Menstrual Cups: Everything You Need To Know

Menstrual Cups: Everything You Need To Know

Back in 2018, I decided to embrace pad-free, zero waste periods and switch to a menstrual cup. I must say, it has to be the best period related decision I’ve ever made. It took me a minute to figure out how to use, insert and remove a menstrual cup, but once I did, I have been a fan since. I am pretty sure my friends are sick of me telling them about how great menstrual cups are and how they should try them, some of them have even called me the menstrual cup ambassador, that’s how strongly I feel about them. So, I decided to write this post to share my menstrual cup experience with you, which I will henceforth refer to as “the cup”.

Please note that I am not a medical professional, I am simply sharing information based on my personal experience and my own research. Chat to your doctor and find what works for you. 

Here’s the thing, I won’t get on here and say I switched to the cup because I am trying to be environmentally conscious or eco-friendly, because that would be a blatant lie. Do I care about the environment? Of course, I do, but that’s not the reason I switched, although it is an added bonus. I switched to the cup purely for health and financial reasons. It is much much cheaper than pads and tampons, and much safer. One cup can last up to 10 years, depending on the brand and how you take care of it, and it retails for +/- R250. It also does not have the chemicals found in pads and tampons so that was good news for my vagina. (Side note: I won’t be doing that thing where people give vaginas cutesy names to sound “PG”, like vagina is a swear word🙄, we don’t do that here.)

Like most women I know, I started my period with pads when I was 13, but I honestly never liked pads, I found them quite gross and unsanitary. It felt like I was wearing a diaper and sitting on a pile of my blood (Ew! 🤮), not to mention the fact that I couldn’t wear just any underwear with pads, that really annoyed me. But it also took me a minute to warm up to the idea of inserting something in my vagina, the idea made me very nervous and uncomfortable, therefore I didn’t try tampons until I was 17.

I remember the day I tried my first tampon, I was in first year of varsity and my friend asked me to join her to the pool, “I am on my period”, I said, and she nonchalantly told me I can just wear a tampon, lol, uh yes, the moment I’d been looking forward to and dreading at the same time had finally arrived. Anyway, long story short, I tried the tampon and I never went back to pads ever again. Life was great, I could wear my thongs and g-strings even on my periods, I could get into the pool, and it didn’t feel like I was wearing a diaper, I thoroughly enjoyed that, until one day I decided to read the little leaflet in the tampons box and learnt about Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). I won’t lie, that freaked me the hell out.

The debate is still ongoing on whether menstrual cups can also cause TSS or not. Based on my research, there’s only been two menstrual cup users who have reported cases of TSS globally. So it is possible to contract TSS while using a cup but it’s important to note that in both recorded cases, the women left their cups in far longer than the maximum time mandated by cup manufacturers (7 days versus 10-12 hours), so it’s important to use the cup correctly (read the brand instructions) and practice proper hygiene.

I searched the inter-webs for a safer alternative to pads and tampons, and I didn’t find anything that sounded remotely better, so I decided to stick to tampons, and I just became extra cautious with how often I change it and all that jazz, till I heard about the cup. After I found out there was something called the menstrual cup, I did my research and I was sold, it sounded like it was going to solve all my period problems (except for the pains), so I decided to give it a try. I got mine from Takealot, but there are different sellers out there, so use your resources and research.

So, What Makes The Cup So Great?

IT’S SAFER. Menstrual cups are a bell-shaped, reusable cup made from medical grade silicone. Once inserted and fitted securely, cups will collect menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours, rather than absorb it as tampons and pads do. By absorbing fluid, tampons create an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. This alone makes cups one of the safest menstrual products out there. Not to mention, you’re sparing your vagina cotton soaked with pesticides and toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer. Win-win for both you and mother Earth, amiright?

IT’S MORE CONVENIENT. It might not seem like it at first, but once you get the hang of it, menstrual cups are WAY more convenient. The trick is to wear the cup correctly, then there’ll be zero issues. Gone are the days of needing to run to the bathroom every few hours to change a tampon or remembering to stash an emergency tampon in every bag I own. There’s less to pack when I’m traveling, and it is so comfortable I can’t even feel it when it’s in there.

IT’S BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. Fun fact: Reusable menstrual cups have been around since tampons and pads, but the industry chose to promote disposable products instead, due to the recurring purchase necessity, meaning more cash for the corporate entities in female hygiene. Not to mentioned that before April 2019 in SA, we were taxed on these products. Freaking ridiculous.

