Menstrual cups are not a new concept, of course, I'm just late to the game.
I've been wearing tampons ever since my formative years, and even though my menstrual cycle is something I've been dealing with for practically half of my life at this point, there was always one guaranteed day where I'd get overconfident and wait too long to change, which always resulted in me bleeding all over another pair of underwear. The pile of "period panties" in my drawer kept growing cycle after cycle. You know the pile—they used to be cute, but now they sort of just look like props from the set of Carrie, so you keep them around to use exclusively for those 5 to 7 days.
I had seen advertisements for various menstrual cups in the feminist mags I read growing up, but it wasn't until this year I became intrigued enough to take one on a test drive. A meeting with the Lunette team was what convinced me. All menstrual cups are made with medical grade silicone, but Lunette's ($40; lunette.com) was perfect for a beginner like myself as the material was more flexible, so it would be easier to fold and pop into place.
Using a cup instead of pads or tampons is good news for the environment, as well as your body. Ever have the absolute pleasure of pulling out a dry tampon during the lighter days of your cycle? Aside from the kind of pain that makes you want to kick the back of the bathroom door, this can cause micro-abrasions on your vaginal wall, which, in some cases, could lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome. Some people choose not to use them, as tampons can alter the natural pH and balance of good bacteria to the point that it triggers an infection. That dry tampon feeling is no longer an issue with a cup, since it can be used on both heavy and light days, and neither is the threat of infection thanks to the medical-grade silicone. Menstrual cups can also help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, and as the Lunette team told me, could likely lead to better orgasms.
We're going to get to know each other really well in this post, by the way.
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Prior to using the Lunette cup, I was advised to wash it and sanitize it (you know, just to be safe) by pouring boiling water over the cup and letting it sit for 20 minutes, which is the same way to sanitize the cup at the end of your cycle. I did this the night before my period was scheduled to start, and the entire day at work, I was sort of carrying the cup back and forth to the bathroom in its tiny satin pouch waiting for it to begin. You're instructed to wash your hands before putting in your cup to ensure everything stays pretty clean, and of course after. Of course, my period started the following morning, so I was just washing my hands obsessively and carrying around the cup all day, but inserting it wasn't too difficult once it came time.
I washed my hands, positioned myself accordingly, folded the cup in half, and folded that half into another half before popping it in. This method is commonly referred to as a C-fold, and that was the easiest method for me. The cup should sit just below your cervix to catch the blood, and it sort of pops open on its own once you've placed it correctly. You'll want to double check that it is completely open, but like a tampon, you know you've inserted it correctly if you can't feel it. This was all surprisingly much easier than I thought it would be, until it came time to empty it out.
Once you've developed your menstrual cup skill set, you likely won't have to deal with emptying and cleaning it more than 2 to 4 times a day, considering it holds 12 hours worth of blood. Since I was just starting out, I checked it more frequently to make sure I had done everything correctly, and to sort of gauge my flow. Most menstrual cups have a textured stem on the bottom to help with the removal process, so I began by pulling on that to sort of loosen it to the point that I could grab it by the base and remove it.
I moved it only slightly before I became convinced it was stuck.
When you freak out, the muscles of your vaginal wall tighten, making the cup harder to remove. I had to take a minute to tell myself, breathe and calm the hell down, and then things became slightly easier. I was able to remove it, clean it with the Lunette cup wipes ($6; lunette.com), and re-insert it. You don't necessarily have to clean it every time you remove the cup, you can simply just empty it and wipe it out with a tissue, but the wipes sort of made my life easier. Once I went home, I gave it a full cleaning, and wore the cup through the night with no problem.
For some reason, day 2 using the menstrual cup was more difficult than the first day—I didn't do it correctly in the morning, and you know, my cup had runneth over by the time I got into the office, so there is a definite learning curve. Still, the day after was easier, and so was the one that followed it. I didn't have to check my cup as often as I gained experience, and would give it a full washing in the morning when I woke up, and in the evening when I returned to my apartment.
Aside from my problems on the second day (and the accidental spill when I was trying to clean it out), I might just be a convert. It's certainly a more sustainable option than methods I've tried in the past, and I'll never have to worry about whether or not I threw enough tampons into my handbag to cover the entire day. Once my cycle is through, I'll pour boiling water over the cup and store it away until it's time for us to hang out next month, but never again will I have to yank out another dry tampon and cry in the office bathroom.