So… I switched to a menstrual cup

I’ve decided to be a functioning member of society and switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. Fair warning — I wanted to share my true experience with you, so this article might not be for the faint-hearted.

I’m definitely not one of those people who look forward to getting my period, and I definitely don’t see it as a blessing from Mother Nature or as something to be enjoyed and cherished. I also won’t be talking in euphemisms, so don’t expect any mentions of Aunt Flo or the Period Fairy.

To me, my period has always been torture and if I could take a week off from work every month and just stay in bed (or in a warm bath) until it’s over, I 100% would. But I digress… The point of this article is to inform you of how a period cup stacks up against tampons or pads, and to share my personal experiences with anyone who’s considering making the switch as I did.

(I just want to make it clear from the beginning, since this turned out to be quite a long article, that after all my woes set out below, I did decide to keep using the cup going forward. Even though my first few experiences I wrote about below might make it sound like I would never put myself through that again, I eventually got the hang of the whole business and I’m not planning on going back to tampons any time soon.)

The Numbers

First things first; us girls spend a LOT of money on sanitary products in a year. I asked around our office and most of the ladies here buy between one and three boxes of tampons each month. Even if you buy on three-for-two specials, that still works out to be between R50 and R150 per month. That’s almost R2 000 per year that we flush down the toilet! Now, some of us can afford to spend that kind of money to ensure comfort, but if you think of underprivileged women, schoolgirls and even students or young professionals, that’s a lot of money to be spending on something you only use for a couple of hours a day, a few days a week.

Another big factor to consider is the environmental impact that sanitary products have. Think about it; if every woman uses between 12 and 36 tampons per period and each one is individually shrink-wrapped in their boxes, that ends up being a lot of plastic and cardboard that many people won’t recycle. And even though most bathrooms have signs asking for sanitary products to be placed in the bins provided, many women will still flush their tampons or pads, which adds to pollution.

My Story

Now that I’ve covered the reasons why I decided to switch, it’s time for me to tell you about my experience. First of all, I didn’t know where to begin looking for a menstrual cup. I went to a few pharmacies and health shops in the area, but to no avail. Eventually, I found mine on Takealot for R250, with my package arriving within a few days of me ordering — not bad!

If you think R250 is a lot for a piece of plastic, which it kind of is, think about it this way: If you take care of your cup, you can use it for up to 10 years! This one-time investment can save you up to R1 750 in just one year! Secondly, it’s not really just a piece of plastic. Most cups are made of medical-grade silicone, are latex-free, hypoallergenic, and contain no dyes, BPA, phthalates, plastic, bleaches or toxins.

Take note: most cups come in different sizes, which is something I didn’t know. After a bit of digging, I found out that women under the age of 30 who haven’t given birth are recommended to use a size small cup, while women over 30 or women who have given birth (vaginally or by C-section) should use sizes medium or large.

So anyway, my (small) cup arrived, and when I first saw the box, I was shocked at how big it was. Sure, I read the reviews and product descriptions saying that the cup can hold up to 15 ml of liquid, but a shot glass can hold 25 ml, and this was quite a bit bigger than your average shot glass. It also had this weird dangly bit that I had no idea what to do with, but I decided to read up a bit more before I intimidated myself by overthinking too much. Luckily was cup is super soft and flexible, which set my mind at ease. I snapped a few pics of my brand new (unused) cup and waited for my period to start.

So it begins

The day has arrived. I woke up grumpy, crampy and had a very good facsimile of the flag of Japan on my white sheets. I got out of bed 15 minutes earlier than usual, and headed to the bathroom to figure out how this period cup actually works. In hindsight, I should have read the pamphlet and done my googling when I was fully awake and not about to be late for work, but unfortunately I only realised this too late. Luckily I sterilised my cup in boiling water before going to bed, so I didn’t have to do that as well. According to most of the sources I could find, the first few times using a cup can be difficult, but so what? I struggled the first few times using tampons, and this couldn’t be that different, could it?

Yes. It totally could.

So there I was at 5:45 am locked in my bathroom with the pamphlet in one hand, the cup in the other hand and my foot on the edge of the sink. I squatted, I spread, I bent and I sat, but it felt like there was no way I was going to get this cup where it should be before I had to leave for work. I googled all the different ways that you can fold the cup up (you don’t just stick it in straight as is), and eventually, ten minutes after I usually leave for work, almost sobbing with frustration, suddenly – pop! – the cup was in.