While the purchase price is typically around R200-400, depending on the brand, a cup can technically last 5-10 years with the proper care. So regardless, you’ll end up saving a lot of money, as the average woman uses around 11,000 tampons during her lifetime. That’s a whole lot of tampons you don’t have to buy and a whole lot of unnecessary waste you can cut down on.

IT’S SO EMPOWERING. Menstrual cups force you to get more comfortable with your body. It’s really an intimate and empowering experience to pull out a silicon cup full of your own blood. Our cycles communicate with us. The blood, the cramps, the mood swings, all of it is necessary for us to understand our bodies better. You may even notice something about the colour of your blood and be able to tell when something seems unusual.

I won’t lie to you, using the cup is really challenging in the beginning (like most things in life). You might spill blood all over yourself, you might accidentally drop it in the toilet, you might even pinch your vagina🤣. So yeah, you won’t be a pro at it right away. It may take a few cycles to really get it down (not to brag, but it took me 2 cycles 😎), so don’t get frustrated. Once you get past the awkward stage and figure out what works for you, it’s actually fantastic.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

How do you insert it?

  • First things first, you have make sure you have washed your hands and that the cup is also sterilised (I’ll address this later).
  • To insert the cup, first, fold it in half (this is called the c-fold) so it creates a taco shape, or use the punch down folding method (I prefer this method).
  • It’s important to relax your muscles when inserting your menstrual cup, so find a comfortable position. You can lie down, squat, sit on the toilet or simply stand up. You’ll find the position that works best for you over time.
  • When you’re inserting your menstrual cup, you need to keep it folded until it is inside of your vagina.
  • Insert the folded menstrual cup and once the entire cup is inside of you, remove your fingers and let it open up.
  • If the menstrual cup has been inserted correctly, you might hear a “pop” or a suction sound which means that the cup has unfolded and created the necessary suction seal. (This is how it stays up)
  • If you’re in doubt, reach in and feel around the base of the cup – it should feel round or oval and not have any noticeable folds (if you can feel any dents or folds on the cup,  you’ll experience leakage).
  • If you feel any dents or folds on the base of your menstrual cup and you’re not sure the suction seal has been created, then gently grip the base of the cup (not the stem) and rotate it to make it unfold. 
  • Once your menstrual cup is in place, try to pull the stem a bit, if you feel resistance, the suction seal has been created and the cup has been inserted correctly.
  • The stem should be completely inside of you. However, we’re all built differently and if the stem pokes out and annoys you, you can trim it (not while inserted please).
  • If it won’t open all the way it could be one of 2 things:
    • The cup is too large for your cervix, so you need a smaller size.
    • It’s not up there far enough.
  • Most good menstrual cup brands offer a couple different sizes. If you’re built more petite like me, you’ll most likely need the small size.

How do you remove it?

Don’t worry, your menstrual cup won’t ever get lost inside you.🤣

  • Again, start out by washing your hands with warm water and a mild soap.
  • Find a comfortable position that works for you: lie down, squat, sit on the toilet or stand up. Being relaxed is essential, as removing your menstrual cup will be more difficult if you tense up.
  • Pull slightly and gently on the stem until you can reach the base. Give the base of the cup a gentle pinch or squeeze (or insert your index finger alongside it) to release the suction seal and ease it out.
  • Don’t try to pull it all the way down with the stem. If the suction is not released and you try pulling it down, it will not feel pleasant, I promise you that. 😂
  • Once you have removed your menstrual cup, empty the collected flow into the toilet or sink and rinse the cup with water (remember to clean the air holes) and re-insert.
  • If you’re in a bathroom without access to clean water, you can use a non-toxic cleansing wipe or toilet paper to clean your cup and rinse it with water at a later time.

How do you clean it?

At the beginning and end of every cycle, I sterilise the cup for 3-5 minutes in boiling water (I have a designated cup I use for sterilising that I keep in the bathroom, don’t use your drinking cups or eating bowls, that’s gross). Please read the instructions of the brand of your cup, some brands may discourage boiling and offer alternative cleaning methods, make sure the brand you chose does allow boiling it.

How do I get rid of stains or discolouration?

