Why I Stepped It Up and Switched To the Cup

Don’t read this article if intimate stories relating to female anatomy give you the squirms. Don’t read it if your personal, environmental footprint isn’t that personal to you. Don’t read it if you prefer to live with your head in a box.

Do read this article if you’re a woman. Do read it if you’re a man — one with a daughter, or a wife, or a sister, or a mother, or girlfriends in general, who might not mind ‘unsolicited’ advice about their personal care choices. Read this if the future of our planet and your impact on it matters to you. Read it if you believe consumers can bring about significant change through their purchase behaviour.

 

THE WASTEFUL PERIOD

 

Did you know a single woman will use an average of 14 000 tampons or sanitary pads in her lifetime? Imagine that mound of unfortunate waste in a landfill, if it even makes it there. Waste that only exists because ‘she’ didn’t know of a better way to part with it. The ironic reality is a woman’s monthly cycle is not the wasteful part, merely the peculiar method with which we have become accustomed to ‘capturing’ and disposing of it.

Fortunately, the exposure of another solution entirely is heavily on the rise.

 

HEARD OF THE MENSTRUAL CUP?

 

As the name suggests, this solution of managing menstrual flow is done not by means of disposable sanitary products but through a multi-use silicone grade, flexible cup. You might know it by another name: MeLuna, Moon Cup, Diva Cup, Goddess Cup, Fleur Cup. I was surprised to find how many varieties were already on the market, and even more so when I realised how long they’d been available.

The US manufactured cup, The Keeper, was in fact introduced to market in 1987 already! I can only assume the plethora of disposable sanitary products available on supermarket shelves have held the monopoly for marketing all these many years. If you think about it, it’s a marketer’s dream product. It targets half the population on a monthly basis (not by choice), requiring a solution is unavoidable, and since the marketed solution was a ‘consumed product’, said target group is hooked by dependency, month after month, year after year.

Thankfully since the uptake of the first silicone grade, UK manufactured cup in 2002, The Moon Cup, and the increasing awareness on living sustainably in all areas of life, there is little reason to remain uninformed.

 

HOW THE CUP WORKS

 

There’s sufficient information on the web on this already, even some very helpful demo videos and product comparisons, for me to not need to go into detail here. Essentially it’s a flexible silicone cup, that, by means of dexterous fingering (yes, I just said that) is inserted into the vaginal canal, where it sits snuggly, collecting your cycle’s released fluids until you need to remove it, empty it out, rinse or wipe clean and re-insert.

 

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER IT

 

There is a detailed list of considerations for switching to the menstrual cup on Wikipedia. In short:

Will it save you money? For sure. If you’re spending an average of R100 monthly, one menstrual cup which can be used for 10 years, will save you about R12 000. That’s more than a flight to Europe.

Will you reduce your wasteful impact on the environment? Absolutely. The average sanitary product takes 25 years to begin breaking down, and you would be contributing thousands upon thousands in your life. One cup can last a decade if looked after.

In my experience, some self-lived honesty is a more effective way of transition a concept from ‘vague notion’ to something ‘genuinely worth considering’. Over the last 3 years of using the cup, I’ve amassed enough of this to share a more relatable version of life with the cup. I hope, at the very least, it will make the concept seem less intimidating the next time your cycle rolls around and you’re shelling out another hundred bucks on sanitary products (money better spent on chocolates).

But enough about the theory. As Olivia Newton John says, “Let’s get physical.”

 

THE BEGINNINGS OF SHY VERSUS CURIOUS

 

I grew up in a household not particularly perturbed by physical intimacy or awkwardness, nor making a big deal from everyday things. When womanhood knocked on my door, my mom handed me a box of tampons and told me to get comfortable with my body.

“Welcome to the curse,” she said with just a tiny smattering of empathy and closed the bathroom door.

Little-girl-me stared horrified and wide-eyed for a moment, wondering why I was getting a stash of tiny torpedo-shaped devices when all my friends had the friendly-looking, un-invasive, winged contraptions.

She interjected something about an instruction manual with pictures and that she would be right there if I didn’t come right. Not awkward at all.

