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About the Menstrual Cup

Menstruation is a taboo subject. I have been on environment related groups and mailing lists for donkey’s years and I first heard of the cup less than a year back. People, even those seriously involved with environment and waste management related issues, simply do not talk about this one thing.

Which led me to wonder about how many women, lay women who have not been on environment or waste management related forums, knew about cups and their benefits. I hope this post can serve as an introduction to the menstrual cup.

So let us begin with the question “What is the cup?” Simply put, it is a silicone cup, which is the same material as the teat or nipple on a baby’s bottle and also roughly the same size. It is inserted into the vagina where it collects menstrual fluid. At regular intervals, it is emptied and cleaned. At the end of the cycle, it is a good idea to sterilize it and that’s it. It can be reused for five years or so.

Going on to the question, Why the cup? We seem to have been doing ok with pads all this while. Why are we even talking about this thing? Here are my reasons:

  • It is gentle on the planet. Nothing to dispose of. And it takes less water to wash than reusable cloth pads.
  • It is gentle on people who clean up after us. When I was using pads, I used to wrap them in paper and put into a plastic lined bin. Then, I would duct tape the bag shut and dispose of it. After washing and hand-sanitizing myself I used to guilt trip about the housekeeping staff handling the bag of unmentionables. Not to mention the poor folks lower down the waste chain that I see in the trash truck ripping open our bags of trash and sifting through the contents, sorting stuff. Now I can stop worrying about all of them and watch the good karma points pile up!
  • It is much cheaper in the long run of course.
  • It has amazing potential as a solution in developing countries being cheaper and easier to clean and quicker to dry. Unlike cloth pads, the cup is discreet when it comes to washing and drying. It would give women privacy, dignity, freedom and hygiene.
  • Menstrual cups are associated with a reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome.
  • If you are athletically or sportily inclined, you can swim and gym and run quite freely on those days.

Ok, intensely personal reasons coming up now. Please excuse the gushing.

  • You can’t feel it’s even there! There are no touch sensors (my words) inside the vagina. Just at the mouth of it. So once it is in, you cannot feel the cup. Just like you cannot feel your stomach or your bladder. Last cycle, I had put in the cup before going to work as I was expecting Aunt Flo shortly and it wasn’t till I came home and removed the cup prior to showering that I realized she had arrived early in the morning!
  • It is super clean. I remember how yucky it used to feel washing up there during those days. Now it is like any other day. Unlike the pad which by design spreads the fluid evenly up and down, the cup contains things till it is time to empty it. So the rest of you always feels clean and dry.
  • And the last one is a real gem. The cup was prototyped in the 19th century but a patent was filed on the modern version of the cup in 1937 by American actress Leona Chalmers. She mentions in her patent application that the design allowed women to wear “thin, light, close fitting clothing” without belts, pins or buckles that could show. End of argument!

It’s an unfamiliar concept. Radical even, and I’m sure there are a lot of questions that come to mind. Like,

If the cup is so great why haven’t I heard of it before?
Paragraph one is one reason. Also, I suspect economics might have something to do with it. A businessman who has a captive market spending hundred bucks a month sees an alternative that costs – without economies of scale – some 700 bucks for 5 years. I can see that businessman running as fast as he can in the other direction. The astonishing thing really is that we have so many brands and choices when it comes to the cup!

The cup sounds like it is really small. How often do I have to empty it?
When I saw the cup first I thought it was really big and put it away in a cupboard for eight months out of pure fear. I regret that now but the truth is it is neither too big nor too small but, as goldilocks would say, just right! The sogginess of my pads on my high flow days deceived me into thinking I was bleeding much more than I actually do. Now that I can see how much, I realize it is only about two cup-full a cycle– if I ever let it fill that much! Mostly I try and empty once in 6 hours or so.

Is it convenient emptying it in public restrooms?
I am one of the ones that avoid using public restrooms even otherwise. I have changed in office and at home and it was fairly easy. At work I carry a small bottle of clean water in a bag and rinse the cup, wipe dry and re-insert. It doesn’t have to be fussier than that. At home though I usually wash it well with soap every time. Most people just rinse with clean water. All of the above are fine.

Does it leak?
If inserted properly, no. See we fold the cup into a ‘C’ shape, or a ‘7’ shape or in the ‘punch down fold’ before inserting. So we need to ensure it has opened up once in. Once open, it forms a tight seal against your vaginal muscles and does not allow for leakages.

Does it, ugh, flow back into the uterus when I lie down?
I’m no expert but I don’t think so. The cervix should block backflow, right?

Does it not lead to infections?
Again, I am no expert but I can point you to safety studies here.

Can it be used along with an IUD?
Once again, no expert but based on my research it can. With a few precautions which you should probably research for yourself.
It feels yucky inserting and taking stuff out of there L
I was with you on that. But if you can get past the mental block and the initial discomfort and all that, it feels quite liberating to me at least to be better acquainted with my own body. But this one is a personal thing.

Could I drop it in the loo?
It has happened to people. I know since I have read on the net about it. So I have made an effort to be really, really extra careful and that’s not happened to me so far.

All positives here. Has anyone given a thumbs down to the cup?
Oh yes! There was a recent article on huffington post that filled me with dismay. Their reach is enormous and I was sorry to think of all the women who might hear about the cup, probably for the first time in such a negative light. At the same time, if it is not for you it is not! If you are truly uncomfortable inserting and removing the cup, or if you have butter fingers and drop stuff, the cup is probably likely to be more a pain than a blessing like it is for most people.

Is there anything else I need to know?
The net has a wealth of information on menstrual cups. This write-up was intended only as an introduction. Do read up. Here are a few resources:

  1. Menstrual Cups, Cloth Pads (MMCP)
  2. Sustainable Menstruation India
  3. FAQs on Mooncup
  4. Videos on Menstrual Cups

To end, I would like to say that I have been using the cup the last couple of months and I am never ever going back to pads! Like Ever!

And I hope this post has helped explain what a cup is and motivated you to read up a bit more and hopefully consider it as a possible alternative to disposable pads. Happy periods!

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