This is actually the biggest reason some people end up buying a new cup (as opposed to deterioration). Menstrual fluids are some pretty potent stuff, and over time you’ll notice that there is some discolouration that happens. It’s totally normal and doesn’t affect the functionality of your cup. Once stains happen, there’s no real way to remove them, so the best thing to do is to prolong their accumulation. Washing your menstrual cup between uses and cleaning it properly at the beginning and end of your cycle by boiling it, is the best way to care for it and keep it looking fresh. Some brands also offer the cups in dark colours and in black, so you can buy it in a very dark colour or black to avoid the discolouration being too obvious since it cannot be avoided. 

What about changing it in public places?

This was a common question. I personally avoid having to change it in public places, because it can be messy, and I like to be right next to a sink. So, I plan ahead. If you know you’re going to be at your work all day or away from your home for an extended period of time, simply empty and clean your cup right before you leave for the day. Since it can be left in for 12 hours (depending on your flow), you can usually plan to remove it in the morning and then again closer to bedtime. But should you find yourself compelled to change it in a public bathroom, simply use the toilet paper to wipe it, or carry non-toxic cleansing wipes with you, then clean it with water when you get home. 

Can I wear it when I’m sleeping?

Yes! In fact, if you’re switching to a cup, try sleeping in it at night to get started and use tampons during the day while you’re still getting comfortable. You might want to get up a few minutes early to practice removing it, since there is a learning curve. As long as it’s in there properly, there will be no issues with overnight leakage.

Can I wear it when I’m exercising?

Yes, since the silicon is very flexible and it creates a seal, it will move with you very comfortably. You shouldn’t feel the cup inside you, even when you’re doing physical activity.

Can I wear it during sex?

No, you can’t have sex with a menstrual cup in. The only thing that is sex-friendly that I know of, is the softcup menstrual disc, however, I cannot comment on it as I have not tried it. I haven’t tried it because you can only use the softcup disc for about 3 cycles (depending on the brand) and I haven’t decided if it’s worth spending money on it for tlof tlof if it’s only going to last me 3 months, the jury is still out on that one. Maybe I’ll give it a go one day, but for now, I can’t offer an opinion.

How do you know when the cup is full?

There’s no way to know exactly when the cup is full, so you will want to remove your cup after 3-4 hours the first day you try it. You will see how much is in the cup and based on that, you’ll be able to gauge if you could have left it in much longer or if it was way overdue. Since a menstrual cup can hold 2-8x more than a tampon (this will depend based on the tampon you’re comparing to and the cup size/capacity you have chosen), you can also try to do some quick maths on how often you changed your tampon on your heavy day and double that time, then remove and check to see how full the cup is. Basically, it’s trial and error during your first cycle with the cup. 

Can you feel the cup while wearing it?

No. When worn correctly, it’s completely undetectable.

Is it painful to insert or remove?

No. If it is painful, you’re either not inserting/removing it right, or the cup isn’t the right size for you.

Does it smell?

No. Blood typically only has an odour when it comes into contact with oxygen. That said, if you wear your cup for longer than 12 hours (which you shouldn’t, but shit happens, don’t beat yourself up about it if you do – just change it as soon you remember) you may notice it has a scent once removed, just clean it and you’re good to go.

Will they work with different body sizes and types? 

Absolutely. You just need to figure out what size is right for you. I even asked my gynaecologist if a menstrual cup would work for my body. She assured me that there’s no vagina too big or small to use it.

Can a virgin use a menstrual cup? 

Yes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re sexually active or not. It can break the hymen, but so can playing sports, so… 🤷‍♀️

Is it safe to insert a cup into the vagina? 

Yes, as long as you sterilize it before and after, and store it in a dry cloth bag. Choose a cup made of 100% health/medical grade silicone that is safe to use.

Is it really hygienic to use and reuse a cup? 

Yes. Dare I say even more than using pads/tampons, as long as you keep it clean and take care of it properly.

Is it messy to get it out and clean it? 

It can get messy, especially initially when you’re not used to removing it. The trick is hold it upright as far as possible. But remember, even if it spills, it’s just blood. Easy to clean with water or wet tissue.

What if it leaks? 

It usually pops open and gets sealed on its own when inserted. To double check, move your finger around the base and ensure there are no folds. Trust that it won’t leak, and if you don’t, back it up with a cloth pad/panty liner on your initial cycles until you are comfortable.

What about heavy flow days? 

It works just fine for heavy flow days; you might want to change it more frequently during the first cycle of using it, just to get an idea of how much the cup fills up in a few hours.

Can I put my cup in before my period starts?

Hell yeah! Arguably the best thing about the cup in my opinion. Because the cup doesn’t absorb fluids, it is perfectly safe to put in if you think your period could show up. 