After the initial horror and months of adjusting, I was secretly grateful to my mom. As invasive as tampons were to a young girl, they offered me far more freedom and flexibility than my friends had when it came to playing sport and wardrobe options.

When knowledge of the MoonCup filtered into my life almost fifteen years later, the first barrier to… erm… entry — getting over the physicality of it all — no longer bothered me. Thanks again, mom. I was more curious and intrigued. But in having shared my experience with friends, the ‘eeek-factor’ is clearly one of the main hesitations to using a menstrual cup. And I can only think this must stem from how your menstrual journey started.

KNOW THYSELF

 

What a strange thing to say in this context, right? It’s more often touted in reference to spiritual growth or conviction in vocational direction. Consider this. Your physical body journeys through life with you daily. It reflects your likes and dislikes, your lifestyle choices and even a barometer on your health.

If you don’t know what your body feels like when in a healthy, normal state, how will you detect abnormalities in time? If you don’t know how to tickle your own pleasure buttons, how can you ever share that level of vulnerability with your partner? There are myriad benefits towards getting over the eek factor. But if your womanhood story began with the winged contraptions I was never initially privy to, I can understand your resistance. It’s not what you know. But ask yourself this. Are you really going to let your self-shyness be the reason more and more preventable waste ends up in landfills? And is it a logical mental block to have if you’ve already been intimate with a partner or plan to or have already given birth to a human being. Surely, no.

 

SOME LOGISTICAL TRUTHS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE USING THE CUP

 

There are two basic ways to fold the cup for easy insertion. One version looks like a C-shape, the other one feels like a ninja origami move and, in my opinion, works better. Watch a handful of YouTube demo videos and thank the brave women who came before you for sharing this. Then get stuck in, literally.

  • It is a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. You can feel something odd-shaped wedged up inside you. Fiddle with how far you insert it and how you fold it. One will feel better for you. Stick with it — the initial oddity of it goes away.
  • It takes a few cycles to get used to it. I experienced some sensitivity, in the beginning, not being able to keep it inserted for the full 4-8 hours. Use a mixture of the cup and whatever else you’re familiar with in the beginning. Be kind to your body and it will be kind to you. I believe resisting it emotionally will manifest in more physical tension and discomfort.
  • It’s more convenient in bathrooms where the sink is within reach. Because you’re essentially tipping out the contents and giving it a rinse, the nearness of a sink is logical. But, once you get it right, and providing you don’t have an extremely heavy flow, you’ll probably only need to insert it in the morning and again in the evening, or perhaps once during the day. Home and most work bathrooms luckily offer that privacy. It’s not essential to rinse, you can just wipe it out with loo paper, but that’s my preference. You can also keep a little spray bottle with you to clean it out.

 

WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN USING THE CUP

 

  • Do NOT forget to wash your hands before. I had been using the cup for only 3 months when a particularly awkward dinner prep incident arose that involved the chopping of chillies, an ensuing string of mini disasters, followed by a desperate break for the loo. There may or may not have been extreme squealing and yoghurt involved. The dinner friend and I never quite recovered from it.
  • Don’t forget to pack it away. Because it becomes a little bit like a regular guest in your bathroom routines, not unlike your toothbrush and razor, it also sometimes ends up hanging out in the shower where you last cleaned it. It’s fine when spontaneous house guests get to see your preference for rosemary shampoo. This, perhaps not so much.
  • Don’t panic when it’s removal time. This bit also takes a fair amount of getting used to. Because of the way the cup stays in, with the use of minor suction, you cannot get it out by simply tugging on the extension or tail as it’s called. It won’t budge. It’s also physically impossible for it to disappear somewhere into your body. Remain calm, read the instructions, release the seal by denting base with one finger and then gently fold it and manoeuvre it out sideways, semi seated over the loo, where you can just tip the contents out. Good work out for your thighs.
  • Don’t get grossed out. So, the contents aren’t contained in a solid substance, easily and quickly disposable of so you don’t have to acknowledge its existence. This is better — it’s flushable. It’s no different to your spit, urine, sweat, tears, vomit, pus or any otherwise peculiar fluids our human forms require to exist and heal. Accept it for what it is and put on your big girl panties.