Remember the weird dangly thing I mentioned earlier? That threw me for a loop. It was sticking out, and according to the pamphlet, the cup should fit snug with no exposed parts. Did I mess up? Did I do something wrong? As it turns out, that’s there to help you locate the cup when it’s time to remove it, and you’re supposed to trim it before your first use. Oh well, I’d cross that bridge in the evening when I took the cup out for cleaning.

It might be stuck

When I got home after work, my 12 hours of wear were up. Yes, you read that right, you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours without worrying! No more sneaking off to the bathroom with a tampon clutched in hand, no more rummaging through my (admittedly too big) handbag looking for lost tampons, I could do this all in the privacy of my own home! So anyway, I got home and locked myself in the bathroom again, this time to empty the cup. Surely it couldn’t be harder to take it out than it was putting it in? I hadn’t yet snipped the weird dangly thing, so I should be golden.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I thought I had mastered the cup, but there I was, tugging at the piece of plastic as one does with a tampon string, but nothing was happening. Eventually, after a few minutes of fruitless and uncomfortable tugging, I turned back to my old friend Google. As it turns out, the extra piece of plastic isn’t there to pull on to remove the cup, it’s just so you can locate the cup. Once you’ve located the cup, you’re supposed to gently squeeze the bottom of the cup to break the suction-like seal that forms. Cool. I’ve got this.

I did not have this.

I kept squeezing but to no avail; this thing was suctioned so hard I could barely budge it. Eventually, I found a hack saying you should squeeze and twist, which helps break the seal. After a few long minutes of squeezing and twisting, I had gotten to know myself much more intimately than I ever thought possible. Finally, after what felt like hours of digging, I managed to break the seal and empty the cup.

Now, I’ve always had heavy periods, but there was a lot of blood. Like, a LOT a lot. I started wondering if I might actually be bleeding to death, but apparently, in the beginning, it just looks like a lot since we’re not used to seeing all the blood from a whole day’s period at once. I rinsed the cup with lukewarm water (no need for sterilisation between uses), cut the wildly unhelpful “locator” thing off, and reinserted my cup before going to bed. I was proud of myself, this time it only took me about 5 minutes to put it back in. I was definitely improving!

It’s definitely stuck

After one of the most peaceful nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time, since I didn’t have to get up two or three times a night to change my tampon, or stress about waking up looking like something out of a horror movie, I woke up early again to tackle my second cup removal.

For the third time in two days, I locked myself in the bathroom, this time full of confidence. I’m a strong, independent woman and I can totally do this! (Once again, I could totally not do this.) I spent much, much longer trying to get the cup out than the day before. I spent so much longer this time that I was seriously late for work. I’m usually there about 20 minutes before anyone else comes in, just because my fear of being late has pushed me over the edge in the other direction. So I decided to give up for the time being and head to the office.

Once I got to work, I locked myself in the bathroom (again) and started searching the internet for advice. Most articles told me to just relax and try again later, but I had a problem: my cup runneth over. A lot of advice about relaxing was found; to quote “a stressed vagina is a tense vagina”. My vagina was definitely tense — and so was I. The longer I stayed in the bathroom the weirder it would be when I went back to my desk. At the time, it was only me and my one (male) coworker there, and he had definitely noticed that I had been in the bathroom for about half an hour.

Eventually, I found out that the cup can move up while you’re sleeping, so the best thing to do is to walk around a bit and go about your day for around 30 minutes until it has had the opportunity to move back down again. Perfect, I’ll just walk around the office like a crazy person a bit and try again! About two hours after I first tried to remove the cup, I could finally get a proper hold on it, twist and squeeze, and get it out. Once again, I was shocked by how much blood there was. There was no time to sit around and think about it though – I had already missed about an hour of work! I rinsed my cup, put it back in (easy breeze after what I had just experienced) and went about my day.

The End Result

You’d think after this whole ordeal I would switch back over to tampons, but I was changed. After that experience, I had put too much into this experiment to back away now! And I’m glad I didn’t give up. Since then, it’s been smooth sailing for me! I’ve used it two months in a row and haven’t had any further incidents except the ones mentioned above. It’s surprisingly easy to get used to, and the fact that the cup can be put in and forgotten for 12 hours has seriously changed my life. Even on my heaviest days I still only put it in before work and clean it before bed with no discomfort, stress, leakage or odd feelings.

Would you switch to a menstrual cup? Do you have any questions about my experiences? Feel free to ask me in the comments below!

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