reusable organic cotton pads. I'll be sure to share my experiences with those later!

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