 

NOW FOR THE WONDERFUL NEWS

 

Using a reusable menstrual cup has changed my life, and countless other women’s lives, if you spend some time reading product page reviews. Here’s an overview:

  • I spend exactly zero on my monthly cycle. Not on sanitary products, not on pain numbing Nurofens, not on insane amounts of pastry to satisfy my cravings.
  • I experience no more pain. I can’t give you a scientific or medical explanation for this but my extreme lower back pain and internal cramps all but went away. Whether previously it was a toxic shock response to non-organic tampons, I can’t say for certain. Some believe the very gentle under-pressure (like a very mild suction) caused by the cup in the lining eases the work the uterus needs to do of expelling your menstrual fluid. But it’s a wonderful side benefit indeed. (caveat: I do take magnesium and zinc regularly too)
  • I have complete lifestyle freedom. I can go on full day hikes, do all manner of very regular yoga classes and yoga teaching, hours of meditation, surf, long-haul flights you name it. The infrequency of needing to change it and the pain alleviation are massively liberating. It really makes you forget you have your period while you’re having it.
  • I have a crystal clear conscience. I shudder to think how many years I ignorantly added to the growing and unnecessary pile of badly disposed of natural human body waste. But when you know better you do better, and this lifestyle change has made me feel holistically lighter.

 

PARTING THOUGHTS

 

So, what makes you more uncomfortable? The thought of having to acknowledge your own bodily fluids and intimate regions? Or ignoring a potentially super easy waste-free living solution because it requires a little ‘grit and commit’? (another small caveat: this isn’t a solution for all women, depending on the shape of your body, whether you have a condition known as pelvic organ prolapse, or are using an IUD)

If you think that the more or less finite number of accumulated sanitary waste stops with you and that you’d rather lighten your footprint in other ways, I’d like to point out to you that the buck doesn’t stop with you.

If you choose not become an advocate for a more sustainable feminine hygiene change, then you likely won’t teach your daughter to be one and she won’t teach her daughter and so you become a passive contributor to a ripple effect, where, in truth, an enormous power for change does lie with you.

Be brave. Be a goddess. Be one with Mother Nature. No being on this planet was created with the intention of it causing harm to the cycles of life. Your beautiful, natural, feminine cycle really doesn’t need to either.

Take a look at the Goddess Cup and Moon Cup here, as well as new arrivals the Lunette & Merula Cup.

23 Replies to “Why I Stepped It Up and Switched To the Cup”

  1. I also used a menstrual cup and found it quite uncomfortable until I got the advice to turn it inside out. That solved it. It put in more easily, opened up better and I didn’t even know it was there.

    1. Hi Louise,

      Gosh, turning it inside out? I’ve never heard of that one. Which make were you using? Either way, I’m glad you found a tip to transition to using the cup. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I have been using a MoonCup for about 14 years and would never go back to the enslavement of sanitary products.
    I loved my cup from the offset and would blurt out my enthusiasm at the most inappropriate moments…gushing about it at dinner parties doesn’t always get you a repeat invitation!
    I felt such a sense of freedom that I wanted to share that with other women.
    Not only are you saving the planet and doing right by your body and pocket; you are liberating yourself from the mess and fuss associated with sanitary products. No more desperately accosting strangers in public toilets asking if they have a spare one or feeling that disturbing wet-string sensation.
    I swim, yoga, dance, climb and embarrass myself without the slightest care about my nether regions.
    I do concur on the chopping chillies front…not advisable if you’re about to touch intimate skin.
    Having my period becomes so delightfully straightforward, I can get on with my life as usual.
    Take the plunge if you haven’t already. Get over yourself, know yourself and give two fingers to the sanitary industries and the tax we pay on top of the cost for just being women.

