I Tried a Menstrual Cup—Here’s What Happened
Ah, the period care aisle: Between the plastic applicators, scented pads, perfumed tampons and inordinate amount of plastic waste (how much individual wrapping do we need?), it’s enough to make a burgeoning environmentalist weep in the middle of Walgreens. Add to that the monthly expense and the inconvenience of always running out of tampons right when you need them most, and you may feel less like weeping and more like screaming. After nearly three decades of managing my periods the conventional way, I decided the time had come to switch things up. I recently tried a menstrual cup in place of my conventional period care. Here’s what happened.
How Does a Menstrual Cup Work?
A menstrual cup is a soft, flexible cup made of silicone that you wear internally like a tampon—only instead of absorbing blood like the cotton fibers in tampons, the cup collects it. Just like a tampon, once the menstrual cup is in, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. It will stay in place because of the seal that forms between the cup’s exterior and the walls of your vagina. You can safely wear a cup for up to 12 hours, though depending on your flow, you’ll need to empty it as needed and then re-insert it. Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years (hello, savings) and cut down significantly on the environmental impact of conventional period care (no more weeping at Walgreens!).
Test Driving the Cup
Full disclosure: I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing for this publication Amber Fawson and Cherie Hoeger, co-founders of Saalt Co.—makers of a menstrual cup made of medical grade-silicone—and theirs was the cup I chose to buy. I waited for my period to arrive, and then opened my new menstrual cup. As per the instructions, I boiled the cup for five minutes to sterilize it, taking care to hold it with tongs so it wouldn’t touch the bottom of the pan. Then, I placed the cup on a clean paper towel and headed to the bathroom, ready to get acquainted with my cup.
After running my cup under cool water to lubricate it a bit, it was time for a test drive. Saalt’s cup comes with detailed instructions on how to insert the cup for the first time. As someone who never reads instruction manuals (I once assembled a new vacuum cleaner only to discover I had more than a half a dozen screws left over and just decided to hope for the best), I figured I better pay attention to these instructions; this was my vagina, and when it comes to my vagina, I don’t want any surprises.
I chose the “C fold,” as it’s referred to in the manual, and sat on the toilet, figuring this was the path of least resistance. I gently inserted the cup and, per the manual, pushed it in until it felt slightly lower than where I would want my tampon to be. Then I let go so the cup could expand from the “C fold” into its full cup shape.
This was where things got a little tricky. I had to make sure the folds of the cup were smoothed out, which meant feeling around the edges of the cup with my thumb and index finger. I thought I felt a few concave edges, so I had to turn the cup while it was inside me, rotating it slowly to encourage the silicone to smooth out.
I’m sure I was talking to myself, and I shudder thinking about trying to figure this out in a public restroom, but after a minute, I felt like the cup was correctly in place—no warped edges that could cause leaks. I gently tugged on the bottom of the cup (though not the stem, per the instruction manual) and felt resistance: a good sign that my vaginal wall and the outer wall of the cup had formed their seal.
When I stood up again, I expected to feel something, but I didn’t. No further adjustment was needed!
How My Menstrual Cup Held Up
I went about my day, focusing every now and then on now I was feeling. Though I kept expecting to be aware of the cup due to slippage, I wasn’t; instead, I was relieved not to feel that dreaded wet sensation of a leaking tampon. Though it was the second day of my period—my heaviest—I wore it for more than eight hours before deciding to empty it.
Once again, I sat on the toilet and reviewed the instruction manual. I gently bore down and reached with my thumb and index finger into my vagina, where I located the menstrual cup “stem.” Carefully avoiding pulling on the stem, I again rotated the cup at its bottom, gently pulling downward to help break the suction between my vagina and the cup. With a gentle release, the cup was out of me and sure enough, had collected the blood without leaking. I tipped the blood into the toilet and then rinsed the cup in soap and water, taking care that the four tiny pinholes along the top rim were not blocked with blood, as they help with the release of suction when it’s time to empty the cup.
So, What Do I Think About the Menstrual Cup?
Though I’ve read and written about menstrual cups and intellectually, I buy into the idea of using one, trying one out was a far easier, much more pleasant experience than I expected it to be. Thanks to Saalt’s excellent detailed instructions (it’s as if they wrote it to address the anxiety I wasn’t consciously aware of having!) and the comfortable, flexible silicone material of the menstrual cup, I was able to move beyond that first awkward insertion.
Now, I can’t imagine using anything else. I have not had a single leak, nor have I had any issues getting the cup to stay in place. I love the convenience of being able to leave it in longer than a tampon (the cups can hold up to three or four tampons’ worth of blood, depending on what size you order) and even more than that, I am thrilled I no longer have to worry about tampons and shelling out that period payment every month.
As with anything, using a menstrual cup gets easier with time. I find the whole process effortless now, and I love that when I travel, I only need bring a single item with me for when I get my period. For public restroom scenarios, I wipe down the cup with toilet paper after emptying it and then re-insert it; but for single occupancy bathrooms, I definitely prefer being able to wash it with soap and water.
All in all, I wish I had made the switch to a menstrual cup sooner. I would have saved so much time, money and angst along the way! Knowing that I don’t have to worry about replacing it for up to 10 years helps make up for that lost time, though… and with any luck, by then, I’ll have slipped into menopause, my bloated period days just a long lost memory.
Want to give Saalt a try? Shop the collection below.
Need another option for swapping out your period care? See what happened when this writer tried Thinx period panties.