Changing to the menstrual cup - what not to worry about

Written by Julia Kendal

Winter is a time to get cosy and chat about the intimate things. Even though it's a normal part of life, menstruation can often be a topic that stays in the dark. But this silence hides the enormous impact that our monthly cycle has on the environment! After chats with friends about the menstrual cup - I decided to see if our concerns were worth worrying about. It's time to bring the ethics surrounding our period into the light...

It was in a Boots pharmacy about ten years ago that I first heard it mentioned in a whisper: the menstrual cup. A friend told me in hushed tones about how she was going to ditch single-use sanitary products in favour of this mysterious cup - apparently it would last for a decade! A couple of months later, this topic resurfaced with another friend. She told me that her cup had been too painful to use, and, as is often sadly the way, it was this negative experience that stayed with me and put me off. For ten years…

Until 2017 that is, when my discontent with the number of tampons and sanitary pads I was sending to landfill each month overcame my fear of the cup. Most women will have about 450 cycles in their lives, and will use a combination of tampons and sanitary pads to manage them. If you use just tampons, you'll use more than 11,000 over your whole life. And those 11,000 have to go somewhere. If you flush your tampon or applicator down the toilet, they could be one of the 27,938 that were collected in just one day by Ocean Conservancy volunteers in 2013. If you throw them in the bin, they'll end up in landfill. Every year, over 45 billion feminine hygiene products are discarded around the world.

But there are alternatives to this use-once throw-away routine: reusable sanitary pads/pants, or menstrual cups. The time had come for me to try out a cup and wear reusable pads for back up. And, after ten years of building up to this moment, it has been... uneventful. Which is exactly what I want from my monthly cycle! Let me tell you, in the most 'matter of fact' way possible, how all of my concerns about using the menstrual cup ebbed away…

Myth 1: “It will hurt”
After my friend's experience, this was my main concern. And it was completely unfounded. Once inserted, I didn't feel a thing! The key to this is to make sure that you get the right size, which depends upon, for example, your age or whether you've given birth vaginally. Check the sizing instructions of the brand you buy from before going to the checkout. I did, and the fit has been fine. Some companies like OrganiCup, offer a 90-day return period, so you can try it for a few cycles to learn if it's right for you.

Myth 2: “It's inconvenient”
Menstrual cups hold up to three times more than regular tampons, so give you longer lasting protection. Once you're familiar with how often it needs emptying, you'll barely need to empty it when you're out and about. And, even if you do, it's actually not that bad. I was envisioning dealing with a scene from a horror movie in my work bathroom, but it was fine. You can empty the cup into the toilet, wipe it with wet paper, and reinsert it. No big deal.

Myth 3: "It's too expensive”
True, the initial outlay is more. Menstrual cups usually come in at around £40 but should last at least a decade. If you go for using just reusable sanitary pads, you'll probably need about 12 for your cycle, which could cost about £60 in total. However, the average British woman spends £13 every month on sanitary products, according to a survey of 2,134 British women. So, if I'd started using a menstrual cup when I first heard about it, I could have saved about £1500 over the last ten years. Ouch!

Myth 4: “It’s messy and disgusting”
Yes, the menstrual cup is more hands on than using tampons or disposable pads. But that isn't a bad thing. According to the Eve Appeal - the UK's only national charity fighting women's gynaecological cancers - nearly half of women can't locate the cervix or the vagina. Using a menstrual cup means you get to know your body better. This not only breaks down taboos your own about this buried topic, but also helps our long term health.

Myth 5: "I will leak"
Well it shouldn't, if it fits and has been inserted properly. There is loads of helpful advice online about how to make sure it's sitting snugly. As I said, I wore reusable pads for back-up, and probably will continue to for peace of mind during the heavier days of my period, but I didn't have any problems. My white underwear and trousers remain intact, and a three-mile run didn't even dislodge it.

Julia is not the only one who made the swap to the menstrual cup, check out Taylor’s experience in her blog. If you’re more interested in less invasive options - check out our blog on period pants instead!

Photo by Oana Cristina on Unsplash