After a hefty amount of good ‘ol peer pressure from my wonderful feminist friends, I decided to bite the bullet and make the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. I was so excited. It was bright pink and came in a shiny little draw-string bag, with a nifty little instruction book – all very cute. This was going to revolutionize my period; gone were the days of dreaded tampon strings and crunchy nappy-like pads…or so I thought.
Let me be the first to tell you, there’s absolutely nothing ‘cute’ about a menstrual – or, as I call it, a period cup.
For those who don’t know, a period cup is a small cone made of soft silicon (about 1.5’ in diameter) that sits inside the vaginal canal and catches menstrual blood as it leaves the uterus through the cervix. If that little sentence made you skeeve out, then this article is not for you. The cup has two tiny holes on the rim that creates a little suction to stop it from moving and a little tab at the bottom to pull it out.
Although they seem super new and fancy, the period cup has actually been around since the 1930s. However, in the last two years, I’ve noticed that the period cup has taken center stage on social media – particularly in ecofeminist spaces. An important aspect of feminist activism is menstrual hygiene and creating access to menstrual products.
For years, that activism was focused around pads and tampons, but recently, that has shifted to the infamous period cup.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the kind of image I’m talking about: a smiling pink period cup with some illustrated flowers around it.
Theoretically, these cups are fantastic. If cared for properly, a period cup can last you up to 10 years. Assuming the average menstrual cycle uses 12 tampons and four to five pads, that’s roughly $50 per year. Switching to a $25 menstrual cup effectively saves you over $1000 over the next 25 years. And in doing this you’re also diverting almost 3000 tampons and pads from landfills (each one taking over a century to breakdown).
And that’s not all! (insert a telemarketer voice).
Unlike tampons, there is no risk of toxic shock as the cup catches your blood, as opposed to absorbing it through fibers which get left behind and can become infected later. On top of that, tampons and pads are bleached with chemicals that build up in our bodies in the form of harmful estrogens.
So, yes the pink smiley period cup makes sense here because this all sounds wonderful.
So, what’s the problem, Erin? Well, my fellow menstruator, we haven’t actually discussed how the heck you actually insert this wonderful creation.
The cute little leaflet I received with my period cup read something like this: boil the cup for five minutes in water. Once the cup is cool, fold it in half to make a C and insert (make sure the cup ‘pops’ open) and voila! Easier said than done…
A period cup is at least three times the size of a tampon when folded, one does not just insert. This process requires about three fingers just to keep the damn thing folded and another two to help you navigate. We’re still not done, now we need to get it up to the cervix. This means a lot of direct contact with your genital parts. Now, if that wasn’t enough to freak you out, the cup most probably won’t ‘pop’ open the first few attempts and if it doesn’t open, there’s no suction and you will leak. No ‘pop’, no protection – soz.
Okay, if you’ve managed to power through phase one, you’re a champ and I’m proud of you.
Now we need to talk about phase two, which is pretty great, to be honest. You can leave it in for 12 hours no fuss, but you need to be prepared for leaks (because chances are, you inserted it next to your cervix and not below it) so a pantyliner is a must-have.
You will also experience what feels like tiny air bubbles. You will panic and think your cup is overflowing – it’s not, its just air escaping as the cup fills up. It’s actually good – it means that the suction is working. Moving onto phase three: removal. You can’t just pull the tab and expect it to come out like a tampon. You need to break the suction (squeeze the cup) to get it out.
If you haven’t broken the seal, you will know. Because it will quite literally feel like you’re pulling your uterus out with it. Not ideal.
Once you’ve mastered that maneuver you’re almost in the clear, but we must be mindful that you’re handling a cup of liquid so handle with care (so do this in the shower) and not over your partner’s new bath mat (yeah, that happened). Rinse and repeat.
I know, that was graphic. But don’t be off-put by this. I still use my menstrual cup every month. It’s taught me so much about my body and I love that.
The reality is that period cups aren’t as easy peasy as everyone says and that’s okay. It’s important that we speak about them realistically. It’s important that we speak about our bodies realistically. I love the happy pink period cup pictures because they encourage people with periods to make the switch.
But let’s be careful: we shouldn’t try and glamorize it as the effortless golden solution to the world’s period problems.
How many of you have bought a cup tried it out and never bothered again? Maybe this kind of period positivity is more harmful than helpful?
If this grossed you out, ask yourself: why? Our periods are part of our bodies, we need to stop pretending like they’re not. So try it out, work the steps – but bring out your badass panties, cause that pretty pink period cup is tougher than she looks.