    1. Hi Protasia,

      Thanks for the comment. Being a virgin doesn’t limit you from using the cup, just as it wouldn’t limit you from using tampons. It might take a little more practice and you will definitely want to start with the smallest size. Here are a few links that might provide you with a bit more information. I commend you on being brave enough to try the cup!
      https://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/1243131.html
      https://menstrualcupinfo.wordpress.com/virgins-and-menstrual-cups/
      https://www.lunette.com/blogs/news/teens-menstrual-cups-tips-for-first-time-use

  3. Yip, the best move I have ever made…. been using the Moon Cup for a few years as well… it was awkward in the beginning, but I got used to it very quickly…. more convenient, and as mentioned in the article… no more painful periods for some or other weird reason… my flow is now regular as well… I still do yoga, swim, and all is good. Also the expense involved in the other products… non existent.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      If you remove your cup carefully over the loo, any spillage won’t cause a problem. But if you’re worried about it being harder to remove when it gets too full (say on the heaviest days of your cycle) you could remove it more frequently to begin with until you get a feel for your cycle’s flow rate and develop the dexterity to remove the cup effortlessly. Regarding leakage, you may experience some of this in the beginning – if it’s not fitted correctly, meaning the ‘suction’ seal isn’t intact. But during the transition, you could still use sanitary towels until you get the hang of it. x

  4. It is time we moved past – “Don’t get grossed out. Accept it for what it is and put on your big girl panties” … really really… really if you are going to re-educate woman and call the cup Goddess Cup then please rather tell us how normal, divine and “sacred” our menstrual blood actually is.. comparing it to your spit, urine, sweat, tears, vomit, pus… come on!!! we have moved far past this comparison… way past it… this is the time of the divine feminine… where the womb is the sacred center.. and yes our moon cycles are beautiful..

    1. Hi Sharon, I love that you hold this view and feel passionate and comfortable enough to share it. When I wrote this piece, my intention wasn’t to re-educate anyone on how they should feel about their monthly cycle. I personally believe living in alignment with our cycles offers an immense amount of power. That being said, I didn’t make the switch because I thought my cycle was sacred. I did it out of concern for the environment and the waste I was incurring because I was raised to see menstrual blood as unsightly, something to be ‘gotten rid of’ in a way that required least engagement. I overcame the ‘grossness factor’ (which is, unfortunately, something our society and many cultures impose on us from a young age) by simply putting menstrual blood in the same category as all other bodily fluids. I don’t feel that comparing it to sweat, urine, spit and tears diminish it in any way – after all, all those things are of us too.

      But in order to nudge the doorway open for women who still rely on disposable sanitary products and to rather consider making the switch to the less environmentally wasteful Mooncup or Goddess Cup, I chose to share my personal journey, my truth, as honestly as I could.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I don’t know that I’ll take the plunge unit I hear a review from someone with a very heavy period :/

    1. Hi Leanna,

      Sanitary pads are a great starting place for all young women, this enables them to know their own flow, as well as get used to the idea of having a period. There are some great organic, biodegradable ones available on the site (https://www.faithful-to-nature.co.za/natracare/). For a more comprehensive answer regarding the correct starting age, I think it is best to contact Mooncup directly: https://www.mooncup.co.uk/contact-mooncup/.

  6. There is a definite lack of advertising about the menstrual cup, and they aren’t exactly available at your neighbourhood pharmacy either. But several companies like Boondh, SheCup, and Diva Cup, offer menstrual cups online, in a range of different sizes and prices. So ladies, do thorough research on the right one for you, and take your pick!

    Lack of information, coupled with the general taboo surrounding the topic of periods in India, has an entire country’s women skeptical to make the switch. However, the conversation and acceptance around the menstrual cup is slowly increasing. So do your research about this eco-friendly and cost-effective device

  7. I’ve been battling with the Goddess cup (medium size) for over a year – it just won’t open properly and it leaks after half an hour. I work from home so I’m determined to get it right – please post any links or tips on troubleshooting this? Could I perhaps need a smaller size? I’m wondering if this brand is simply not for me – maybe I should try a different one?

    1. Hi Sam,
      There are softer cups available. Some women can only use firm cups and some just can’t. I would not say it is the cup size affecting you.
      Hope you have found a cup or a solution by now, as I know your question was posted quite some time ago.

  8. You inspired me to start using the cup!! Thank you so much! I experienced very little discomfort and my period was a lot shorter and painful than it usually is. I was pleasantly surprised and very sorry that I haven’t used this before, just think of the all the waste I sent to the landfill every month. I was so impressed with the menstrual cup, I sent an email to female managers in our organisation to start issuing it to females as part of the PPE or at least to just spread the word, holding thumbs it pans out!

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