The Menstrual Cup
Going back to when I was a 12 year old little girl and getting her period for the very first time, I can reflect on just how scared I was. I remember my mom getting me lots of books on the cycle of the period, but truly nothing could prepare me for this new responsibility and change that my body was going to go through for years on end. When I got my period it was a sweet moment, that of which I don’t take for granted as I understand it can be traumatizing or even cause dysphoria for some. I woke up like I usually did during the school week, went to the bathroom to go pee, and I looked down at my underwear and saw spots of blood. I can recall yelling for my mom to come see what it could be, and she told me that I did indeed get my period. Coming home from school that day I was greeted with red roses, pads, tampons and lots of hugs.
I was never really one that loved pads or tampons anyway even after all of these years. Every month I hated the idea of putting on an itchy pad around my underwear, or inserting a plastic or cardboard tampon applicator inside of my vagina. Although, when I made the switch to the menstrual cup, I’d be lying if I didn’t mention just how difficult that transition was as well. It took me awhile to get used to having a tampon inserted inside of me. When I made the transition to the menstrual cup, it took me a few cycles to actually feel comfortable with it, because it too was something entirely new to get used to.
The low-down on tampons
While the goal of this piece is not to persuade anyone to get the menstrual cup, I do hope it can inspire those to explore different options if that feels important to them. While I understand pads and tampons are a need for a lot of folks who bleed, and there are more sustainable and healthier alternatives today than when I was younger, nothing compares to the cup in my opinion. As I grew more into the conscious eco space, I was becoming more educated on the detrimental realities that came along with the destructive creation of the tampon, as well as the harmful impacts it has on our health. For those reasons, and the bonus of it saving me money, I switched to the menstrual cup in early 2017.
First, let’s talk about ways in which the tampon impacts our health. Tampons are made from cotton or rayon, or a mixture of the two. The applicators of tampons are typically plastic or cardboard. Additionally, tampons are available in a variety of “scents”, or you also have the options of purchasing unscented. Before I go further, it is important to note that there are tampons and pads that come in “organic cotton materials”, although, this still has nothing to do with the environmental impact they cause. However, it’s still a better option than traditionally marketed tampons, especially if tampons and pads feel like a priority for your life. It’s okay to wear tampons and pads. Again, it’s okay to wear tampons and pads.
The Risks of Tampons:
A single bleeding person goes through 10,000-15,000 tampons in their lifetime.
7 billion tampons end up in landfills every single year.
Cotton is a pesticide invasive crop, that of which is often bleached. The vagina is extremely porous and takes in those chemicals with each wear. When we throw synthetic fragrances into this mix, the health hazards are detrimental.
It can take 25-50 years for a single plastic applicator to break down, but the microplastics will remain forever.
The bleach used to make tampons produce dioxin, the toxin of Agent Orange, which builds up in the fat cells of our bodies over time.
Because some tampons are made up with a mix of cotton and rayon, rayon is known to have trace amounts of dioxin as well.
Tampons have the highest probability for TSS (toxic shock syndrome).
Tampons will absorb your body’s natural moisture leading to vaginal dryness, which is harmful to the natural processes of the vaginal cycle.
As you can see, these are just some of the most harmful environmental and personal health impacts that tampons can have with extended use. So, let’s talk about the menstrual cup.
The Low-Down on the menstrual cup
The menstrual cup is a fairly new product that has grown popularity, but there are some resources that state that the cup itself was first outlined as far back as the 1930’s. Although, never succeeded. I started using the menstrual cup back in 2017, and have never bought a tampon again. To better outline the menstrual cup, I will walk you through the full cycle of preparing for the use of the cup, to insertion, removal and disinfection.
Choosing Your Cup:
When choosing your very first cup, it’s a little bit of a shot in the dark. Although, each brand typically gives you two sizing options. One size is for those who have not given birth or for a light flow, and the other is for those who have given birth or for a heavy flow. Although, this isn’t a linear size guide, so you may just want to go with your gut. I use the smaller sized cup because I have not yet conceived, although even my heaviest days can withstand inside the smaller cup. Some cups are thicker than others, some have long or short stems, and some even have rings as their stem. More so, some cups come in a variety of colors, although, I’m always an advocate for a non-colored cup because it requires dye, and I find it to be important to see your blood within the cup. When it comes to the stem length, think of this as the string from a tampon. The stem allows you to pull and remove the cup, however, I personally find it more comfortable to stick two fingers inside of my vagina, squeeze on the cup, then pull out. A shorter stem is often the most comfortable, as a long stem may stick out too far and cause discomfort.
Disinfecting Your Cup:
Before using your cup for the very first time, and before your next cycle, it’s important to disinfect your cup. You would do this by rolling boiling water on the stove. I would stay away from any wipes, as a simple boil will do the trick. You will want to make sure that the water is tall enough that the cup doesn’t touch the bottom to potentially cause burning. You will boil your cup for 5-10 minutes. You do not have to boil your cup between uses, just before the start of a brand new cycle. Most cups I have known have “air holes” within them. These holes are very tiny, but it’s important to make sure no blood has caught itself between it uncleaned as it could be a breeding ground for bacteria. Although, I’ve never had any worry.