Can I masturbate with a cup in?

Oh yes! In fact, I highly encourage it. External clitoral stimulation of all kinds works great (and orgasms relieve cramps, or so I hear😉😜). You may find that some internal methods work as well but cups do occupy most of your real estate and were not designed to be worn during penetrative intercourse or toy play. So, do with that information what you will.

Can I use a cup for discharge/ cervical fluids?

Yes! Because the cup does not absorb or disrupt the vaginal environment, it is safe to wear before your period starts — or when you’re having particularly heavy discharge days.

Can I go to the bathroom with a cup in?

Yes! Cups do not inhibit any normal functions — with the exception of sex. If you find that your cup moves down from having a bowel movement, it can be nudged up to be back in place. Cups with a firmer base are great for this.

Can I use a cup if I have an IUD?

Yes, however, it is very important that you remain aware of your strings and pinch the base of the cup when removing to break the suction/seal. This should be done for all cup users but it’s especially important for those with an IUD. Please also consult your doctor before venturing on using a cup with an IUD, I did. 

Can I swim with a cup in?

Absolutely! And because menstrual cups have no strings you can feel confident knowing that nothing is hanging out.

What size cup to buy? 

I started with the small size and realized it works just fine for me. The small size is typically for regular flow and large for very heavy flow; the large is also recommend if you’ve given birth. Depending on which brand you’re buying, you can read reviews and their suggested sizes to figure it out. Many brands are also open to walking you through the size selection, so don’t hesitate to message them on Instagram or call them.

Should the stem of the cup (the dangling extension) be kept or cut? 

Each cup comes with a stem at the bottom to make it easier to pull it out. It felt quite uncomfortable for me since apparently my cervix sits high, so I trimmed it a little (don’t remove it completely). After a few cycles, I find it easy enough to push the cup down using my pelvic muscles and pull it out.

How many cups do I need?

You only need one cup at a time. Simply remove, dump contents, wash, and re-insert.

Is it safe to buy a used cup?

Based on my research, apparently it is, as long as you sterilise it when you receive it. Personally, I am not comfortable with that, I would never buy a used cup but hey, to each their own, I guess.

When do I need to buy a new cup?

I suggest replacing your cup only when it shows signs of deterioration, like becoming chalky, cracked, or sticky. A stained cup does not need to be replaced simply due to discolouration. It’s also important to follow the guidelines outlined by the brand you’re using.

Will a cup cause yeast infection or UTI’s?

Infection is a rare complication of menstrual cup use. And when infection does occur, it’s more likely to result from the bacteria on your hands and transferred to the cup than from the actual cup itself. Make sure to wash your cup and hands before and after use.

Can I use the cup if I have a latex allergy?

Yes. Silicone is not a form of rubber or latex and is safe to use for those with a latex allergy. Avoid rubber and latex cups.

How do I store my cup between periods?

Most brands include a small cotton pouch to store the cup in. If you are choosing your own bag, make sure it’s breathable for long term storage.

TIPS FOR MENSTRUAL CUP BEGINNERS

Tip 1: Wear a pantyliner until you feel comfortable
Until you feel 100% comfortable with your menstrual cup, you might want to wear a pantyliner so you don’t have to worry about leaking.

Tip 2: Try to locate your cervix
We all have differently positioned cervices and the cup should be placed below the cervix, if not, it will most likely leak. Try to locate your cervix with your finger, you should feel for a slightly firmer area of tissue and position your cup under it.

Tip 3: Trim the stem of the cup
If you can feel the stem and find it uncomfortable after using the cup a couple of times, you can cut it shorter. However, do not trim the stem while the menstrual cup is inserted!

Tip 4: Practice before your period
No one expects you to be an instant menstrual cup pro, so I recommend you practice inserting and removing your cup before you get your period. 

 Tip 5: Use lubrication
You can use water or a water-based lubricant to make insertion easier.

Tip 6: Do your research
Read the reviews on the different brands and decide which one you are comfortable trying. Research & watch YouTube videos on how to insert and take care of your cup.

Remember, it’s YOUR body. You can do whatever you want. Whatever you choose, it’s your choice and your choice alone. I can only share my experience, and everyone will have something different to share. Keep an open mind, and make the best decision FOR YOU.

I hope this helps you in some way, shape or form. Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

Stay home & Stay Safe.

xoxo, Refiloe 😘

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