Inserting Your Cup:
Inserting your cup for the very first time will take you back to the very first time you inserted a tampon. It can feel daunting, confusing, and you may have to try it a couple of times before getting it right. I must say, I recommended inserting your cup BEFORE the start of a cycle, that way you are prepared and understand what it feels like. To insert your cup, make sure you are handling with clean hands, and the cup has been disinfected. There are many ways you can insert your cup, but across the board you will need to fold your cup in some way. A couple of options are the downward fold, the c or u fold, or the seven fold. I’ll insert some pictures below to show you what these folds look like:
Once you have your cup folded, you will need to work with your shape. A lot of the times, you will do a “scooping” method when inserting your cup. This means putting a slight curve into the insertion movement to properly follow the bodies natural shape. Although, remember we are all different and this may not apply to everyone. When inserting the cup you may do so sitting down on the toilet, squatting on the toilet, having one foot propped up on the toilet, or maybe you can just simply stand up. I tend to find squatting the most comfortable for me.
While inserting, you may want to keep two fingers on the cup, and once it’s pushed back far enough, I encourage you giving it a twist or turn to allow the cup to fully wrap itself within your vagina. Once done, give it a gentle pull on the stem. If you find that it comes right out, it’s not inserted properly. If you find that there’s resistance, you will know that the cup has properly suctioned itself. Remember to also be as calm as you can during this process, as constricting will close off proper insertion.
Removing Your Cup:
To remove your cup, make sure your hands are well washed. It’s imperative to make as many boundaries as we can between our vaginas and harmful non-native bacteria. As the same with the insertion, you may be more comfortable sitting down on the toilet, squatting on the toilet, having one foot propped up on the toilet, or standing up to remove. For some, simply tugging on the stem may be enough to pull out the cup. However, I have personally found that to be the most uncomfortable, as we must understand that the cup suctions itself, and it’s easier to release that suction prior to removal. To remove the cup, I insert two fingers inside of my vagina, pinch the very end of the cup gently to release the suction, then pull out. This method also allows the cup to lose surface area, making it smaller and easier to remove.
If you are still ongoing with your cycle and this removal is just to dump, you will need to directly dump your blood into the toilet. However, if I’m at home I actually feed my plants my blood as it’s a natural fertilizer with wonderful rich compounds that our plants will thrive on! Remember, our vaginas are absolutely wonderful, and there is nothing “icky” about our blood. If you find yourself in a public setting you need to wash your cup out with a bit of water from the sink, this can often feel embarrassing, but there’s no reason to! My first time was very… new to me, so I understand. Although, no one cared to even notice what I was doing. Think about it.. are you ever honing in on what someone is doing at the sink? Not really, and to be honest, it just looks like you’re washing your hands. Your cup isn’t massive! However, you can leave your cup in for up to 12 hours, so most of us will hardly ever need a reason to dump and rinse in a public setting, but, it’s not terrible if you need to. You are powerful, and this is life.
After the ending of your cycle, go back to step one and disinfect. Then, you will want to store your cup in a breathable muslin bag or something similar until next time.
Herbal Allies During Your Moon Time
I’m a Herbalist, so this wouldn’t be a completed journal entry if I didn’t talk about our plant ally systems to help us guide our way through the menses with as much ease as possible.
The period cycle as we know it today, has often grown more and more difficult as many of us are on invasive contraceptives. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, the onset of the period can be a time of grief for those who do not align with their period. I created a tea blend for you to enjoy during this time to address acute pain, that is a delicious ally during the time of the bleed.
If you find that you just need a little herbal support now and again, herbal antispasmodics, uterine tonics, and anodynes may be helpful during your cycle. Antispasmodics will address the spasms of your involuntary muscles, the uterine tonics may help strengthen and tone the uterus to tame the cycle in times of distress. I will speak in “parts” for this recipe, meaning the ratio is up to you, but should be less or doubled in comparison to the other herbs. This is just for simplifying, and to allow you to make as little or as much as you need. I created this tea to be generally constitutionally safe for all.
Restorative Moon Tisane:
2 Parts: Raspberry Leaf
2 Parts: Lady’s Mantle
1 Part: Rose
1 Part: Lemon Balm
1 Part: Lavender
Can I wear the cup while sleeping?
Of course! They can be kept in all night while you sleep. In fact, this is a great time to get used to your menstrual cup if this is your first time.
Can I wear the cup during exercise? What about swimming?
Yes, same rules apply! Menstrual cups are a great option for times of athletic leisure.
Can the cup spill?
In a non-perfect world, they could. Although, in my experience I have never had leakage to be a problem, unlike my previous experience with tampons or pads. You may experience leakage with the menstrual cup if it is not inserted properly, meaning it may not have opened fully within the vagina.
How often do I have to change them?
The cup can offer up to 12 hours worth of coverage, but you are free to dump and re-insert as often as you feel necessary.
Is one cup better than the other?
Our bodies vary between one another, and because of that, no two cups are the same. You may have to do some trial and error until you find your perfect cup.
What if I forgot my cup?
It happens! I recommend always having two cups, one at home or at the office, and one always in a bag. However, if for some reason you don’t have your cup, remember that you should never feel guilty for resorting to a tampon and pad, and if that’s the next most accessible option, please do so.
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